Philippine lawmakers on Saturday voted to extend a martial law imposed by President Rodrigo Duterte in the entire Mindanao region to the end of the year.
Duterte’s administration claims the extension will give the government more time to tackle armed extremists allied with the Islamic State group.
After a seven-hour-long joint special session of the House of Representatives and the Senate, 261 lawmakers voted in favor of the extension, more than the required two-thirds of the house. Only 18 voted against the motion.
The vote came hours before the 60-day martial law proclamation was slated to end on Saturday night.
Duterte placed Mindanao under martial law on May 23 when heavily-armed militants belonging to the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, along with foreign fighters, laid siege to the southern Marawi City.
The battle to liberate Marawi has continued after almost two months, with more than 420 militants, 100 soldiers and 45 civilians killed, according to the military. An estimated 70 militants remain holed up in the downtown area.
In a letter to Congress last week, Duterte stressed the need to extend martial law until Dec. 31, 2017, saying terror threats continue to hang over the Mindanao region and that more time is needed to crush the terror network.
After the congressional vote, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement that the extension of martial law is "essential to the overall peace and stability" of the country.
"The rebellion in Marawi continues to persist and we want to stop the spread of the evil ideology of terrorism and free the people of Mindanao from the tyranny of lawlessness and violent extremism," Abella said.
Now that the debate is over, he urged the nation "to get on with the job of nation-building and contribute to the attainment of the full promise of Mindanao."
Senator Gringo Honasan, who voted in favor of Duterte's request on the part of the Senate, said the extension would solve the problem of terrorism in Mindanao "as fast and as far as the law will allow."
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana warned Congress of more serious problems if the government did not have the power to act swiftly.
"We need martial law because we haven't addressed yet the existence of other Daesh-inspired groups," he said, referring to another name for the Islamic State group.
However, martial law remains a sensitive issue in the Philippines, as it brings back memories of human rights abuses that occurred in the 1970s under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Saturday’s vote paved the way for the first extension of a period of martial law since the Marcos era.
Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon said there is no basis to extend martial law until the end of the year, arguing that the basis for martial extension can not be supported by the situation on the ground. Moreover, he said that under the Constitution, only an actual rebellion or invasion would need a martial declaration, not terrorism.
Opponents had expressed fears that Duterte might eventually place the entire country under martial law, but the authorities have dismissed that.