Moscow, Russia — President Duterte, on a working visit here, placed the whole of Mindanao under martial law last night to suppress lawless violence and rebellion, following the deadly siege of the Maute terror group in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.
The President has decided to cut short his visit to Russia and rush back to the country to oversee the security situation, Palace officials announced last night in a press conference in Moscow.
“As of 10 p.m., Manila time, he has already declared martial for the entire island of Mindanao,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said in the televised press conference at the Four Seasons Hotel where Duterte is billeted.
“This is possible under the grounds of existence of rebellion because of what is happening in Mindanao based on Article VII Section 18 of the Constitution. This is good for 60 days,” he added.
Abella, in a later statement, said the martial law in Mindanao was necessary “to suppress lawless violence and rebellion and for public safety.”
Duterte is expected to return to Manila to today to attend to the terrorist threat of the ISIS-influenced Maute rebels who laid siege on Marawi.
The President previously issued repeated warnings that he would declare martial law in Mindanao if the lawlessness escalates in the region.
Yesterday afternoon’s attack on Marawi City by the Maute gunmen has reportedly wounded at least eight troopers, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reported. Separate reports said three on the side of the government have been killed.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana joined the press conference.
“Joint elements of the army and the police were trying to serve a warrant of arrest on Isnilon Hapilon in Barangay Basak Malutut when they were met with gunfire?” Lorenzana revealed.
Lorenzana denied there was a failure of intelligence noting that the Maute threat has been there all along.
Lorenzana admitted that there has been “lack of appreciation of the intelligence information gathered by the military and police.”
Meanwhile, Duterte has assured the nation that government troops could effectively address the security situation in in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.
The President, however, has appealed to the public to remain calm yet vigilant following reports troops clashed with members of the Maute group in Marawi.
“Let us be clear that first and foremost, the President’s priority is the nation’s interest,” Abella said. “He has full confidence in AFP/ PNP’s management of the situation; and we ask that the residents take all precaution, cooperate with authorities, and stay calm,” he added.
Cayetano said he has spoken with his Russian counterpart to explain the tense security situation gripping the country.
“They (Russian officials) understand that the presence of the President is essential to the Philippines but I will be staying behind,” said Cayetano.
He also assured that all agreements will be completed between Philippines and Russia
Duterte was expected to return to the Philippines at about 3 am (Philippine time) today.
The Chief Executive was supposed to meet Putin tomorrow and Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev today.
Situation in Marawi
It is pitch black in the city with the electricity cut and residents have been advised by AFP Chief of Staff Eduardo Año to stay indoors.
Lorenzana advised the same, noting that Maute snipers were a threat to civilians who may be mistaken for security forces.
Last night, Marawi City Mayor Majul Gandamra went on television to seek for military reinforcement.
Based on sketchy reports, Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesman of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, said the clashes started at about 2 p.m. at Barangay Basak Malulut, Marawi City.
Herrera said the military received a report from the community that they saw a group of armed men believed to be the core group of the Maute Group.
He said that Hapilon, whom the AFP said was seriously wounded during airstrikes in Butig, Lanao del Sur, on January 26, 2017, is part of the group seen in Marawi City.
“According to the community there, they saw about 15 armed in Barangay Basak Malulut, said to be the core group of the Maute Group,” Herrera said.
“So we immediately launched a surgical operation to neutralize the group who plan to conduct terrorist attacks in Marawi City.”
“Initially, what they saw were 15 members of the armed group. Allegedly Isnilon Hapilon is also there. So our operation is centered on a high-value target,” he added.
Herrera, however, said that they have yet to get details from their men on the ground if the enemy sustained any casualties, stressing that the firefight is ongoing as of press time.
Herrera also said that they have yet to verify reports that members of the Maute Group occupied and raised an “ISIS” flag at the Amai Pakpak Medical Center during their attack.
“We have not received any report regarding that,” Herrera said. (With reports from Francis T. Wakefield)
[Editor–Here is the missing visual evidence of the ISIS infestation.