Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law in Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities, roughly a third of the country, for a period of 60 days after an attack by Muslim extremists allied with the Islamic State (IS) group.
A Catholic priest was feared kidnapped and Christian churches set on fire in the restive Philippine region of Mindanao as President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law across the entire Muslim majority region last night.
The martial law announcement came after dozens of fighters from the Maute terror group entered Marawi, a predominantly Muslim city of about 200,000 people, earlier on May 23.
The group, which has vowed allegiance to the Islamic State and has been clashing with security forces in recent months, took over a hospital, a Catholic cathedral, and a Christian school.
A hospital, the city’s jail, and several other establishments were also taken over by the gunmen.
Initial reports said Father Teresito Suganob, vicar-general of the Prelature of Marawi, and several staff of St. Mary’s Cathedral, which was set on fire, were taken hostage.
The United Church of Christ in the Philippines also reported that the main building, science laboratories, and library of Dansalan College, a Protestant school, were also set on fire.
Religious leaders and civil society groups, however, said there was no need for Duterte to put Mindanao under military rule.
“Putting the whole of Mindanao under martial law is very dangerous and vulnerable to abuse,” said Alih Aiyub, secretary-general of the Ulama Council of the Philippines.
Filipinos have been wary of martial law since it was used by former dictator Ferdinand Marcos to remain in power for two decades until his ouster in 1986.
Bishop Jose Collin Bagaforo of Kidapawan in Mindanao said the declaration of martial law could have been limited to Marawi City and surrounding areas “not all of Mindanao.”
Redemptorist Father Amado Picardal, head of the Basic Ecclesial Communities of the bishops’ conference, said declaring martial law across Mindanao while only Marawi was attacked “is either idiotic or an excuse to expand dictatorial control.”
Activist groups said the declaration of martial law is not justified and will only invite more problems.