Rodrigo Duterte warned that the Philippines could “implode“ if the ongoing Islamist insurgency is not quashed immediately. “I am willing to gamble with martial law. And I will put a stop to it,” he added.
In a press conference Wednesday Duterte made an emphatic statement to world leaders who have accused the Philippines president of human rights abuses while dealing with the recent Islamist insurrection in the south of the country.
“Don’t f**k with me about ISIS,” Duterte stated, leaving no doubts as to his plans for the Islamic State-affiliated militias who have besieged the southern city of Marawi.
Invoking Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper, Billy the Kid and Jesse James, Duterte said he would be “happy to give up the presidency and spend the rest of [his] life in prison, so long as it was for the Filipino people.”
The president wasted no time in declaring martial law on his native island of Mindanao following the latest incursion by the IS-affiliated militants and a failed nighttime raid by government forces on the city of Marawi on Tuesday.
The strongman president has long threatened such action against the Maute and Abu Sayyaf jihadist groups in the majority-Christian nation but the latest outbreak of violence has escalated the situation to the brink of chaos.
“I have always said do not force my hand into it because if I start to declare martial law, I will solve all the problems of Mindanao connected with law and order,” Duterte said upon arrival in the Philippines after a truncated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I was asked what would be my response to terrorism and I said I would be harsh and harsh in enforcing the law,” Duterte added, as cited by Reuters.
While he thanked the US government for “helping on the technical side,” he criticized both the Obama and Trump administrations for frustrating arms sales to the Philippines to help quash the insurgency, given its international reputation as “a human rights violator.”
When asked about the ongoing hostage situation in the province, Duterte was unusually diplomatic.
“We will try to save as many as we can,” the president said. “I am willing to go there to talk… When they say they want to talk about peace, [if they] lay down their arms, I will go and talk to them.”
When pushed on the extent of martial law and the possible implications for the nation as a whole, Duterte said, “it is the police and military that say we have reached a dangerous level… Martial law will end after the police and military tell me that everything is stabilized.”
For now, Martial law will likely only apply to the south of the country, and may be expanded to the neighboring Visayas region.
Acknowledging the need to respond, Duterte said if he didn’t, “the remaining five years of my time, it will be remembered as an administration that did nothing in the face of violence… I will not accept that kind of s**t.”