The Philippines Congress has overwhelmingly approved a one-year extension of martial law on the Southern island of Mindanao, backing a move by President Rodrigo Duterte to tackle a resurgence of Islamic extremists.
Martial law was first implemented in May, following attacks by extremist groups affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) group.
The rule was extended as a fierce battle between the Philippines Army and the IS-linked rebels dragged out over five months, killing more than 1,300 people and forcing thousands more to flee.
The end of the siege in the town of Marawi was declared in October, but Mr Duterte argued emergency powers were needed because the rebels were regrouping and preparing for a new wave of attacks, in retaliation for the military ending their occupation.
A majority of the Senate and the House of Representatives — with 240 approving and 27 opposing — voted to extend martial law across the Mindanao region through to the end of 2018.
Australian soldiers will be affected by the move, with the Defence Force announcing in September it would send small teams of soldiers to support the Philippines Army in its fight against the insurgents.
The Philippines Government is concerned the mountainous and jungle-clad Mindanao — a region the size of South Korea and home to the country’s Muslim minority — could become a magnet for international extremists.
“The reports are they are actively recruiting again,” Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana told the joint session of Congress ahead of the vote.
“What we are seeing actually is the rebellion has not stopped, it has moved to another place.”
Security officials had earlier told Congress militants loyal to Islamic State were regrouping and recruiting young fighters to launch attacks in the region of 22 million people.
Mr Duterte’s request for the extension also said a little-known operative, Abu Turaifie, was active in Mindanao and was, “said to be” the potential point man of for IS in South-East Asia.
The military said extremist groups in other southern provinces, including the brutal Abu Sayyaf group, continued to pose threats.
Though Mr Duterte enjoys massive public support, his plan to extend martial law and frequent threats to expand it elsewhere is contentious in a country that suffered nine years of oppression under the rule of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s.
Opponents had said one year was excessive and the measure did not satisfy a constitutional requirement for a rebellion to be taking place.
The constitution allows martial law to be declared initially for 60 days in the event of rebellion and does not limit extensions.
Opposition Senator Franklin Drilon suggested Duterte’s move was a prelude to declaring martial law nationwide.
Senator Risa Hontiveros called it a, “last and drastic resort”.