Martial law an option, but . . .
President Duterte said protest rallies planned for the 45th anniversary of the declaration of martial law by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos next week would not be disturbed by government forces but warned organizers he would send soldiers and police to quell any violence.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters in Malacañang that the President had considered the possibility of placing the entire country under martial law over fears that the protests might get out of control, but the prospect of such a declaration was “very remote.”
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said martial law was “always an option” for the President and Mr. Duterte would “take the initiative to address” any violence.
‘Do not destroy, burn’
In an interview late on Thursday on state-run television PTV 4, Mr. Duterte did not say whether he would take extreme measures such as expanding the coverage of martial law that had been imposed in Mindanao if the Sept. 21 rally turned violent.
Addressing organizers of next Thursday’s rally, the President said in the TV interview: “This is the only thing I ask of you: Do not destroy, vandalize, burn things down.”
“Do not make the mistake of destroying things because if you do that, the next thing you would face would be the military and the police,” he said.
But he added in jest that protesters “can set fire to my effigy.”
He also warned protesters not to allow members of the “red army”—the New People’s Army—to join their ranks.
Sept. 21 rally
The Movement Against Tyranny is planning a big rally at Rizal Park on Thursday with the theme: “Stop the killings! Never again to tyranny and dictatorship!”
Organizers said they would protest the President’s war on drugs and Mr. Duterte’s alleged strongman tendencies. Thousands have died in police antidrug operations and attacks by unknown assailants.
The rally is being organized by a coalition that includes leftwing groups and opposition personalities, many of whom had fought the Marcos dictatorship.
Mr. Duterte last week warned that he would not hesitate to declare martial law throughout the country if there would be open rebellion in the streets.
In Malacañang, Lorenzana quoted the President as saying, “If the Left will try to have a massive protest, burn things in the street, they will disrupt the country, then I might [expand martial law].”
“In my view, in my estimate, it is very remote that this would happen,” Lorenzana said.
The controversy on when the President might declare martial law for the rest of the country prompted presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella to slam the Inquirer for “irresponsibly” repeating the “misleading” headline by the French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP), which said it could be as early as “next week.”
Abella said the headline on the Inquirer’s news website Inquirer.net was a “tacky trick to attract” readers.
The Inquirer.net soon published a corrected version of the report. The original story was carried by other news websites, but Abella’s statement only criticized the Inquirer.
Lorenzana told reporters he doubted the Left would be able to stage “a massive demonstration across the country, disrupting the civil government or the lives of the people. I don’t think it will happen.”
He also said the military and local governments nationwide had not monitored any planned massive protests by antigovernment groups.
“We do not have those indications in our reports,” Lorenzana said.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez also dismissed reports that the President might declare martial law in response to the Sept. 21 rally.
“He has not mentioned anything like that,” he said, adding, “You know the President, he says a lot of things.”
Mr. Duterte has faced growing criticism and protests over his deadly crackdown against illegal drugs, the imposition of martial law in Mindanao in May to quell an uprising by Islamic State supporters in Marawi, and the devastation of the Islamic city that resulted from the fighting.
His decision to allow the burial of Marcos at Libingan ng mga Bayani last November has also shocked democracy and human rights advocates.
In the television interview, Mr. Duterte said he would not be affected by any protests because he was not up for reelection.
“I do not have to make myself popular,” he said.
The President said he would allow the protesters to occupy any public space and authorities would deploy a lean contingent of police officers to control the traffic so that other people not taking part in the rally would not be inconvenienced.
Karapatan, a human rights group, said the threat of nationwide martial law was “an expression of the Duterte regime’s fear of its own demons.”
Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, said Malacañang was trying to scare people from joining peaceful mass actions by saying that the protests could become violent.
Jose Maria Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, said that to realize their “self-fulfilling prophecy,” the President and his defense chief “would disrupt protest actions and resort to dirty tricks so they can declare martial law nationwide” as Marcos had done.
“[Mr. Duterte] will not last long if he declares martial law,” Sison said in a statement. —WITH REPORTS FROM MARLON RAMOS, DJ YAP, JHESSET O. ENANO, DELFIN T. MALLARI JR., AP AND AFP
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