DAVAO CITY—President Rodrigo Duterte said Saturday night no one can stop him from declaring Martial Law to deal with a worsening drug problem and to protect the Filipino people.
“I tell you now, if I have to declare Martial Law, I will declare it. Not about invasion, insurrection, not about danger. I will declare Martial Law to preserve my nation, period,” he said in a speech before members of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Not even the Supreme Court can stop him, he added, if the drug problem will “deteriorate into something really virulent.”
“I have to preserve the Filipino people and the youth of this land. That’s why I said, ‘Do not go into that thing because I will kill you,’” he said.
Duterte has hinted at declaring Martial Law before, then pulled back amid opposition, both from his critics and his allies.
Most recently, he said he had no plans to declare Martial Law, since it did the country no good during the rule of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
But Duterte said Saturday that if there were a coup d’etat, he would allow it and swear the generals into office and let them bring order to the land.
“Congress may have to impeach me, fine. But, let it not be said that I allowed this country [to be] placed in jeopardy, in peril because I did not know what I had to do,” he said.
Duterte won elections in May last year on a pledge to wipe out illegal drugs, promising an unprecedented crackdown to stop the Philippines from becoming what he termed a narco state.
The crackdown has left at least 5,700 drug suspects dead in just over six months, raising concerns of a breakdown in the rule of law with security forces and vigilantes carrying out extrajudicial killings.
Duterte has reacted furiously to the international and local criticism and vowed to continue his war until illegal drugs are eradicated.
Saturday’s comments were Duterte’s most direct threat to impose martial law, which would allow him to use the military to enforce civilian law and detain people at length without charging them.
The country last endured martial law during the 20-year rule of the dictator Marcos, who was accused of plundering billions of dollars from state coffers and overseeing widespread human rights abuses.
Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, invoking the threats of crime and a communist insurgency, and lifted it in 1981.
His rule ended in 1986, when millions took to the streets in the largely bloodless military-backed “People Power” revolt. A new Constitution was drawn up in 1987 to avoid another dictatorship, saying that the President can impose martial rule for just 60 days, and only to stop an invasion or a rebellion.
Congress can revoke the measure within 48 hours while the Supreme Court can review its legality.
But Duterte, speaking to local businessmen in Davao City, warned he could ignore the 60-day limit.
“The 60-day [limit] will be gone,” he said.
“The right to preserve one’s life, and my nation, my country, transcends everything else, even the limitations,” he said.
“I will declare Martial Law to preserve my nation, period. I don’t care about the Supreme Court,” he added.
Duterte reiterated that illegal drugs are the biggest threat to Filipinos.
The leftist Bagong Alyansang Makabayan on Sunday warned Duterte not to override the Constitution.
“We warn President Duterte that threats of martial law, along with attempts to override constitutional safeguards, will be met with resistance and will ultimately be defeated by the people. A declaration of martial law, even in the context of what the President describes as a virulent situation, will not save the nation and the people. Removing constitutional checks and balances will open the floodgates to more violations and to blatant authoritarianism. These abuses will doom rather than save the nation,” said Renato Reyes Jr., the group’s secretary general.
Reyes said if they go by the abuses already taking place in the war on drugs, expect these to multiply a hundred fold once Martial Law is declared.
“The fascist implementors of martial rule, the state security forces, are most notorious for rights violations and corruption,” said Reyes.
Reyes said Duterte should cease making threats or remarks on Martial Law and instead address the growing concern and indignation over the deaths arising from this war on drugs.
These gross violations provide the strongest arguments against any return to Martial Law, he said.
“We can also anticipate that any move towards Martial Law will have dire consequences for the peace process with various groups,” Reyes said, particularly talks with the communist rebels.
The only reference Duterte should be making in relation to Martial Law is one that recognizes past abuses along with the commitment that he will never allow the same to happen during his watch, Reyes said. With Rio N. Araja
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