This week killing of two key Muslim rebel leaders during a prolonged fight with troops in the Philippines will help the country lift martial law over the island of Mindanao unless new violence flares, experts say.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law over the island in May to help troops and police raise efficiency in fighting the Maute Group of Muslim rebels in one island city. The president’s office said Monday troops in Marawi had killed a founding brother of the group along with a leader in Abu Sayyaf, a Philippine kidnapping outfit backed by Islamic State (ISIS). Abu Sayyaf was apparently helping the Maute Group.
Martial law could be lifted as scheduled Dec. 31, if not sooner, some analysts say. But the government has not committed to an end date as it fights remaining rebels in the embattled city. If new rebel violence surfaces in Marawi or elsewhere in historically violent Mindanao, home to 21 million people, the order could be extended.
Muslim rebel violence in the past 50 years has left 120,000 people dead.
Carl Baker, director of programs with the think tank Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu said; “Perhaps the best indication of the level of concern by the Philippine government regarding the resilience of the Abu Sayyaf group in the aftermath of the Marawi standoff will be found in the narrative surrounding the decision to lift martial law in Mindanao.”
Lifting the martial law would calm skeptics who fear Duterte wants to extend that order throughout the Philippines as a way to fight crime, especially the illegal drug trade. Some worry about a return to 1972, when authoritarian former president Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law nationwide to put down civil unrest.
Last month thousands gathered in Metro Manila to protest martial law as well as the suspected extrajudicial killings of drug sellers. Duterte has said he would expand martial law nationwide if protesters threaten public order, according to Philippine media outlets.
Defense officials will evaluate progress in Marawi in light of the two killings to reconsider martial law, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said. In July, lawmakers supported extending martial law in Mindanao through year’s end.
“We are going to assess the situation in Mindanao, and then we will make our recommendation to the president in due time,” Lorenzana told a news conference in Manila.