Esperon: Mindanao martial law needed until year-end

NATIONAL Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said on Wednesday the martial law in Mindanao is still needed until the end of the year to allow the military to address potential terrorist threats in the region.

"Well, we have it up to December 31st so personally, I would like it to stay in place. Because while the combat operations are over, let us remember that there are probable and possible elements that would still carry on the affiliation to ISIS," Esperon said in an interview on the sidelines of the turnover rites of Russia's weapons to the Philippines.

Esperon was referring to the Abu Sayyaf Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and other radicalized elements, who purportedly pledged fealty to Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.

The National Security Adviser said he would not recommend the lifting of the martial law in Mindanao even after the government troops were able to regain control of Marawi City, after nearly five months of battle.

Duterte was compelled to place embattled Mindanao under martial on May 23 following the siege of IS-affiliated extremists, led by the Maute group, to Marawi City.

The Chief Executive's martial law declaration was extended by Congress until December 31, 2017 to completely quell the rebellion in the south.

Nearly five months after the rise of Marawi conflict, the Philippine government claimed victory on October 23 after security personnel killed the remaining terrorist leaders in the southern city.

Duterte on October 17 said the liberation of Marawi City marks the beginning of rehabilitation efforts in the besieged city.

In a separate statement, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella warned the public that some Maute's sympathizers "remain at large," even though the fighting in Marawi has ended.

He noted that recently, Valenzuela City cops arrested alleged Maute financier and member Aminkisa Romato Macadato.

Macadato is reportedly the nephew of the Maute matriarch Farhana Maute and is included in the martial law arrest order of the Department of National Defense.

Abella urged the public to remain alert to possible security risks and report to authorities any suspicious activities.

"We ask our people to continuously remain vigilant in their respective areas and cooperate with police and soldiers to hunt down all remaining terrorists and other lawless elements who are out to destroy the peace prevailing in our communities," the presidential spokesman said.

Esperon said the implementation of the martial law would likewise facilitate the government's desire to restore normalcy in Marawi City, as thousands of residents were displaced by the war.

"Of course, the reconstruction itself and rehabilitation will really somehow benefit from the martial law that we have," he added.

Abella said the administration was pouring in huge investments for infrastructure in Marawi, as part of the reconstruction and rehabilitation program.

He said the government was expecting that investing heavily in infrastructure would "drive growth and create more jobs for people."

"We expect business and consumer confidence in Mindanao to pick up with the conclusion of the rebellion in Marawi," Abella said.

"The rehabilitation of the Islamic City will contribute to peace-building efforts as economic opportunities open, including restoration of livelihood for the Maranaos, so they can start rebuilding their lives. Together, let us help build back Marawi, and a strong united nation,” he added. (SunStar Philippines)
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