Wholesale extrajudicial killings, state-sponsored vigilante groups and a president who boasts of killing people with his bare hands, the Philippines has not exactly been selling itself as a well-functioning nation of late.
In the latest flare of insanity however, president Rodrigo Duterte has placed 22 million people under martial law as Marawi City broke into what appears to be a mini civil war.
Timeline for ISIS
A raid gone wrong
Marawi City, a largely Muslim city of more than 200,000 people, is located on Mindanao island, which is roughly the size of South Korea.
The entire island has been placed under martial law after a botched raid on the hideout of a top terrorist suspect on Tuesday.
The operation was intended to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf group notorious for piracy, banditry and for kidnapping and beheading Westerners.
The US has offered $5m for Hapilon’s arrest since 2001 and the Islamic preacher, known for his expertise on commando assault, has pledged allegiance to ISIS since 2014.
In response to the raid, the Abu Sayyaf militants called for reinforcements from another ISIS-allied group, the Maute. According to the Associated Press, roughly 50 gunmen managed to enter the city.
The militants managed to seize control of city hall, a hospital and a jail, as well as burning down a Catholic church and a college.
The Associated Press was told by Archbishop Socrates Villegas that a priest and more than a dozen churchgoers and staff had been taken hostage from a Catholic cathedral.
Seeking to block troops from entering the area, the militants claimed control of streets and bridges and hoisted ISIS flags.
Philippines officials have said that several militants have been killed in the fighting, while two soldiers, a policeman are reported killed.
Civilians were also wounded during the clashes, with reports put the number at around 12.
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Duterte has cancelled his trip to Moscow to return and deal with the situation and officials insist that they are in control, though fleeing residents tell a different story.
“The city is still under the control of the armed group. They are all over the main roads and two bridges leading to Marawi,” student Rabani Mautum told Reuters in nearby Pantar town, where some residents were leaving in overloaded trucks.
I was in school when we heard gunfire … When we came out there were blood stains in the building but we did not see dead or wounded.
A harsh president
Duterte has declared martial rule for 60 days in the entire Mindanao region, saying it would be similar to the tough rule in the 1970s of then dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
The rule of martial law will allow the president to harness the armed forces to carry out arrests, searches and detentions more rapidly but has raised concerns among human rights groups.
According to the constitution, Duterte has until Thursday night to explain his decision to congress.
The president has repeatedly warned that the impoverished Mindanao region, which has been historically beset by separatist groups and Marxist guerrillas, was at risk of “contamination” by ISIS fighters.
Critics fear that he will be emboldened by the powers of martial law however, with his record already tarnished by potentially thousands of extrajudicial killings in the attempt to crackdown on illegal drugs.
“To my countrymen who have experienced martial law. It would not be any different from what president Marcos did. I’d be harsh,” Duterte said onboard a flight back to Manila, in a video sent by his staff.
If it would take a year to do it then we’ll do it. If it’s over with a month, then I’d be happy. To my countrymen, do not be too scared. I’m going home. I will deal with the problem once I arrive.
Although praised by US president Trump for his approach to dealing with the drug trade, a move that has itself drawn much ire towards Trump, Duterte has faced much criticism from elsewhere.
Those critics have been reignited by the martial law decision, saying that it is an excessive measure to place an entire island under the control of the military after an incident in just one city.
The president is due to arrive back in Manila this afternoon and despite the level of reaction in his response, the threat of the militants has been played down.
Armed forces spokesman Edgard Arevalo has urged the public to remain calm in the face of an increased military presence.
This is not a reflection of a major conflict looming, but this is a reflection of the capacity of our security forces to respond to any threat.
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