'I totally agree with him': Worry, support as Philippine president considers countrywide martial law

Nearly 22 million people in the Philippines are under martial law for the next 60 days as fighting continues between government forces and a militant group aligned with ISIS. Winnipegger John Gementiza is worried about family there, and hopes martial law will protect them.

'I get the thing he's trying to do, to protect people,' says Winnipeg man concerned for family in Philippines

Winnipegger John Gementiza says Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte must stand up to terrorists. (Karen Pauls, CBC News)

It's a long way from Bisita, a busy Filipino restaurant in Winnipeg, to the Philippines — but cook John Gementiza's home country is never far from his mind, especially now that President Rodrigo Duterte has imposed martial law for a third of the country.

"I'm really concerned about the people there because ... ISIS, terrorism, it's another problem on top of another," said Gementiza.

The 24-year-old has lived in Canada since 2014, but he has lots of family living on the island of Mindanao.

"My cousins, my uncle are worried about it because they work at night, they drive a motorcycle to make a living, so it's pretty hard for them if there are curfews," he says.

"They're fearful but pretty much confident [Duterte] is going to take care of anything."

The Philippine President says he may declare martial law throughout the country to deal with the threat of Islamic militancy. The comments come one day after Rodrigo Duterte imposed military rule on a southern island of 20-million people for the next 60 days. Among other things, it allows the military to detain people for long periods of time, without being charged. And that has Filipinos living in Winnipeg concerned. 1:45

Nearly 22 million people in the Mindanao region are under martial law for the next 60 days as fighting continues between government forces and a militant group aligned with ISIS.

Extremists have taken over much of Marawi, a city of more than 200,000 people. The area was already declared a state of lawlessness, which gave the military special powers to set up checkpoints and patrols.

Now, they can also arrest and detain people indefinitely without charging them, and Duterte has suggested he might go even further.

"I might declare martial law throughout the country, to protect the people," he said, adding he'll do whatever it takes to crush the militants.

"If you fight us, you will die. If there's an open defiance, you will die. And if it means many people dying, so be it."

Government troops stand on guard during a checkpoint along a main highway in Pantar town, Lanao del Norte, after residents started to evacuate their hometown of Marawi city on May 24. (REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco)

In the last few days alone, a police chief has been beheaded, other security forces' members have been killed and gunmen took a priest and churchgoers hostage.

The groups involved have pledged allegiance to ISIS and have vowed to carry out more attacks in the Philippines, Asia's centre of Catholicism.

"Government must put an end to this. I cannot gamble with ISIS because they are everywhere," Duterte said.

But martial law is a sensitive issue for many in the Philippines, where former President Ferdinand Marcos used it to detain and torture opponents for nearly 20 years.

Duterte spoke to that directly in an effort to reassure people.

"Most of you were witnesses many years ago when President Marcos declared martial law ... I assure you, I am not willing to allow abuses," he said.

The National Union of Peoples' Lawyers in Manila, however, says martial law should be an option of last resort, and the current situation doesn't justify it.

President Duterte is already being accused of  supporting a campaign of extrajudicial killings of drug suspects, as part of his war on drugs.

Back in Winnipeg, John Gementiza says Duterte must stand up to terrorists.

"I get the thing he's trying to do, to protect people and I totally agree with him," he says.

"It's going to be hard for the president to work on it alone so he's going to need a lot of help from the people."