Martial law in Mindanao: Duterte’s warning fulfilled

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Martial law in Mindanao: Duterte’s warning fulfilled
'If I declare martial law in Mindanao, I will solve all that ails the island,' President Rodrigo Duterte said 4 days before placing the island group under military rule

MANILA, Philippines – Four days before declaring martial law in Mindanao due to a terror attack, President Rodrigo Duterte again raised the prospect of military rule in this southern Philippine island group.

In a speech in Davao City on May 19, Duterte said: “Ako, nag-warning talaga ako (I am issuing this warning). Please do not force my hand into it. I hate to do it. I do not want to do it. Pero ‘pagka (But if) there will be loss of lives needlessly, tapos kawalang rason-rason (and without reason), just to kill, kill, and kill, I will declare martial law in Mindanao.”

“And if I declare martial law in Mindanao, I will solve all that ails the island. Hindi lang rebellion. Pati boundary ng lupa. P***** i** ayusin ko, para isang—,” Duterte said, trailing off. (Not just rebellion. Even land boundaries. S** of a b****, I will fix that so that in one–)

“And there will be no guarantee that it will not last until the end of my term. Kaya sabi ko huwag ninyo akong pipilitin. Kasi ‘pag mag-declare ako ng martial law, pahirapan talaga ‘yan,” he said. (So I said do not force me. Because if I declare martial law, that will really be hard.)

“It’s going to be a military takeover all over again. And I will not interfere, except to give the orders to the direction of whether they go south, east, west, or north,” he said.

“For every human life that is lost needlessly, carelessly, you’ll have to pay for it. That’s the only way,” Duterte said. 

Duterte on Tuesday evening, May 23, ended up declaring martial law in Mindanao as clashes erupted between the Philippine military and local terrorist groups in Marawi City.

The clashes began on Tuesday afternoon after the Philippine military launched a surgical strike against “high-value targets” belonging to the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Maute Group. Clashes with the Maute Group killed at least one policeman as of 8 pm.

With a population of more than 201,780 people, Marawi is the most populous city in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Martial law remarks since 2015

By 11:30 pm in Manila, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella announced from Russia that Duterte had declared martial law in Mindanao as of 10 pm. 

Before Duterte issued his warning of martial law on May 19, he already said he will be “forced” to declare martial law in Mindanao if violence in the region escalates.

“Martial law would open the doors of every house there – the arrest of every person, the detention of every person, everyone, anyone. The military and police will be allowed to just pick you up from the streets and detain you,” Duterte said on March 9

Duterte had also spoken about martial law at least a dozen times since October 2015, or a month before declaring he will run for president. 

Duterte, the first president from Mindanao, is known for his iron-fist rule in Davao City, where he served as mayor for more than two decades.

Regarding his presidency, Duterte told Rappler’s Maria Ressa on October 22, 2015, “It’s going to be a dictatorship… It’s the police and the military who will be the backbone.” 

In other instances, however, Duterte said he “will not become a dictator,” and becoming one will “dishonor” his mother, Soledad Roa Duterte, who led a movement against the Marcos dictatorship. (READ: Understanding Duterte’s martial law remarks) –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email