Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte appears to be preparing to extend the state of martial law in the large southern island of Mindanao which is set to lapse this week.
If extended, the move will further consolidate the military's power on the island as it attempts to uproot a threadbare force of 60 Islamists who remain holed up in four villages in Marawi City.
On Monday night, House Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas announced to the press: "NOTICE TO ALL MEMBERS: The president will call the Congress to a special session on Saturday, Jul 22, 2017, at 9 a.m., to consider the extension of Martial Law."
Local communities and rights advocates claim that the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police have shown reckless disregard for the livelihood and well-being of locals, who have been subject to bombardments, shellings and the forced evacuations of hundreds of families. Alongside the martial order, Duterte suspended habeas corpus rights — granting police and military officials virtual impunity to conduct warrantless arrests.
In a statement to reporters, Anakpawis party-list Representative Ariel “Ka Ayik” Casilao said, "Anakpawis will consistently register our opposition if ever the president requests Congress for the extension of ML (martial law)."
The announcement coincides with statements by Joint Task Force Marawi officials indicating that operations against Maute group and Abu Sayyaf militants should conclude in a matter of days as the AFP bombards their remaining positions, where an estimated 60 fighters remain dug-in.
“We are gaining more ground. The rebel-held area is getting smaller. We are committed and focused on finishing the job as soon as possible,” Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera said Monday, according to the Inquirer.
National police Chief Ronald dela Rosa confirmed Monday that the PNP had formally requested the extension of martial law on the basis of hunting down “narco-politicians who are believed to be supporting the cause of the Maute Group (and) are still at large.”
Martial law implementer and AFP Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana however, didn't reveal his recommendations to Malacañang, issuing an unclear statement indicating the military's deference to the president and duty to uphold Constitutional limitations on potential abuses by martial authorities.
According to the authorities' official death toll, 379 Islamist militants, 89 soldiers and 39 civilians have been killed. Military officials have indicated, however, that many more civilian casualties may be found amid the rubble of Marawi.
Progressives across the country have accused Duterte and the military figures in his cabinet of using martial law for “fascist intent,” criticizing the president's unwillingness to address the root causes of conflict on the island.
“Martial law must be stopped now. Extending its duration and scope will only make things worse,” Anakbayan National Chairperson Vencer Crisostomo said earlier this month.
“Duterte’s obsession with martial law, extrajudicial killings, and state violence is offered as a ‘one-size, fits-all’ solution to all the country’s problems. But our experience of two decades of Marcos' dictatorial rule has shown that this only fostered human rights abuses and corruption by those in power.”