President Rodrigo Duterte has raised the prospect of placing the entire Philippines under martial law if the terrorist group ISIS reaches Luzon.
At a press briefing in Ninoy Aquino International Airport upon his arrival from Russia, Duterte indicated his next steps if the threat of the extremist group spread across the country.
"If I think that the ISIS has already taken foothold also in Luzon and terrorism is really not far behind I might declare Martial Law throughout the country to protect the people," Duterte said.
Duterte even said he might declare martial law in the Visayas so that terrorists would not escape towards the region now that Mindanao was placed under military rule.
"I may decide to expand the area to include the Visayas because it is just a walking distance actually. And because of the many islands, they can always escape there and begin another terroristic activity. I have ordered the military, specially the Navy to embargo the islands, specially the sea that separates Mindanao from the Visayas," Duterte said.
"I am just awaiting for the hard facts. I’ll be meeting my... with the Cabinet. I’ll be briefed by all the commander of the area. I might also decide to suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Visayas," he added.
Duterte said the writ of habeas corpus would be suspended in Mindanao.
"Checkpoint will be allowed, searches will be allowed, arrest without a warrant will be allowed in Mindanao. And I do not need to secure any search warrant or a warrant of arrest," Duterte said.
He said he would also impose curfew in several provinces in the region, among them Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Cotabato, Zamboanga, Jolo, Basilan, and Tawi-Tawi.
Military officials said five government troops were killed while 28 others were wounded as a result of sporadic clashes with Maute Group members in Marawi City.
Duterte, however, said he would not allow abuses to be committed against civilians while Mindanao was under martial law.
"But I will assure you that I will no... I am not willing to allow abuses. Government still running. Congress is functioning. The courts are open for citizens to seek their grievance," Duterte said.
The President also raised the prospect of allowing civilians with licensed firearms to use them outside their homes to protect themselves.
He added that the declaration of Martial Law should not be a concern for good citizens.
"Remember that this is not intended for the law-abiding citizens. We are the least of your worry. But if you confront government and my orders are one: to enforce the law. And anyone caught possessing a gun and confronting us with violence, my orders are shoot to kill," Duterte said.
‘ISIS the compelling reason’
Duterte pointed to the projected arrival of ISIS in the country and the open defiance of lawless armed groups in Marawi City as the "compelling reason" for his declaration of martial law in Mindanao.He added that the chief of a police of a Lanao del Sur municipality was beheaded after he was stopped at a checkpoint run by "terrorists."
Duterte also adverted to the buildings—schools, a chapel and a hospital among them—that were set on fire allegedly by the Maute group."The hardest thing to deal with is the arrival of ISIS in our country and it has come to pass that there is really war going on and street fighting in Marawi itself," Duterte said.
"I do not know how many buildings were destroyed but 'yong chief of police ng Malabang... He was stopped by a checkpoint that was manned by the terrorist and I think they were decapitated right there and then," he added.
Later on in the press conference, Duterte said members of ISIS were manning the checkpoint in Marawi City.
The clashes in the city were between the military and the police on one side, and the ISIS-inspired Maute group on the other.
The AFP has consistently denied that the Maute group has connected with the ISIS.
The military said that it was in pursuit of Abu Sayyaf Group leader Isnilon Hapilon in Marawi City when the Maute members launched diversionary attacks.
These included the burning of buildings in the city.
"These things government cannot allow it is an open defiance and the violence and the atrocities continue government must put an end to this. I cannot gamble with ISIS because they are everywhere," Duterte said.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police insisted Wednesday that there is no presence of the terror group ISIS in the country.
"We don't have ISIS in the Philippines," Col. Edgard Arevalo, AFP public affairs office chief, told reporters.
Arevalo said what the government troops encountered in Marawi City was a local terror group which is using the incident to get recognition from ISIS.
"Ginagamit nila ang mga insidenteng ito upang sila ay i-recognize. These groups who are claiming to be ISIS, they are merely courting the acclamation of ISIS na hanggang ngayon ay hindi pa rin nila nakukuha kaya patuloy ang kanilang ginagawang atrocities," he said. —NB, GMA News