Philippines rejects calls of rights groups to lift Martial Law in Mindanao

MARAWI CITY, May 27 The Philippines rejected Friday calls from leftist groups to lift military rule in the southern Philippines as there are no valid reasons to take back the declaration as thousands of loose guns remain unaccounted in areas where pro Islamic State militants holding foreign and Filipino hostages are active. 

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. justified the need for martial law in Mindanao as more than 30,000 loose firearms remain unaccounted.

“We need martial law because we still have to get 80 percent of loose firearms. We only get 20 percent or 6,000. We need to get all the 80 percent of the firearms so we will remove the possibility of using this for lawlessness and criminalities,” Galvez told reporters here.

“People we have spoken to, they love martial law. Peace-loving people have seen the remarkable improvement in peace and order.

They no longer see guns in the streets,” he added.

At the same time, Galvez also wants to finish the Abu Sayyaf Group by the end of 2018. 

“There will be more rational timeline but we want to hasten [the Abu Sayyaf menace]since he (Galvez) gave us a co-terminus on his retirement. With “best efforts soldiers in Sulu would be utilizing all available war materiel, resources, and ground, air and sea mobility to finish the Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Sulu,”  said Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of Joint Task Force Sulu.

The Abu Sayyaf, or Bearers of the Sword, is the most brutal of militant groups operating in the southern Philippines. It has been engaged mostly in banditry, kidnapping and bombings. To date, the group is still holding 12 hostages, including three Indonesians, one Vietnamese, one Dutch and seven Filipinos.

In February 2017, Abu Sayyaf members beheaded German yachtsman Jurgen Kantner after his government failed to pay ransom demanded by his abductors. Two Canadian hostages suffered the same fate the previous year. 

A military official, who requested anonymity for not allowed to speak with media, said they got information the ISIS cell in Patikul, Sulu, a province in Mindanao, were able to acquired new weapons and advance equipment.

Jihadists from the nearby Malaysia and Indonesia, according to the source, reportedly brought in several pieces of arms and equipment to include brand new hand grenades, night vision googles and “SS1G” assault rifles which were originally smuggled in Indonesia from other countries.

“Proof of this claim are photos provided by the group to and posted in the @nashirnewsagency account in the social media plotform Telegram on May 20, 2018,” the source said.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the declaration will remain as long as martial law is needed in the region, a year after more than a thousand people died and missing  when Islamic State-inspired fighters stormed Marawi City.

“Nobody wants martial law beyond the necessity of having martial law. So the Palace would like to assure the public the moment the need for martial law ceases, it will be lifted. But certainly one year after the siege, the time to lift martial law is not yet here. So it will be lifted as long as there is no need for it,” he added.

 Last year, more  than 1,200 people were killed in a five-month battle that ensued. A majority of the dead were militants, including isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged head of the Islamic State in Mindanao who is on the list of US most wanted terrorist.

After five months of gun-battle,  Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute, among the leaders behind the Maute Terrorist Group, were killed by the military on October 2017 and President Rodrigo Roa Duterte declared Marawi liberated from terrorists control.

But while Marawi war ended, government troops were still fighting against another pro ISIS cell in the region, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a breakaway of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, prompting President Duterte to extend Martial Lawin Mindanao until December 2018. 

But Rights Group Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, whose organisation documented at least 49 victims of extrajudicial killings in Mindanao since the declaration of martial law,  slammed government’s rejection of calls for the lifting of military rule.

“The Duterte regime’s adamant defense for the continuing imposition of martial law in Mindanao speaks of its militarist and ineffective approach in addressing the root causes of the social problems that spawned the armed conflicts in Mindanao and elsewhere,” Palabay said.

“Martial law is among its tools to suppress the exercise of legitimate dissents and of people’s direct actions to uphold basic rights and democratic interests,” she added. (Mindanao Post)

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