The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Tuesday told Filipinos living or working in Thailand to prepare for evacuation as the Thai Army declared martial law after six months of political unrest.
The DFA raised the alert level in Thailand from 1 to 2, or hours after the declaration of martial law.
Charles Jose, the department spokesman, said alert level 2 is issued when there are real threats to the life, security and property of Filipinos in a host country.
Filipinos in Thailand were instructed to restrict non-essential movements, avoid public places and prepare for evacuation if necessary.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) will also stop the deployment of new workers to Thailand. Only Filipinos with existing contracts will be allowed to leave.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd is constantly being apprised of political developments in Thailand, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.
There are 10,000 to 15,000 Filipinos in Thailand.
Coloma said the Philippines supports the joint statement of the Asean Foreign Ministers “calling for a peaceful resolution to the ongoing challenge in Thailand through dialogue and observance of democratic principles and the rule of law.”
“I suppose their concern is on the attainment of continuous stability in Thailand that will be conducive to economic integration because investors and business organizations are always concerned about peace and order and stability in any country,” he added.
The Philippine Embassy in Bangkok advised Filipinos residing in or traveling to Thailand “to avoid the rally sites and large gatherings and to refrain from taking part in the protest or other political activities.”
“Everyone is advised to continue exercising extreme caution and vigilance and to closely monitor developments,” Jose said.
Filipinos were also advised against joining any political events in the country.
Not a coup
Thailand’s army chief imposed martial law on Tuesday after months of deadly anti-government protests caused political paralysis but insisted the intervention did not amount to yet another military coup.
Gun-toting troops fanned out after martial law was declared as Gen. Prayut Chan-O-Cha exploited century-old legislation that confers far-reaching powers on the armed forces to act in an emergency.
But he left the caretaker civilian government in office and later invited the country’s warring political factions to sit down for talks, as the United States, Japan and Southeast Asian neighbors urged Thailand to stay on a democratic track and resolve its differences peacefully.
Soldiers and military vehicles were seen in the heart of the capital’s retail and hotel district. Troops were also positioned at TV stations where broadcasts were suspended under sweeping censorship orders, although regular Thais appeared largely unfazed.
The dismissal of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra earlier this month in a controversial court ruling has stoked tensions in the kingdom, which has endured years of political turmoil.
“Red Shirt” supporters of Yingluck and her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed as premier in a 2006 coup, have warned of the threat of civil war if power is handed to an unelected leader, as the opposition demands.
Thaksin, who lives abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption, said on Twitter that the imposition of martial law was “expected” but must not “destroy” democracy.
New York-based Human Rights Watch branded the imposition of martial law a “de facto coup,” voicing alarm at the impact on freedom of expression.
It was not immediately clear how the intervention of the generals—traditionally seen as staunch defenders of the monarchy—would affect the balance in the long-running power struggle.
The government officially remained in office, and Prayut presented himself as a mediator.
“We are in the process of inviting both sides to talk but at the minute the situation is still not normal . . . that’s why I have had to invoke martial law,” he told reporters.
“The military will not tolerate any more loss of lives.”
Martial law allows the army to ban public gatherings, restrict people’s movements, conduct searches, impose curfews and detain suspects for up to seven days.
The United States, a key ally of Thailand, said the use of martial law must be “temporary” and urged all parties “to respect democratic principles”.
Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy is sliding toward recession and Japan, whose companies have some of the biggest foreign investment in Thailand, also expressed “grave concerns” at the unfolding crisis.
WITH AFP AND CATHERINE VALENTE