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Roque clueless on President’s warning of ‘radical changes’

What does President Duterte mean by “radical changes,” which he has said he will introduce because of rampant crime and corruption?

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque has no idea.

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Asked by reporters for clarification on Thursday, Roque said he had yet to talk to the President about it but gave assurance that the President was not contemplating placing the entire Philippines under martial law.

The question of martial law arose because President Duterte, in a speech to South Korean businessmen in Seoul earlier on Tuesday, said he would “go to the extreme” to ensure their safety in the Philippines.

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Emergency powers

Then, in his talk with reporters at Ninoy Aquino International Airport after arriving from Seoul on Tuesday night, President Duterte said he would introduce radical changes and warned criminals in and out of the government that he would use emergency powers “to the hilt” to enforce those reforms.

President Duterte, who placed Mindanao under martial law last year to battle Islamic State-inspired militants who seized Marawi City, said “there’s no difference actually between martial law and a declaration of national emergency.”

“Even with this meager emergency power, I will use it to the hilt [to] put things in order,” he said.

The President has threatened before to resort to authoritarian rule nationwide if lawlessness worsens beyond control.

Looking exasperated on Tuesday night, Mr. Duterte warned that he would place problematic government agencies under his office so he could supervise them directly.

He has publicly fired several officials for alleged corruption, excessive foreign trips and other unspecified wrongdoings.

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“I’m warning all of you criminals, all, in government or outside of it, I will make radical changes in the days to come,” he said.

“For those offices which could no longer be put under control, I will place you under the Office of the President. I’ll be the one you’ll face every day,” he added.

Crime and corruption

It’s unclear what triggered President Duterte’s latest outburst, but Roque said on Thursday that his interpretation of the President’s remarks was that the government would intensify its campaign against crime and corruption.

Roque cited the killing of Madonna Joy Tanyag, an assistant special prosecutor at the Office of the Ombudsman, in Quezon City earlier this week.

“The President was really frustrated and disturbed by this news. He was really moved by the stabbing of a pregnant woman by a drug addict,” Roque said.

But he gave assurance that martial law would not be used to deal with crime and corruption, saying there had been no discussion of it in Malacañang.

Asked what the President meant by his statement about national emergency, Roque said: “As far as the powers of the President are concerned as Commander in Chief, the least intrusive is the state of national emergency. That could be what he meant by ‘meager’ in terms of exercise of extraordinary powers. It is the least of the powers that the President can exercise.”

Proclamation No. 55

In 2016, following a deadly bombing in his hometown, Davao City, Mr. Duterte signed Proclamation No. 55, declaring a state of emergency throughout the Philippines.

In a statement later on Thursday, Roque said Proclamation No. 55  remained in effect.

Whatever Mr. Duterte was planning, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he hoped it would not involve any indiscriminate approach that would trample on the people’s civil rights.

Sen. Gregorio Honasan said there was no reason to worry, as Mr. Duterte was a lawyer and “bound by the Constitution in the exercise of his powers and prerogatives as President.”

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri said President Duterte might have been alarmed by the spate of robberies in Quezon City and the killing of Tanyag.

Dictatorial tendency

“If he wants to increase the police presence, we welcome it,” he said. But the presence of more security forces should not lead to disregard for the people’s rights, he said.

Some Catholic bishops were also alarmed by President Duterte’s talk of radical changes.

Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes said President Duterte seemed to be justifying his dictatorial tendency by citing rampant crime.

“As President, he should examine himself why more crimes are committed during his administration. The blame rests on him as the leader of the nation,” Bastes said.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said Mr. Duterte should target criminal rings “even among the police rather than human rights groups.”

Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos, chair of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People, said it was “worrisome that ‘too many crimes’ could be used as excuse to desecrate life and violate human rights.”

“Let us always remember the maxim: ‘The end does not justify the means,’” Santos said. — WITH A REPORT FROM AP

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TAGS: corruption, Crime, emergency powers, Harry Roque, Martial law, President Rodrigo Duterte
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