Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will lift martial law in Mindanao by the end of the year, his spokesperson announced on Tuesday, signalling an end to the controversial May 2017 order that placed the entire southern island under military control.
“The Office of the President wishes to announce that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte will not extend martial law in Mindanao upon its expiration on December 31, 2019,” Salvador Panelo said in a statement.
Panelo told reporters in the Philippine capital Manila that the decision was made following the advice of security and military officials.
On December 4, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a media forum that he had recommended that the presidential order be lifted.
Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23, 2017 after hundreds of fighters from the Maute and Abu Sayyaf armed groups laid siege to the southern city of Marawi.
The order, which was to last only for 60 days, was extended until the end of 2017, and subsequently renewed until the end of 2018, and then the end of 2019, with the government citing continued security concerns.
The declaration and its several extensions were approved by the Philippine Congress, which is dominated by Duterte’s allies.
While the fighting was confined only to Marawi, Duterte’s order covered the entire island of Mindanao, which is home to about 20 million people.
Critics have questioned the legality of Duterte’s order, but the Supreme Court denied a legal challenge saying it was necessary to quell the armed rebellion, which lasted for five months.
The battle for Marawi killed more than 1,000 people and displaced as many as 600,000 while levelling the historic city. The siege ended on October 2017.
Despite martial law, critics said Duterte failed to stop armed attacks in the south, which included the bombing of a Roman Catholic Church in Jolo, Sulu that left at least 20 people dead in January 2019.
On Tuesday, Panelo, the presidential spokesman, said that even with the lifting of the martial law, the people in Mindanao “are assured that any incipient major threat in the region would be nipped in the bud.”