Duterte Mulls Putting Entire Philippines Under Military Rule

(Bloomberg) -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he might expand martial law nationwide if violence currently confined to the south spreads to the main island of Luzon.

“If I think ISIS has already taken control in Luzon and terrorism is not really far behind, I might declare martial law throughout the country,” Duterte said in a televised speech on Wednesday after arriving home from a curtailed visit to Russia.

Duterte put the southern island of Mindanao under martial law on Tuesday after renewed clashes between government troops and militants linked to Islamic State, also known as ISIS. It’s the first imposition of martial rule in the restive Muslim region since 2009 and will be in place for 60 days.

Duterte has frequently raised the prospect of martial law amid outbursts of violence in Mindanao. The region is home to 11 of the country’s 20 poorest provinces and has seen four decades of Islamic insurgency that has led to the deaths of about 200,000 people.

“Martial law is not a long-term solution to extremism,” opposition Congressman Teddy Baguilat said by telephone. “The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law using the communist insurgency as a justification. He entrenched himself in power, it led to abuses and yet after almost half a century, the insurgency remains.”

Duterte said the privilege of habeas corpus has been suspended in Mindanao but the move doesn’t target law-abiding citizens. “We’re the least of your worries,” he said in his speech.

‘Very Good’

Filipinos have an extensive history of martial law. Marcos placed the nation under military rule for almost a decade from 1972, a period in which more than 3,000 people were killed and tens of thousands tortured and jailed.

Martial rule under Marcos was “very good,” Duterte said, even as he said he wouldn’t let law enforcers abuse their powers. “Government is still running, Congress is functioning and the courts are open to citizens to seek grievance. But in keeping with law and order it behooves now on the military to do what is expected of them -- restore order.”

Duterte again linked Mindanao-based terrorists to illegal drugs, accusing them of producing crystal meth. “My target here is drugs,” he said.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana was quoted by local media as saying that the government would probably set up checkpoints and impose curfews.