Martial law ‘is helping us fight terrorism more effectively’

Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. (AP)
Updated 10 December 2018
0

Martial law ‘is helping us fight terrorism more effectively’

  • Filipino congress asked to extend reign of martial law on the troubled island a third time
  • Philippines defense secretary says martial law in Mindanao has curtailed terrorist capabilities

MANILA: Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has defended his recommendation to extend the implementation of martial law on Mindanao island for another year, saying it is the only way to quell terrorism in the country. 

“National security is contingent on being able to protect people from threats,” said Lorenzana, who acknowledged that the Philippines continues to face internal security issues thanks to communist insurgencies and violent extremism.

He was speaking at a forum organized by the Filipino Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies in Makati on the outskirts of the Filipino capital, Manila.

On Monday, Lorenzana, a member of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and other top security officials briefed senators in a closed-door meeting on the situation in Mindanao before putting forth the recommendation.

The lawmakers, however, are still divided on the issue.

“The Duterte administration is putting in place a comprehensive strategy to address terrorism and violent extremism,” he said, adding that the five-month armed conflict waged by security forces against ISIL last year in Marawi, the capital of one of the Philippine’s several provinces, would not happen again.

President Rodrigo Duterte first imposed martial law when the Marawi siege broke out. After a 60-day grace period, the president asked for a five-month extension, which was granted by congress.

Even after the president declared Marawi liberated from terrorists in October 2017, he had made a second request to extend martial law at the time.

Lorenzana said the military conducted ground operations against the ISIL-affiliated Abu Sayyaf group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and pro-ISIL group Dawlah Islamiya. He went as far as saying that the “significant success” they have had countering such groups was down to declaring martial law on the island in the first place.

“The capabilities of threat groups have been significantly curtailed since there has been less threat-initiated violence and fewer kidnappings,” said Lorenzana in Friday’s forum. “Several guerrilla fronts were cleared and firearms recovered. Vital infrastructure was secured and government approval rates have since gone up.”

He added that martial law enabled law enforcement agencies, local officials and the military to coordinate, collaborate and communicate efficiently and effectively. 

Lorenzana told reporters that putting the island under martial law would help address terrorism in the whole of the southern Philippines, adding that they would also deploy an entire military division to the province of Jolo, Sulu to address problems in and around the area.

"If our laws were stricter, we could have done without martial law,” he said, adding that it should always be a last resort for governments.

Lorenzana told reporters that between five and 10 expat extremists renowned for their bomb-making skills are believed to have entered the country from the south. 

“The foreign extremists don’t look Arab,” he said. “They are more likely Asians, particularly from Malaysia and Indonesia, who have mingled with the local terror groups.”

The AFP has expressed confidence that the recommendation would surpass any legal scrutiny.

“We leave the final decision to the discretion of lawmakers,” said Noel Detoyato, chief of the AFP public affairs.


Sri Lanka in lockdown after deadly blasts leave scores dead

Updated 12 min 47 sec ago
0

Sri Lanka in lockdown after deadly blasts leave scores dead

  • Eight blasts have ripped through churches and hotels
  • Social media blocked across the country in temporary ban

COLOMBO: An eight blasth has been reported in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, as the government announced an immediate curfew.

The curfew will begin on Sunday night at 6:00pm local time (1230 GMT) and run until 6:00am local time (0030 GMT), the Sri Lankan defense ministry said.

The attack took place just hours after a string of bombings ripped through churches and hotels on Sunday monrning, killing at least 160 people.

Access to major social media platforms and messaging services has been shut down by the Sri Lankan government.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said the seventh blast hit a hotel in the southern Colombo suburb of Dehiwala, killing two people.

A hospital source said Americans, British and Dutch citizens were among those killed in the six blasts, which also injured hundreds of people.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the blasts as “cowardly” and said the government was working to “contain the situation.”

The public has been told to excercise caution in the following days, with emergency numbers being circulated for people who want to seek help.

The country’s police chief made a nationwide alert 10 days before the blasts that suicide bombers planned to hit “prominent churches,” according to the warning seen by AFP.

Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara sent an intelligence warning to top officers on April 11 setting out the threat.

“A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo,” said the alert.

The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that came to notice last year when it was linked to the vandalization of Buddhist statues.

A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at least 42 people were killed in Colombo, where three hotels and a church were hit.

The first explosions were reported at St. Anthony’s Shrine — a church in Colombo — and St. Sebastian’s Church in the town of Negombo just outside the capital. Dozens of people injured in the St. Anthony’s blast flooded into the Colombo National Hospital by mid-morning, an official told AFP.

“A bomb attack to our church, please come and help if your family members are there,” read a post in English on the Facebook page of the St. Sebastian’s Church at Katuwapitiya in Negombo.

Inside St. Anthony's Shrine where one of the bombings took place. (AFP)

Shortly after those blasts were reported, police confirmed three hotels in the capital had also been hit, along with a church in Batticaloa.

An official at one of the hotels, the Cinnamon Grand Hotel near the prime minister’s official residence in Colombo, told AFP that the blast had ripped through the hotel restaurant. He said at least one person had been killed in the blast.

An official at the Batticaloa hospital told AFP more than 300 people had been admitted with injuries following the blast there.

(Reuters)

“Emergency meeting called in a few minutes. Rescue operations underway,” Sri Lanka’s Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, said in a tweet on his verified account.

He said he had been to two of the attacked hotels and was at the scene at St. Anthony’s Shrine, and described “horrible scenes.” “I saw many body parts strewn all over,” he tweeted, adding that there were “many casualties including foreigners.”

“Please stay calm and indoors,” he added. Photos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church had been almost blown off in the blast.

The floor was littered with a mixture of roof tiles, splintered wood and blood. Several people could be seen covered in blood, with some trying to help those with more serious injuries. The images could not immediately be verified.

Only around six percent of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, but the religion is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the Tamil and majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the deadly string of Easter Sunday attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka as “truly appalling.”