MANILA, March 9 Philippine President Rodrigo
Duterte on Thursday pleaded for help from mayors in Muslim parts
of the south to deal with Islamist militants, and threatened to
impose martial law there if the problem is not tackled.
The largely Roman Catholic Philippines has been struggling
to thwart two small but violent Islamic State-linked groups
behind kidnappings, piracy, bombings and the recent beheading of
a German captive.
"I plead before you because I do not want the trouble in
(the southern island of) Mindanao to spin out of control,"
Duterte told mayors in a speech in Davao.
"Because then, as president, I will be forced, I will be
compelled, to exercise the extra-ordinary powers."
He added: "Help me. If not, you know, martial law, then I
have to authorise the military just to arrest them, detain you."
The Philippines is fighting Abu Sayyaf militants on two
remote islands in the south. The government is seeking the
support of separatists who are talking peace with the government
to root out groups with extremist agendas.
After years of denials by the Philippines that Islamic State
is seeking a foothold in the country, Duterte's administration
says it is now certain that local rebels are in contact with
Middle East extremists and receiving funds.
Duterte has warned of a "contamination" and the possibility
of Islamic State fighters driven from Iraq and Syria taking
refuge in the Philippines.
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Abu Sayyaf's
kidnappings were a national embarrassment, with the number of
hostages increasing to 31 from 18 captives when Duterte came to
power on June 30.
"It's giving me a headache," he told reporters, adding the
military's deadline to eliminate the militants by June was
"Sometimes, I couldn't sleep at night."
He said the army would move an infantry division to Jolo
island, an Abu Sayyaf stronghold where most of the captives are
held. A marine and naval task force would be deployed to tackle
Lorenzana said the Philippines would jointly patrol southern
seas with Indonesia and Malaysia from April, creating a sea lane
for the merchant ships Abu Sayyaf has been intercepting.
(Reporting By Manuel Mogato and Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by
Martin Petty and Nick Macfie)