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May 25, 2017

Updates on Philippines' Security Situation and Martial Law Declared on Mindanao Island

(Photo credit: Erik de Castro for Reuters)

Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte declared the imposition of martial law on May 23 at 10:00 pm for the entire Island of Mindanao. This decision follows clashes between military forces and rebels in Marawi City (or Maranaoan in Filipino), a city located on the Island of Mindanao.

What Triggered This Decision by President Duterte?

On May 23rd, Special Forces launched a raid to capture the Abu Sayyaf Group’s leader Isnilon Hapilon (ASG) and members of the Maute Group, also known as the Islamic State of Lanao. They were suspected to be hiding in an apartment in Marawi City. Following the raid, ASG and Maute’s militants staged small-scale diversion attacks around the city which resulted in fires in two schools, a church and the city’s jail. Rebels also targeted the Christian community in their attacks and took control of the Amai Pakpak Medical Center. Attacks were also reported in neighboring villages. 

What Is Martial Law?

Martial law means that direct military control is used to run functions of the government normally conducted by civilians. It is often used in response to a temporary emergency situation such as an invasion or a major disaster. Typically, martial law implies curfews, suspension of civil laws, civil rights and Habeas Corpus (legal right to go to court). Civilians defying martial law are subjected to military tribunal. 

In the past, martial law was declared for different reasons in various countries: 
- In response to a Coup d’Etat (e.g. Thailand’s coups in 2006 and 2014)
- In response to a major protest (China’s Tiananmen Square protest in 1989)
- To suppress political opposition (Communist Poland introduced martial law in 1981 to prevent democratic movement to gain popularity)


Current Situation on Mindanao Island

While some Marawi’s residents opted to lock themselves indoors, many fled the city on May 24 while army tanks rolled into Marawi. The roads out of the city are reported to be heavily congested and government’s checkpoints have been posted along roads leading out of town in hopes to catch any rebels trying to flee. Martial law is set to last at least 60 days but President Duterte has informed it could remain in place as long as needed, until the security situation is back to normal. 

Local authority announced Marawi City was stable as of the evening of May 24; however, the threat from ASG and Maute’s militants is not over. Officials believe that rebels escaped to surrounding towns, increasing the risks for diversion attacks. Anyone in the region should to remain sheltered until further notice.

In the rest of the country, groups of activists have rallied in major city centers to protest against the government's declaration of martial law in the Mindanao region, claiming that martial law will reduce the chances of resolving militancy through non-military means. 

Foreign governments have suspended all official personnel travels to the island until the situation is controlled and stable. Governments in Europe and North America have issued critical alerts warning their citizens to avoid the island and use caution when traveling to the Philippines. 


If you are scheduled to travel to this area, suspend or postpone travel to the Island of Mindanao until the situation clears. If you are in the area:
- Remain sheltered in a secure location;
- Follow instructions from security personnel;
- Contact your diplomatic representatives to register your location and get information on contingency and evacuation plans;
- Avoid Marawi City’s center and do not go out at nighttime;
- Carry your identification documents with you at all times.

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