Philippine lawmakers on Wednesday voted to extend martial law in the country's troubled south for one year after security officials warned that Islamic State-allied militants were actively recruiting new members there. In a joint session, the Senate voted 14-4, while the House of Representatives voted 226-23 in favour of prolonging martial rule in the southern region of Mindanao until December 31, 2018 as requested by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque welcomed the approval by Congress and urged the public to support the administration in its efforts to fight all armed groups that threaten the country's peace and stability. "Public safety is our primordial concern," he said. "Thus we ask the public to stand behind the administration and rally behind our defenders to quell the continuing rebellion in Mindanao."Duterte first declared 60 days of martial law in Mindanao on May 23,when hundreds of Islamic State-allied militants laid siege to Marawi City.
In July, Congress extended the declaration until December 31 at Duterte's request to give troops more time to defeat the militants. Before the vote, top security officials defended the one-year extension amid concerns by some legislators that the move could be a prelude to declaring martial law nationwide and lead to more human rights abuses. "The rebellion has not stopped, it just moved to another place, "Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told the joint session. Lorenzana noted that IS-inspired groups have remained active in other parts of Mindanao despite a "substantial change" in the situation in Marawi City, 800 kilometres south of Manila.
"They are actively recruiting some of the Muslim youth in the area,"he added, stressing that efforts must be taken to prevent the militants from regrouping and planning more attacks in other parts ofMindanao. More than 1,200 people, including at least 87 civilians, died in the five months of fighting in Marawi City, which left the municipality in ruins and displaced more than half a million people. Opponents said there was no basis for the extension and warned that the government could use martial law to silence its critics.
"This is clearly a tool of repression towards dictatorship because the current leadership is unable to address the root causes of the public's unrest," Congresswoman Emi de Jesus said in explaining her vote against the extension. "This regime is waging a bloody war it cannot win," she added. "The people's resistance against dictatorship and injustice will outlive Duterte's bloody martial law.
"In seeking the second extension, Dutere also noted that troops needed time to address other armed groups that took advantage of the conflict in Marawi City, such as the communist rebels, who have stepped up attacks after the government suspended peace talks and declared them as terrorists. Senator Risa Hontiveros warned that martial law could only revive theleftist movement."I understand the need to address the unwarranted violence of armed non-state actors," she said. "I know the desperation of the public longing for peace and security. But martial law is not the solution. It is not a silver bullet or a quick fix for all of our social ills. It will not bring us nearer to peace."
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