The Senate and House of Representatives easily voted to approve President Rodrigo Duterte's request to extend martial law until the end of 2018 in the restive southern region.

Opponents fear that such a move can be a prelude for President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law throughout the Philippines.
Opponents fear that such a move can be a prelude for President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law throughout the Philippines. (Reuters)

The Philippine Congress voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to approve President Rodrigo Duterte's request to extend martial law in southern Mindanao region by a year.

The decision came after the military warned of a continued threat of terrorism in the region despite the defeat in October of a five-month siege of Marawi City led by the pro-Daesh Maute group.

A majority of the Senate and the House of Representatives — with 240 approving and 27 opposing — voted to extend martial law in the region through the end of 2018. 

The vote followed warnings by Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and other officials that pro-Daesh militants were trying to recover from their defeat in southern Marawi and were plotting new attacks.

"The rebellion has not stopped, it has just moved to another place," Lorenzana told the senators and House members in a joint session.

Opponents voice concern

Opponents argued that extending martial law in the south is unconstitutional and expressed fears that such a move can be a prelude for Duterte to declare martial law throughout the Philippines.

Senator Francis Pangilinan, who heads the main opposition Liberal Party, rejected the martial law extension without a clear constitutional basis.

 "We will be in danger of becoming the monsters that we seek to defeat, those who have no regard for law, order or respect for the constitution," he said.

Roots of current martial law

The Marawi violence left more than 1,100 combatants and noncombatants dead, displaced about half a million people and turned mosque-studded Marawi's central business and residential districts into a smouldering war zone.

The uprising, which began on May 23, prompted Duterte to declare martial law and reinforced fears that Daesh was gaining ground in southeast Asia as it faced defeat in Syria and Iraq.

According to the military, some gunmen and commanders managed to escape during the fighting in Marawi and are now recruiting new militants.

It also said extremist groups, including Abu Sayyaf, continue to pose a threat in Mindanao and other southern provinces.

Source: AP