President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday threatened to declare martial law after New People’s Army rebels killed two soldiers who were escorting food and cash deliveries in the middle of a public health emergency.
“I am now warning everybody, I am putting notice to the armed forces and police. I might declare martial law and there will be no turning back,” Duterte said in a televised speech.
Duterte also warned legal fronts of the communist rebels that they would be arrested and should go hiding.
“I have two more years. I will try to finish all of you, including you, the legal fronts, you should go and hide,” he said.
The President, who expressed his anger against the communist rebels, said they extorted money from big companies and stole firearms of slain soldiers in an insurgency that has lasted more than a half-century.
“If you continue with your lawlessness, killing here and there, maybe I will declare martial law because you NPAs are instigators,“ he said.
Duterte has long been at odds with the communist rebels in the country, but there were several times that the Chief Executive urged the NPA to surrender and rejoin the society.
He claimed a number of NPA rebels had surrendered since he became President on June 30, 2016.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. scored President Duterte’s threat to declare martial law.
Reyes said the public’s attention is being “diverted” with threats of martial law amid what he claimed were the “biggest problems” under the Luzon quarantine: “inadequate mass testing, slow social amelioration for the poor, the economic slowdown and the relentless assaults on human rights.
“Why devote so much airtime on the NPA and martial law? These issues were hardly tackled and they are so much more important with the extension of the ECQ (Enhanced Community Quarantine) in many areas of the country,” he said.
The Philippine Army recently claimed that suspected NPA members forcibly took relief goods meant for residents in a sitio in Balangiga, Eastern Samar.
“According to the 1987 Constitution, the President may only declare martial law in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it,” Reyes said.
Reyes also said there was no mention of the government’s action on the fatal shooting of a former soldier by a policeman in Quezon City.
He asked why the social amelioration program has reached only 4.7 million families out of the targeted 18 million, and why the COVID-19 infection rate among health care workers was so high.
“Why is our attention being diverted with threats of martial law? Why take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to impose more fascist measures while covering up the more pressing problems?” he said.
He said there were enough mechanisms open to the peace panels to address the armed encounters between government troops and the communist rebels.
Duterte has extended the ECQ to arrest the spread of COVID-19 in the National Capital Region, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, and several other provinces until May 15, with some areas subject to reassessment.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said a declaration of martial law would be justified if the communist rebels continued to take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis.
“If NPA attacks persist and therefore rebellion continues in the midst of the pandemic, the President is obligated to declare [martial law],” Sotto said.
But Senator Aquilino Pimentel IIII said a declaration of martial law is subject to substantive requirements under the Constitution. He added that under the Charter, Congress must review that declaration.
At the same time, he said he believed martial law could be location-specific.
Senator Joel Villanueva said the government should focus its energy on improving COVID-19 testing and surveillance, and strengthening the health care system.
“We should also think about lifting the quarantine sectorally so that some sectors of the economy can start to operate,” he added.
Martial law, Villanueva said, will not help in these priority areas.
The left-leaning Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives on Friday denounced Duterte’s threats.
“We have now heard straight from the horse’s mouth that President Duterte intends to exploit the COVID pandemic as a pretext to implement his scheme of imposing nationwide martial and ruling as a dictator. Furthermore, he is using unverified reports of alleged NPA attacks to divert attention from his administration’s poor handling of the CoViD pandemic caused by the virus,” the lawmakers–Bayan Muna Partylist Reps. Carlos Isagani Zarate, Eufemia Cullamat and Ferdinand Gaite, ACT-Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro, and Gabriela Women’s Party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas—said in a statement.
While he uses COVID-19 as an excuse to condemn the alleged lawlessness of the communist rebels, the group said the President made no mention of the police killing of former Army corporal Winston Ragos, which from all indications would be covered up by the Philippine National Police, the lawmakers said.
“President Duterte also conveniently did not mention that the Armed Forces of the Phlippines (AFP) went on a bombing spree and carried out focused military offensives in the Bukidnon-Davao border area during the time of the unilateral ceasefire,” the Makabayan bloc said.
It also noted that reports stated that Philippine Air Force units under the AFP’s 4th Infantry Division used an FA-50 fighter jet to indiscriminately drop five 500-pound bombs near two Lumad communities in Barangay Mandahikan, Cabanglasan (Bukidnon province) on March 27 around 9 a.m. and two more at 2 p.m, traumatizing children and other community residents.
They also stated that using attack helicopters on March 29 the AFP fired at least 10 rockets in the same barangay at around noontime. Rounds were also reportedly fired from artillery cannon installed at an adjacent barangay in Loreto, Davao del Norte province.
“The terror that these AFP attacks caused to farmers and the lumad was not even mentioned.
“His declaration of a further extension of Enhanced Community Quarantine in Metro Manila and other densely-populated areas of the country is the inevitable result of his administration’s failure to implement mass testing, effective contact tracing, and containment measures despite more than one month of lockdown,” they added.
Duterte on Friday also used part of his address to attack former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, saying he would have his driver slap the former legislator because they were on the same level.
In his tweet last month, Trillanes, without naming the President, chided him for seeking more money beyond the P4-trillion national budget to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak, saying he should be hit on the head.