The coverage of the martial law declared in Mindanao yesterday night could be expanded to include the Visayas, said Pres. Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday.
“I may expand the area to include the Visayas because it is just a walking distance actually,” said Duterte in a televised interview at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City.
Duterte cited the possibility of terrorists escaping into the region and noted that he had ordered the military to implement a blockade in waters dividing Visayas and Mindanao.
“Because of the many islands, they can always escape there and begin another terroristic activity,” he said. “I have ordered the military especially the Navy to embargo the islands, especially the sea that separates Mindanao from the Visayas.”
“I will be briefed by all the commanders of the area. I might also decide to suspend the writ of habeas corpus in the Visayas,” Duterte added.
The President then assured the public that law-abiding citizens need not worry should martial law be expanded.
“This is not intended for the law-abiding citizen. We are the least of your worry,” Duterte said.
At 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Duterte officially declared martial law in Mindanao after clashes between government troops and ISIS-linked Maute Group erupted in Marawi City.
The fierce gun battles have led to a still undetermined number of deaths and injuries in both sides.
The military operations in Marawi City are also directed at the neutralization of Isnilon Hapilon, a former Abu Sayyaf senior leader and alleged ISIS representative, said Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation had tagged Hapilon as among the most wanted terrorists in the world placing a $5-million (roughly P250 million) bounty on his head.