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WAR ON ILLEGAL DRUGS

On threat to impose martial law, Duterte just frustrated—Aguirre

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Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO/ MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

President Duterte was just letting off steam when he threatened to ignore the Constitution and declare martial law, frustrated that despite his brutal war on drugs, the menace appeared to be continuing, according to Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.

The Philippine National Police also said on Monday that it was “100 percent” behind Mr. Duterte, but the Armed Forces of the Philippines said it did not see a need to recommend the proclamation of martial law.

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The President’s remarks at the weekend, saying that if the drug problem “deteriorates into something really virulent, I will declare martial law” and “nobody can stop me,” sparked concern among opposition senators and congressmen.

“It’s just an angry expression from the President and the public, especially the media should not be surprised and rather be already accustomed to this mindset of the President,” Justice Secretary Aguirre told reporters.

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Aguirre said the President was so “exasperated” by the National Bureau of Investigation’s seizure of 890 kilograms of “shabu” (crystal meth), worth P6 billion, from the Red Dragon syndicate from China that he would have shot the six people arrested in the raid on a San Juan City townhouse.

Reality bites

Aguirre said he was proud of overseeing the “single largest drug haul in Philippine history,” which he believed should be evidence that the President’s drug war was “winnable.”

“It symbolizes what is possible and what can be achieved if everyone works toward a common goal. Let us prove to all that under the Duterte presidency, crime will never pay. No refuge, no respite and no letup in our war against criminals. Let this be a jumping off point for greater achievements. Let this be a motivation for everyone to scale greater heights until we win this war,” Aguirre said in a speech at the justice department on Monday.

The President’s chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, said in a radio interview on Monday: “He is telling us the reality on the ground. If it becomes virulent and it is really needed, then it is his duty, constitutional duty, to declare martial law. And you must remember that the very reason precisely by the framers of the Constitution in putting that emergency power is to preserve our country from chaos.”

The 1987 Constitution states that the President may declare martial law only in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it.

Panelo said Mr. Duterte was not like dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

“Let us remember that it is very out of character for President Duterte to be abusive. In fact, that is the basis of his rule as mayor and as President. He does not like abuse,” he said.

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‘Nobody can stop me’

The President’s latest statements drew concern, especially since just weeks ago, he said martial law did nothing good for the country.

But on Saturday night, Mr. Duterte said: “I don’t care about the Supreme Court, because the thing, the right to preserve one’s life and my nation, my country transcends everything else even the limitation. If I want to and it will deteriorate into something really virulent, I will declare martial law if I wanted to. Nobody can stop me.”

Director General Ronald dela Rosa said the 160,000-strong PNP was prepared to support the President’s martial law declaration “100 percent.”

But the PNP chief said the President was probably just angry and frustrated.

“He knows that he wouldn’t do it if the reasons, bases or the chances are not there. But if the situation is really hopeless, he will show his decisiveness,” Dela Rosa said.

Political decision

The military does not see a need to recommend martial law now, said Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla.

“Right now, we are able to operate and catch all the people who have been perpetrating violence and we are operating within the bounds of law. Currently, we are able to accomplish our mission without the complexity of needing to have any kind of special rule applied,” said the AFP spokesperson.

Padilla said that martial law was a political decision by Mr. Duterte as Commander in Chief.

“Whatever political decisions there are will need to be assessed by our political leaders. And when they are passed down the line, then the whole government follows,” he said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon said the administration should exercise prudence in making public statements “that are very disturbing and could cause undue fear and tension in the country.”

“Soldiers should also start reviewing their constitutional mandate,” said Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, who led two failed coup attempts by taking over swank hotels during the Arroyo administration.

Trillanes said Mr. Duterte was “conditioning” the minds of the people to expect the declaration of martial law.

Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto said the President’s statement should be dismissed as among his “outlandish threats.”

“Rebellion has been tamed. No foreign army is steaming toward our shores to invade us. And as the President himself likes to brag, crime is down and the people are safe in their homes and communities,” Recto said. —WITH REPORTS FROM NIKKO DIZON AND CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO

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