Martial law has been declared in Mindanao, after armed men, identified with the Maute Group, clashed with troops in Marawi City in Lanao del Sur. Initial reports, including the alleged burning of the local cathedral, caused President Duterte to proclaim martial law in Mindanao.
President Duterte cut short his state visit to Russia to rush back to the Philippines, so great is his concern that violence in Mindanao seems to be spreading.
The Maute, along with the Abu Sayyaf, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and other groups have long been operating in southern Mindanao, seemingly independently of the major Moro organizations – the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
This April and May, the Abu Sayyaf undertook an operation in Bohol, where ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were to meet. This was a long way from its usual haunts in Sulu and Basilan, causing great concern to authorities. But that group has now been wiped out.
The Maute raid on Marawi City is also an operation well away from southern Mindanao, and the initial reports were so alarming that President Duterte responded
with a declaration of martial law, under which government forces will be able to move more swiftly and decisively than under normal conditions.
But, unlike the martial declared by President Marcos in 1972 under the 1935 Constitution, this one is limited to Mindanao and subject to limitations specified in Section 18, Article VII of our present Constitution of 1987. The limitations include the continued operation of civil courts and review of the proclamation by both Congress and the Supreme Court.
In the next few days, we shall see the Armed Forces, supported by the Philippine National Police, mobilize to enforce martial law in the whole of Mindanao.
This would be a good time to coordinate with the MNLF and the MILF on a plan to finally eliminate the threat poised by small armed groups like the Maute and the Abu Sayyaf that have long plagued Mindanao.
The national government, led by a President who is himself from Mindanao, should be able to achieve the goal of restoring order without the abuses that marked the martial law of 1972. These are indeed uncertain times in the life of our nation but we have the greatest confidence in our officials and our armed and police forces as they carry on this new phase in our life as a nation.