Soldiers are seen in Davao after the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
MANILA, May 23 — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday declared martial law in the entire island of Mindanao and nearby island provinces following clashes between government forces and armed Maute group.
Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano also announced in Moscow that Duterte, who is on an official visit to Russia, has decided to cut short his visit, adding that Duterte’s face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin may not happen.
Duterte’s spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte declared martial law “in the entire island of Mindanao, including (the island provinces of) Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. The details will be forthcoming.”
Duterte imposed martial law on Mindanao island and nearby provinces as of 10 p.m. local time. “This is possible on the grounds of existence of rebellion because of what is happening in Mindanao. This is good for 60 days,” Abella said.
Duterte “has full confidence in the military and the police’s management of the situation,” he added.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who is also with Duterte in Moscow, said the military is in full control of the situation, adding that more troops will be sent there.
By declaring martial law, Lorenzana said the military can control the movement of the rebels, conduct searches, arrest people and suspend the habeas corpus.
The fighting broke out after a joint team of the military and police tried to serve a warrant of arrest on Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf group, around 2 p.m. local time, Lorenzana said.
The Maute Group started to occupy some establishments in the city, including a hospital, the city hall, the city jail and part of the Mindanao State University compound, he said.
The Maute Group “burned several facilities, including a Roman Catholic church, the city jail, and a school,” he said, adding that “the Maute fighters still occupy the main street of Malawi City and two bridges leading to the city.”
As of Tuesday night, he said three government troops were killed and 12 were wounded.
The whole of Malawi City is experiencing blackout. “There is no light and there are Maute snipers all around so the troops are still on holding and several groups elements have already joined them from other neighboring units, and tomorrow morning we are bringing in more troops,” he said.
According to the military, the Maute group was formed by the Maute family led by brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute, former members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The group has declared loyalty to the Islamic State (IS), an international jihadist group.
But the military downplayed the group, saying it is a bunch of rebels that carry out bombings and kidnappings in the southern Mindanao region.
The group, which displays a black flag and insignia of IS, has attacked army troops and beheaded their kidnapped victims.
The group was also involved in a series of bombing and extortion activities in the province.
They were also notorious for raiding police jails to free their detained comrades.