BY ROGER M. BALANZA
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law in the country’s violence-wracked southern island of Mindanao as a terrorist group attacked the southwestern city of Muslim-dominated Marawi in Lanao del Sur.
In Russia late Tuesday night, May 22, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella announced in a press briefing that Duterte has placed Mindanao under martial law as of 10PM Manila time, Tuesday, May 22.
The President made the declaration as the the Maute Group on Tuesday afternoon , May 22, attacked Marawi City and occupied and burned several government and private establishments.
Duterte, with a contingent of top government officials, is in Russia on a scheduled 4-day official visit from May 23 to May 26.
The Marawi siege has prompted the President to cut short the Russian visit and was expected to arrive in the country late afternoon today, May 24.
Abella, in a joint press briefing in Moscow with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, said the martial law declaration will be in effect for 60 days.
Duterte placed the whole of Mindanao under martial law as other areas like Sulu, Zamboanga peninsula, Central Mindanao and the Davao Region, are also threathened by terror groups, said Lorenzana in the press briefing.
Duterte had said earlier that only martial could end the island’s security woes.
The dominant terror groups in Mindanao are the Maute Group, said to have been declared as the Philippine cell of the Middle
East-based Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG); and the Philippine cell of the Indonesia-based Jemayah Islamiyah (JI), which has been linked to the international terror group al Qaeda of the late Osama bin Laden.
According to Lorenzana, the Maute group occupied the Amai Pakpak Hospital, City Hall, and the city jail, including part of the Mindanao State University Compound.
Some facilities at the St. Mary’s Church, the city jail, the Ninoy Aquino School, and the Dansalan College were also burned, said the Defense secretary.
The May 23 attack on Marawi happened even as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), on orders of Duterte, is waging an all-out campaign in the hinterlands of Marawi against the Maute Group, which is said to have linked up with the ASG.
Intense clashes between the terror group and government troops are ongoing.
More troops from Zamboanga and Manila will be coming in Marawi, Wednesday morning, said Lorenzana in the Tuesday late night press conference, even as he claims that the government is in full control of the situation.