July 18 (UPI) — A top Filipino politician said Tuesday that lawmakers will likely approve leader Rodrigo Duterte‘s request to extend martial law on the island of Mindanao until the end of the year.
Pantaleon Alvarez, the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Philippines, said Congress will likely grant the extension to address the threats of terrorism on Mindanao, the official Philippine News Agency reported.
Alvarez said a majority of Filipinos approve of Duterte’s martial law declaration to deter lawlessness and restore peace and order in the embattled southern region because of “how serious the problem is.”
The conflict includes fighting in the city of Marawi between Philippine security forces and the regional Maute militant Islamist group.
More than 500 people have so far died in the fighting, including 89 soldiers and police, 39 civilians and nearly 400 militants, the Philippine government said.
The United Nations Children’s Fund said last week that roughly 390,000 civilians have been displaced.
In May, Islamist militants seized Marawi — considered the Muslim capital of the largely Catholic Philippines — in an attempt to create an Islamic State province. More than 100 militants remain holed up there.
Gunmen took about a dozen hostages, including a Catholic priest, shortly after seizing Marawi. Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, a military spokesman, said some of the 300 civilians still trapped in the area may have been taken captive.
Alvarez said even if fighting ends in Marawi, that “does not mean that the problem is over” due to the threat of the Maute group.
“That’s what we are afraid of and I’m really worried, not just in Mindanao but for our entire people,” Alvarez said.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella on Tuesday told reporters that Duterte sent Congress a letter requesting an extension of the 60-day martial law period, because “existing rebellion in Mindanao will not be quelled completely” by the upcoming deadline of Saturday.