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What’s Behind Duterte’s Declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines?

© REUTERS / Romeo RanocoPhilippine President Rodrigo Duterte tries on a military hat given to him during the 120th founding anniversary of the Philippine Army (PA) at Taguig city, metro Manila, Philippines April 4, 2017
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte tries on a military hat given to him during the 120th founding anniversary of the Philippine Army (PA) at Taguig city, metro Manila, Philippines April 4, 2017 - Sputnik International
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has announced that martial law could be extended to the entirety of the country, not only its southern island of Mindanao. Radio Sputnik’s Brian Becker spoke with Bernadette Ellorin, the chair of BAYAN-USA, to find out what might be motivating the move.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte attends Philippines Economic Forum in Tokyo, Japan October 26, 2016. - Sputnik International
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The outbreak of violence on the country's southern island forced Duterte to reschedule his week-long visit to Russia, during which he was set to meet President Vladimir Putin. Clashes between the Maute Islamist terror group and government forces in the city of Marawi left one police officer dead and eight injured. Following the incident, Duterte declared martial law on Mindanao, saying later that the move could be extended to the rest of the nation.

The Maute group, also known as the Islamic State of Lanao, is a radical Islamist group believed to be affiliated with Daesh, as they are often seen carrying the group's black banners, and there are reports of Daesh training manuals and other documents being recovered from their positions.


Elloring expressed the position of BAYAN — the New Patriotic Alliance, which "propagates and fights for the nationalist and democratic demands of the people through legal and militant forms of struggle" — as condemning martial law, as the clashes happened only in one city on the island. The Philippines government, on the other hand, justifies the move by saying that there are other militant groups spread across the island that are fighting the government.

According to Elloring, one of those groups is the New People's Army (NPA),  part of the National Democratic Front (NDF), which is currently in the process of peace negotiations with the Duterte administration.

Another layer of concern, she told Becker, is that martial law evokes dark memories of a period of martial law imposed by the "US-backed fascist dictatorship" of Ferdinand Marcos back in the 1970s.

"The Filipino people do not want to return to that period of time, which is marked by gross, gross human right violations of torture, abduction, militarization, forced evacuation against civilians," she said.

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According to Elloring, Duterte should lift martial law immediately and "restore genuine peace in Philippines and Mindanao through peaceful and diplomatic means."

One of the principles on which BAYAN was founded is that Filipinos should profit from the country's vast natural resources. Elloring told Becker that the country is fifth in the world in terms of its mineral resources. Those untapped reserves are worth roughly $1 trillion, she said, referencing WikiLeaks data.

Most of those resources are concentrated on Mindanao, Elloring noted, but Mindanao residents are among the poorest people in the country. That is the result of the former government, and "US corporate and military intervention in the region."

Harsh economic conditions are the real reason behind the wide spread of Islamic terrorism in the Philippines, Elloring pointed out, and that's why Duterte would do well to address economic issues rather than escalating violence.

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