Duterte to end martial law in Philippine south after 2 years

Full Screen
1 / 4

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

FILE - In this July 22, 2019, file photo, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during his 4th State of the Nation Address at the 18th Congress at the House of Representatives in Quezon city, Philippines. Duterte decided to end martial law in the southern Philippines after more than two years after government forces weakened Islamic militant groups considerably with the capture and killing of their leaders, his spokesman said Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila, File)

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to end more than two years of martial law in the southern Philippines after government forces weakened Islamic militant groups there with the capture and killing of their leaders, his spokesman said Tuesday.

Duterte placed the Mindanao region under martial law after hundreds of local militants aligned with the Islamic State group and backed by foreign fighters occupied buildings, a commercial district and communities in Marawi city starting May 23, 2017, in the worst security crisis Duterte has faced.

Troops quelled the disastrous siege after five months of intense airstrikes and ground offensives with the help of American and Australian surveillance aircraft. The Philippine Congress approved an extension of martial law in Mindanao three times after Duterte warned that militants continued to recruit fighters and plot attacks.

Duterte decided not to further extend martial law, which expires at the end of the year, after his defense and security advisers provided an assessment that “the terrorist and extremist rebellion” has been weakened with the losses of the militants' leaders and a drop in crime in the region, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

“The (presidential) palace is confident on the capability of our security forces in maintaining the peace and security of Mindanao without extending martial law,” Panelo said in a statement. “The people of Mindanao are assured that any incipient major threat in the region would be nipped in the bud.”

The military welcomed Duterte's decision to follow its recommendation to end martial law in the south. It added that the military will pursue amendments to an anti-terrorism law to lessen restrictions on government forces and make it more potent in countering terrorism.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has told Duterte that Muslim militants can no longer carry out an attack like the siege on Marawi, which left more than 1,000 people dead, mostly militants, and turned the mosque-studded city’s commercial and residential areas into a wasteland of burned and pock-marked buildings and houses.

Troops have also made significant progress in efforts to defeat the decades-old communist insurgency in the region, Lorenzana said.