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‘Maute aims IS setup in south’

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PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte told Congress Thursday night that the Maute terrorist group wanted to turn Mindanao into a separate Islamic state as he justified the declaration of martial law in the south.

In a seven-page report to Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

Duterte said several lawless groups had taken up arms in a rebellion to remove Mindanao, starting with Marawi City in Lanao del Sur, from its allegiance to the Philippine government and create a separate Daesh wilayat or Islamic State province in Mindanao.

“Considering the network and alliance-building activities among terrorist groups, local criminals, and lawless armed men, the siege of Marawi City is a vital cog in attaining their long-standing goal: absolute control over the entirety of Mindanao. These circumstances demand swift and decisive action to ensure the safety and security of the Filipino people and preserve our national integrity,” Duterte said.

“While the government is…conducting legitimate operations to address the ongoing rebellion, if not seeds of invasion, public safety necessitates that the continued implementation of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao until such time that the rebellion is completely quelled,” he added.

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SIGNED. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte signs the report he submitted to Congress on the declaration of  martial law and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao on the sidelines of the special Cabinet meeting at the Presidential Guest House in Davao City on May 25, 2017. Presidential Photo

Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao Tuesday evening, May 23, after clashes erupted between the military and the Maute group in Marawi City.

Under the 1987 Constitution, the President has to report to Congress “in person or in writing” within 48 hours after making the declaration. The period of martial law must also not exceed 60 days, and any extension must be approved by Congress.

Alvarez and Pimentel both received the reports from Duterte at around 9:55 p.m. Thursday at the Presidential Guest House in Panacan, Davao City.

The President said that government forces were supposed to serve arrest warrants and capture Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and Maute group leaders Abdullah and Omarkhayam Maute, but were met with “armed resistance which escalated into open hostility against the government.”

“The events commencing on 23 May 2017 put on public display the group’s clear intention to establish an Islamic State and their capability to deprive the duly constituted authorities—the President, foremost—of their powers and prerogatives,” he said.

The President also said that “foreign-based terrorists and illegal drug money” were fueling the ongoing deterioration of public order and safety in Marawi City, hence the need to declare martial law.

The Maute group, based on verifiable intelligence reports, as of the end of 2016, consisted of around 263 members who are all “fully armed and prepared to wage combat in the furtherance of its claims.”

The group, which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, has extensive networks and links with foreign and local armed groups such as the Jemaah Islamiyah, Mujahidin Indonesia Timur and the Abu Sayyaf.

Duterte said the Maute group’s takeover of a hospital, establishment of several checkpoints, burning of public and private properties, and flying the flag of Islamic State in several areas, proved that a rebellion was ongoing in the country’s south, necessitating martial law.

As a result of the ongoing siege, some vital installations and utilities, including those of transportation, power, and hospitals were cut and the government is being prevented from providing basic services, the President said.

CITY IN SIEGE. Family members carrying their belongings walk in front of other residents in vehicles as they flee from Marawi  on May 26, 2017  as fighting between Islamist militants and government forces continues. Below, thick smoke engulfs residential areas as Philippine security forces bombed areas where  Islamist militants were holding out. AFP

Law enforcement and other government agencies also face pronounced difficulty in sending their reports to the chief executive due to the ongoing crisis.

Duterte had earlier issued Proclamation No. 55, declaring a state of national emergency on the account of lawless violence in Mindanao as a result of the Maute group’s bombing attacks in Davao City, attack on a military outpost in Butig, Lanao del Sur and the mass jailbreak in Marawi City last year.

Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas earlier said that the Lower House will meet at nine in the morning of May 31 to receive a briefing and pose questions to members of Duterte’s Cabinet.

Government officials on Friday said foreigners were among the Islamist gunmen battling security forces in Marawi, where the death toll from four days of fighting climbed to 46.

“What is happening in Mindanao is no longer a rebellion of Filipino citizens. It has transmogrified into an invasion by foreign fighters,” Solicitor General Jose Calida, the government’s chief lawyer, told reporters in Davao City.

He said Malaysians, Indonesians, Singaporeans and “other foreign jihadists” were fighting in Marawi, one of the biggest Muslim cities with about 200,000 residents.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said six foreign fighters are believed to have been killed in the Marawi fighting, including Malaysians, Indonesians and another nationality which he did not specify.

Calida said these foreign fighters had heeded a “clarion call” of IS to travel to Mindanao to put up a “wilayat” or IS province, if they could not go to fight in Iraq or Syria.

Padilla said 11 soldiers, two policemen and 31 militants had been confirmed killed in the fighting, which has involved the military bombing buildings where the militants have been hiding.

Two civilians were also killed inside a hospital that the gunmen had occupied on Tuesday, and the military was investigating reports that nine people had been murdered at a checkpoint the militants had set up, authorities said.

The fighting erupted on Tuesday after security forces raided a house where they believed Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the infamous Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom gang and Philippine head of IS, was hiding.

The United States regards Hapilon as one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists, offering a bounty of $5 million for his capture.

The raid went wrong as dozens of gunmen emerged to repel the security forces, then went on a rampage across the city while flying black IS flags.

Authorities said ending the crisis was proving extremely hard because the militants were moving nimbly through homes, had planted bombs in the streets, and were holding hostages.

They said militants had also occupied higher ground in the city, enabling them to slow down or stop assaults from the security forces.

The country’s top three military officers—Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon–will brief senators Monday on martial law in Mindanao.

In a caucus May 24, the senators agreed to seek a separate briefing from Malacañang on the circumstances that led to the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the biefing would be useful for senators as they try to understand the basis of the President’s declaration.

House Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas said on Friday that full details of President Duterte’s report on his martial law declaration will not be revealed to the public as this contains sensitive information.

Fariñas made the statement as President Duterte submitted the report to the leaders of both chambers at 9:55 p.m. during a meeting in Davao City.

On Thursday, Fariñas said the House of Representatives will convene itself into a committee of the whole Wednesday morning next week to hear from Palace officials why the President declared martial law.

The meeting may be held in executive session given the sensitivity of the issue, Fariñas said.

But Fariñas said that any information that is not classified will be publicly available through the media. With AFP

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