Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to expand a 60-day state of emergency in southern Mindanao to the whole country should the Maute group, a terrorist organization that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS), expand its killing spree beyond the island.
Duterte, who arrived home from an abbreviated trip to Russia Wednesday, elaborated on the implications of martial law on the island. The president suspended the writ of habeas corpus and announced that police would no longer require a warrant on the island to arrest anyone suspected of being a member of the terrorist group.
“Checkpoints will be allowed. Searches will be allowed. Arrest without a warrant will be allowed in Mindanao,” Duterte explained. “And I do not need to secure any search warrant or a warrant of arrest. If you are identified positively on the other side, you can be arrested and detained.”
“Anyone caught possessing a gun and confronting us with violence, my orders are shoot to kill. I will not hesitate to do it,” he vowed. “If I think that you should die, you will die. If you fight us, you will die. If there is an open defiance, you will die.”
“Anyone now holding a gun, confronting government with violence, my orders are spare no one, let us solve the problems of Mindanao once and for all. Do not force my hands into it,” he added. Duterte added that he was mulling an order to allow civilians to use their legally purchased guns against Maute terrorists and carry them publicly to deter violence.
Duterte added the rare warning that he would not allow police to abuse human rights with impunity. “I will assure you I am not willing to allow abuses. Government is still running, the Congress is functioning, and the courts are open for citizens to seek grievance,” he assured residents.
These clarifications followed comments on the flight back from Moscow, where he compared himself to predecessor Ferdinand Marcos, who also declared martial law. “I was asked how I would deal with terrorism. I said I’d be harsh. I told everyone, ‘do not force my hand into it,” he told reporters in a Facebook Live video posted by Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson.
In that video, Duterte said he hoped to be able to lift the martial law order as soon as possible but could not guarantee a swift end to the crisis in Mindanao, where he currently resides. “If it would take a year to do it then we’ll do it. If it’s over in a month I’d be happy,” he said.
Mindanao is home to a large Muslim population and has birthed multiple Muslim insurgencies, particularly the ISIS-affiliated Abu Sayyaf and Maute group. The Maute group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015 after its leaders established the “Khalifa Islamiah Mindanao” (“Mindanao Islamic Caliphate”) in 2012. Maute and Abu Sayyaf operate independently of each other despite their allegiance to ISIS, though they have pledged to aid each other.
The bond between Maute and Abu Sayyaf apparently triggered the wave of violence that spread throughout the island this week. Philippine police raided the home of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, triggering a rapid response from Maute jihadists, who stormed Marawi city, beheaded a local police chief, freed more than 100 jihadists at a local prison, and took a priest and Catholic believers praying at a local church hostage. Witnesses say Maute fighters have raised the Islamic State flag over the city from local mosques and burned down numerous Catholic and government buildings.
In addition to freeing an estimated 107 jihadists from a Mindanao prison, the Maute terrorists reportedly stole government vehicles to use in bringing the fugitives to their stronghold in Marawi.
For months, Duterte has warned that the collapse of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq would present a danger to the Philippines. “Once the terrorists of the Middle East are deprived of the land area, the real estate area where they can sleep,” Duterte warned in November 2016, “they will wander to other places and they will come here and we have to prepare for that.”
Should ISIS surface in the Philippines, Duterte said then, “forget about human rights.”
“I will not just simply allow my people to be slaughtered for the sake of human rights; that’s bullshit,” he added.