Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao on Tuesday night after a city there was rocked by clashes between government forces and Islamist militants.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella announced the declaration in Moscow, where Duterte arrived Tuesday for a five-day state visit. Martial law on the island — which is home to more than 20 million people — began at 10 p.m. and will last for 60 days, Abella said.
This marks the first time Duterte has declared martial law since he was elected in May 2016. He will cut his Russia trip short, postponing scheduled meetings with President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Duterte declared a nationwide “state of lawlessness” in September 2016 after a suspected terror attack in Davao, the island’s biggest city, killed 14 people. The declaration granted the military special powers to aid in police operations, such as setting up checkpoints and patrols.
Martial law is much more consequential; it raises the specter of warrantless arrests and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, which grants detainees the right to challenge the legality of their detention.
Many Filipinos are particularly sensitive about martial law, as the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos used it to detain and torture opponents from 1973 until 1981.
On Tuesday afternoon, at least 15 members of the Maute group — Islamist militants believed to be inspired by Islamic State — stormed the city of Marawi, the capital city of the province of Lanao del Sur.
Residents posted photos of the ensuing clashes online. Many showed the Philippine military installing checkpoints; army tanks rolling through city streets; and massive fires raging at three local institutions, including the city jail. The number of casualties remains unclear.
Maute militants were seen riding through Marawi atop at least two vehicles and flying the black banner of Islamic State, the Philippine online magazine Rappler reported.
Duterte has made a brutal anti-drug campaign a centerpiece of his early tenure, enabling thousands of extrajudicial killings by police and vigilantes. Critics have accused him of exercising power without restraint.
In August, Duterte threatened to declare martial law if the Philippines’ judiciary blocked his drug campaign. “Please do not create a confrontation, a constitutional war. We will all lose,” he said.
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