Martial law in southern Philippines could last a year - Duterte

Duterte, a firebrand native of Mindanao, has often threatened to impose martial law to crush extremists and stop radical Islamist ideology spreading since taking office in June past year, prompting concerns by human rights groups that he plans to create a dictatorship in the island nation of 100 million people.

Martial rule under Marcos was "very good", Duterte said, even as he said he wouldn't let law enforcers abuse their powers.

The Philippines was under martial law for a decade under late dictator Ferninand Marcos from the early 1970s.

"I said I would be harsh and I warned everybody not to force my hand into it", Duterte said. "I have to do it to preserve the Republic of the Philippines, the Filipino people", he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday he may impose martial law throughout the nation, a day after declaring military rule in the southern region of Mindanao - home to about 20 million people - after militants who pledged allegiance to ISIL rampaged through the city of Marawi.

According to a press release from the state Philippines News Agency, Duterte-Caprio reminded citizens that under martial law, "warrantless arrest is in effect, activities of people are monitored and there is suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in cases of terrorism and others like rebellion".

"In view of the President's declaration of Martial Law for 60 days over the entire Island of Mindanao, the Chief Justice directs all courts in Mindanao to remain open and all judges to remain in station", the high court said.

But he has said many times that martial law may be needed to solve many other problems, including illegal drugs.

The Maute and Abu Sayyaf militant groups have pledged allegiance to Islamic State, and have proved fierce opponents for the military as Duterte seeks to crush extremists and prevent radical Islamist ideology from spreading in the Philippines.

Marawi is about 800 kilometres (500 miles) south of Manila, the nation's capital.

Duterte was in Moscow on a state visit, meeting with President Vladimir Putin to seek Russian arms when almost 50 gunmen stormed Marawi City, a town of about 200,000 people, burning houses and other buildings and killing at least two soldiers and one policeman. Social media users in the city posted photos online that claimed to show residents attempting to evacuate the city Wednesday morning.

On Wednesday, Marawi Bishop Edwin de la Pena said the militants forced their way into the Marawi Cathedral and seized a Catholic priest, 10 worshippers and three church workers.

Lorenzana said on Tuesday night that many gunmen were hiding in buildings as snipers, making it hard for security forces to combat them.

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said troops raided the hideout of a top terrorist suspect in southern Marawi city on Tuesday, sparking a gun battle that prompted the militants to call for reinforcements from an allied group, the Maute.

Abu Sayyaf militant Isnilon Hapilon is on the FBI's "most wanted terrorist" list.

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".

The US and other Western governments warned this month that terrorists were planning to kidnap foreigners in other tourist hotspots in the western and central Philippines, adding to longstanding advisories of abduction threats in Mindanao.

  • Leroy Wright