President Rodrigo Duterte has no plans to declare martial law nationwide amid growing protests against his administration’s war on drugs, alleged extrajudicial killings, and military rule in Mindanao, Malacañang said on Thursday.
In a television interview, Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte declared Thursday as a national day of protest to allow the people to express their grievances as part of their constitutional rights.
“Again and again, he has said that that is not the road we are going to take. He only said that he’s allowing the protest, as long as these do not lead to violence and destruction of property, in which case the response will be firm,” Abella said in an interview with GMA News.
“But if people are speculating that martial law is in the works, no,” the Palace official added.
On Saturday, September 9, Duterte warned that he would impose martial rule in the entire country, if communist rebels bring their insurgency to the streets.
But Abella said the President had been trying to reach out to the communist group.
“In fact, from the beginning, the President has tried to reach out to just about everybody, left to right. And again, he has a rainbow Cabinet, including left, including right, top to bottom,” Abella said.
Duterte placed the entire island of Mindanao under martial law on May 23 after Islamic State-inspired terrorists from the Maute group laid siege to Marawi City.
He vowed to be harsh against terrorists, even claiming that the martial law he had imposed would be no different from the one declared by former president Ferdinand Marcos, whose presidency was tainted by human rights violations.
On Tuesday, the President signed Proclamation 319, declaring September 21 as a National Day of Protest.
Duterte said the proclamation was “in solidarity with the people’s call against all excesses and shortcomings of the government and with the people’s desire to uphold the highest standards of integrity, efficiency and accountability in government.”
The declaration coincides with the commemoration of the 45th anniversary of Martial Law under Marcos.
‘Healthy exercise of democracy’
In a statement, Abella said allowing Thursday’s protest actions were a “healthy exercise of democracy.”
“Today, September 21, the nation observes its first National Day of Protest, when people from all walks of life and persuasion can freely hold marches, demonstrations, public assemblies, and all forms of mass action to express their grievances against perceived or actual excesses and/or shortcomings of the government,” Abella said.
“This is also an opportune time for those in the government to hear the voice of the governed as part of our efforts to uphold the highest standards of good governance. The event is a healthy exercise in democracy,” he added.
Pro- and anti-Duterte rallyists gathered in Manila to express their sentiments on various issues on Thursday.
In Plaza Miranda, close to 500 pro-Duterte rallyists occupied the open area fronting Quiapo Church before noon where a stage was set up.
Organizer Benny Antiporda, a director of the board of Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, said close to 50,000 people were expected to attend the program at 2 p.m.
“Our protesters are composed of supporters of the President from North, South and Central Luzon, particularly members of the Kilusang Pagbabago (Change Movement), PDP-Laban Party, Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte, Friends of Rodrigo Duterte, Luzon Watch, and various local governments,” said Antiporda.
Antiporda said martial law in Mindanao was doing well and people there were happy since peace and order has improved.
“Before people in Mindanao walk with guns tucked in their waists. Now, you can’t see them anymore. It’s a big
change,” said Abdulrashid Ladayo, a Muslim and native of Mindanao.
Ladayo said September 21 was supposed to commemorate the 1972 declaration of Martial Law, which was very different from the martial law declared by President Rodrigo Duterte in Mindanao.
“The Duterte martial law is not abusive. It aims to flush out the terrorists, particularly the Maute group and their minions,” he told The Manila Times.
“We are here to support the anti-drug campaign of the President. We need to save this country from drug addiction,” said Randy Sionzon, Barangay Kalalake chairman and president of the village chiefs of Olongapo City (north of Manila) who came to Plaza Miranda together with 165 Duterte supporters in three buses.
The Quiapo Police Community Precinct said 100 of their personnel were tasked to secure Plaza Miranda.
Meanwhile, anti-Duterte protesters converged on España Boulevard fronting the University of Santo Tomas (UST) at about 10 a.m. before proceeding to Mendiola or the Chino Roces Freedom Bridge.
Other militant groups like Bayan Muna and worker and student groups occupied Mendiola early Thursday morning. They proceeded to Roxas Boulevard in front of the Rizal Monument.
“We are here to send our message to the government that we are against the phaseout of jeepneys. We are poor jeepney drivers, we can’t afford to buy new units,” Piston President George Mateo said.
Piston, whose members arrived at about 7 a.m. in Mendiola, was also protesting oil deregulation.
Laban ng Masa, Sanlakas, Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) also joined the rally.
“This is really an anti-Marcos, we’re also not pro-Duterte. We are pro-democracy, pro-freedom, pro-human rights and social justice. We stand for socialism,” Rasti Delizo, national coordinator of Laban ng Masa, said
The group then proceeded to the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City to join iDefend in a rally at 2 p.m.
US Embassy off-limits
About 200 unarmed policemen were deployed in Mendiola to ensure peace and order.
Meanwhile, police augmentation forces were on standby at the US Embassy.
“US embassy and other diplomatic missions are ‘no rally zones’ and are non-negotiable,” PNP spokesman Dionardo Carlos.
In line with PNP Chief Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa’s directive, police were told to observe “maximum tolerance.”
Supt. Restituto Archangel said the more than 1,000 policemen, including a SWAT team and bomb disposal unit, came from various cities in Metro Manila.
The Manila Police District (MPD) alone deployed about 1,000 police officers in Plaza Miranda, Mendiola, and Rizal Park, according to Supt. Erwin Margarejo, MPD spokesman.
WITH RJ CARBONELL, WILLIAM DEPASUPIL, ASHLEY SAN JOSE