Duterte wages war against Isis-inspired fighters as thousands flee violence

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has flagged the declaration of martial law across the nation as the threat of militant Islamic insurgents grows in the Catholic-majority country.

The siege started Tuesday after government troops attempted to raid a hideout of a top militant. However he said the bodies of only two militants had been recovered and the other reported deaths could not be independently verified.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said fighters had forced their way into the Marawi Cathedral and seized a priest, 10 worshippers and three church workers.

Duterte, however, clarified that the punishments in Martial Law is "not for the law-abiding citizens but for those who defy".

'I was asked what would be my response to terrorism and I said I would be harsh and harsh in enforcing the law, ' Duterte told reporters upon arrival in Manila.

Lt Col Herrera said two civilians were killed inside a hospital that the gunmen were occupying on Tuesday, and that the military was investigating reports of nine people being murdered at a checkpoint set up by the militants.

Most of Marawi's 200,000 residents had fled the city, which is about 800 kilometres (500 miles) south of Manila, but Herrera said those who remained had been warned to get out of the areas where there was bombing and fighting.

"On the other hand, the persisting violence in Mindanao hasn't been soft, and so particularly strong-willed people such as the president often think of something forceful like martial law".

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte walks past honor guards as he arrives at Manila worldwide airport in Manila on May 24, 2017, after returning from a visit to Russian Federation.

The military said it was hunting Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf leader who has been named the Philippine head of IS.

The extremist leader of the infamous Abu Sayyaf gang is regarded by the USA as one of the world's most unsafe terrorists due to his penchant for kidnapping and beheading westerners.

Critics fear it will give security forces cover to carry out human rights abuses, citing the experience under dictator Ferdinand Marcos a generation ago.

The objective of Tuesday's raid was to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf group which is notorious for piracy and for kidnapping and beheading Westerners.

The main Muslim rebel groups are involved in peace talks with the government.

But martial law is a sensitive issue for many in the Philippines, where former President Ferdinand Marcos used it to detain and torture opponents for almost 20 years.

"The whole of Marawi city is blacked out, there is no light, and there are Maute snipers all around", Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said late Tuesday in Moscow, where he was accompanying Duterte on an official trip.

  • Leroy Wright