Duterte: Possible nationwide martial law; could last longer

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 24) — Back from his abruptly shortened visit to Russia, President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday afternoon that his options were open as regards the scope and duration of declaring martial law in the country, or parts of it — depending on the situation.

Duterte, who had placed entire Mindanao under martial rule last night while in Moscow, said he might also choose to expand the area of coverage outside Mindanao on the heels of the clashes in Marawi City which broke out Tuesday afternoon.

"I might also decide to suspend the writ of habeas corpus in the Visayas," Duterte said, pointing out that because of the many islands in the south that were "just walking distance" from each other, lawless elements could always escape to any of them.

"I have ordered the military, specially the Navy to embargo the islands, specially the sea that separates Mindanao from the Visayas," he said as a precautionary measure.

Related: Duterte declares martial law in Mindanao

The President said he would focus on the south first, although acts of terror might spillover even in the north. And if this would happen, he said he might declare a nationwide martial law.

"If I think that the ISIS has already taken foothold also in Luzon and terrorism is really not far behind, I might declare martial law throughout the country to protect the people."

The chief executive also said he was flexible as to how long martial law in Mindanao would last, taking into consideration the concerns of foreign investors.

"That is why I said, we must be fast and restore normalcy. If it can be done one week, I'd be very happy. But if it would take me until the end of my term to see that Mindanao is safe for everybody, I will do it."

Duterte said this would depend on when the police and military would assure him that everything had stabilized.

"So maybe from another 60 days, I will ask the generals," he said, in compliance with a constitutional provision that martial law has a two-month period, after which he would need another nod from Congress for an extension.

AFP chief Año's term extended

Duterte also announced that he had extended the term of Gen. Eduardo Año's term as Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff for another six months.

Año, who was supposed to retire early next month to assume the Interior and Local Government chief post, would be the "implementor' of the martial rule in Mindanao, according to the 72-year-old president because he didn't want "to change horses midstream."

Duterte explained that Año would be reporting to a civilian, Roy Cimatu, so that there would be no question about the supremacy of civilian authority over the military. Cimatu, a retired AFP chief, now holds the Environment chief post.

No abuses

The President, who had likened the martial law in Mindanao to the one during the Marcos regime, said there would be no abuses of any kind under his watch.

"Government still running. Congress is functioning. The courts are open for citizens to seek (redress for) their grievance," Duterte pointed out, saying law-abiding citizens needed not to worry.

But he said he would be "harsh" in enforcing the law.

"Anyone caught possessing a gun and confronting us with violence, my orders are shoot to kill."

He said checkpoints, warrantless arrests and searches would be allowed in Mindanao, "If you are identified positively on the other side, you can be arrested and detained."

Martial law signed abroad

Duterte, who is required by the Constitution to submit to a report "in person or in writing" to Congress within 48 hours after a martial law declaration, said he would do so in writing as he had to go back home in Davao City.

Related: Duterte meets with Putin amid Marawi crisis

But the thing is, he said, he had left the document back in a hotel in Russia, so it had to be retrieved first.

He also shared that it was a "funny, irony of life" that he had to sign the martial law declaration while out of the country.

"So I signed it. And I said, 'Done in the Russian Federation.' It's a place, I was there. So I cannot... 'Done in the City of Manila, Philippines.' Eh nandoon ako."

[Translation: So I signed it, 'Done in the Russian Federation.' (Instead of) 'Done in the City of Manila.' Because I was there.]