PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte early Saturday declared a “State of Lawless Violence” in the Philippines, following a deadly explosion at a night market in his home city of Davao that claimed the lives of 14 people and left 67 others injured.
In a news conference, the President said there was a “crisis,” and the declaration would allow the military and police more leeway to heighten security measures and pursue terrorists with the “orchestration of the national government.”
Authorities will also pursue illegal drug traders under the declaration, he said.
“These are extraordinary times … We are trying to cope with a crisis now. There seems to be an environment of lawlessness, lawless violence,” Duterte added.
He was quick to say that the declaration did not mean martial law, as there would be “no curfews” and “no suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.”
But there would be a greater presence of soldiers all over the country and more checkpoints.
“I am inviting now the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the military and the police to run the country in accordance with my specifications,” Duterte said.
The measure will be in place until he feels the country “is already safe” from the threat of terrorism and illegal drugs, Duterte said.
“Any punitive or any action taken by security forces would be in furtherance of stopping terrorism. And I am including drugs because of so many killings unfairly attributed to the police, as if they are the handiwork of the police. They do not do that,” he said.
“I have this duty to protect the country. I have this duty to keep intact the integrity of the nation,” the President added.
In a statement, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the declaration was based on Article VII, Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution.
It states: “The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion.”
Abella said the state of lawlessness is declared to call the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to do law enforcement operations normally belonging to the Philippine National Police (PNP).
“It is a different case from the existence of invasion or rebellion. Only if there is invasion or rebellion, and when public safety requires it, can [the President]suspend the writ of habeas corpus or declare martial law,” he added.
In a separate statement, Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza also stressed that Duterte’s declaration “does not suspend some rights.”
The state of lawlessness will allow the AFP to “complement and supplement the capability of the PNP,” he said.
Duterte, a former Davao City mayor, ordered a lockdown in the city, which allows soldiers and police to search everyone as well as vehicles and houses.
“Maghinto kayo sa mga [Stop at] checkpoints. If you see a sign and there are soldiers flashing their lights, switch off your headlights, switch on the light inside your cars because I’m authorizing them to search,” he told the public.
“So if you do not have anything to hide, I am suggesting that you be liberal enough to understand us because we are trying to cope with a crisis now,” he added.
The President said Davao City was safe, and asked citizens to keep calm.
“This is not the first time Davao has been sacrificed in the altar of violence,” Duterte said, noting that there have been terrorist acts in the city in the past.
“Davao is safe … Government is here with you, as humanly as possible. We will protect everybody … So we also ask the citizens to do their part of being vigilant,” he said.
Duterte visited the blast site at 5:10 a.m. Saturday after a conference with the police and military in the Davao City. He did not disclose their initial findings.
But the President claimed he and some law enforcement agencies were “forewarned” about the explosion.
“We were forewarned, we were ready, all the commanders are here, even [Customs chief Nicanor] Faeldon, all the intelligence heads [are here],” Duterte said.
“Unfortunately, we cannot frisk or order people to stop to be searched because that could be fascistic. Then that is not a democracy anymore. That is the price of a democratic state,” he added.