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Duterte Considers Expanding Martial Law In Fight Against ISIS Allies


Tanks are in the streets, and army helicopters are firing rockets at militants in the southern Philippines. It's part of the government's fight against militant groups aligned with ISIS. The violence began after the army attempted to raid a suspected militant hideout. Fighters then attacked the city of Marawi on Tuesday.

President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law in the region. We're joined now by journalist Maria Ressa. She's the CEO of the online news site Rappler, and she wrote a book about terrorism in Southeast Asia. She joins us from Manila on Skype. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

MARIA RESSA: Thanks for having me, Rachel.

MARTIN: Can you just explain how the fighting started in Marawi City and what the past couple of days have looked like?

RESSA: So those are some of the details that we still have to hear. There's going to be a press conference where the - this is the first time that the military says it is in control, although as of this afternoon, you're still seeing fires and sporadic shooting through Marawi.

The key thing here is I think we're seeing a difference in perception. Is it ISIS, or is it a local group? And that's part of what the - what authorities are making clear. President Duterte says that the reason why he declared a state of martial law in Mindanao in the southern island is because ISIS has found a stronghold in the Philippines.

MARTIN: So what does martial law consist of? I mean, what effect is it having on residents?

RESSA: Well, what's had an immediate effect on residents are the fighting the rebels, the - let's - it's unclear even what to call them. Are we calling them terrorists, are we calling them gunmen, militants? They walked into the town and they're taken captive. They've kidnap people.

In the last few days, what you have are thousands of Filipinos from Marawi fleeing towards nearby towns. The rebels - the terrorists - again, what are we going to call them? - they...


RESSA: ...Took over that, and they took over churches. They took over buildings. They set prisoners free, like over a hundred prisoners free. In the last 24 hours, the military did rescue about 120 people, 13...

MARTIN: So this is total chaos. Anyone who's still in the city is holed up, hiding, I imagine?

RESSA: It depends on which part of the city you're in. Now, there are parts of the city that according to the people we've spoken with resemble a ghost town. The Philippine military said early this morning they were in control, but then again, you have the sporadic gunfire breaking out in at least three different areas. So far, the official figures released are 13 members of the Maute group have been killed, seven security forces killed.

MARTIN: Duterte, the president - Rodrigo Duterte - has been criticized by human rights groups for how he has handled the war on drugs, which has been excessively brutal. Are they speaking out against the declaration of martial law, or do they see it as a necessary step to secure the country?

RESSA: They're certainly - a lot of the human rights groups and NGOs are raising concerns about the fact that martial law is declared over this entire area, but there are two different threats that we're facing here.

One is the real, very real threat of the Islamic State. This group has had a year-long history of both taking over parts of this area and at the same time killing people. And then you've got the political concerns and a drug war that President Duterte needs to deal with. He's got to deal with both of these simultaneously.

MARTIN: Maria Ressa, she is a journalist and the CEO of the online news site Rappler, giving us the latest on the situation in the southern Philippines where martial law has been declared. Maria, thanks so much.

RESSA: Thanks so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID HELPLING'S "SUN RACER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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