MANILA: Former Philippine president and democracy hero Fidel Ramos on Friday slammed President Rodrigo Duterte’s threats to impose martial law, warning against inevitable abuses under military rule.
Duterte declared martial law for the southern region of Mindanao on Tuesday to combat what he said was the rising threat posed by the Islamic State group, after militants rampaged through a city triggering deadly battles that are yet to end.
Duterte said he would impose it on the rest of the country if he felt the terrorism threat had spread, and praised martial law under dictator Ferdinand Marcos a generation ago.
Ramos, a Marcos security chief who turned to become a leading figure in the “People Power” revolution that overthrew the dictator in 1986, held a press conference on Friday to speak out at length against martial law.
“Let us not talk about spreading it to the… rest of the Philippines. Let’s talk about confining it to the part of Mindanao and making it smaller and smaller,” said Ramos, who has been one of Duterte’s most important political allies.
Ramos also criticized Duterte’s decision to impose martial law across all of Mindanao, which covers about a third of the country and is home to 20 million people, saying it should have been in just “limited areas”.
Ramos acknowledged his own role enforcing military rule as a paramilitary police commander when Marcos declared martial law in 1972, and the problems that created.
“We are all victims of martial law. We would be much higher now in the ranking of nations, in the appreciation of other nations for the Philippines, if we did not have martial law,” he said.
“As a military man, please understand how deep my statements are. Do not tell me any of you will enjoy martial law.”
After declaring martial law, Marcos plundered state coffers of billions of dollars and oversaw massive rights abuses in which thousands of critics were jailed, tortured or killed.
Duterte, who has overseen a controversial war on drugs as president in which thousands of people have died, on Wednesday praised Marcos.
“Martial law of Mr. Marcos was very good,” said Duterte, who vowed his version would be “harsh.”
About 1,000 people gathered in Manila on Friday to protest against martial law, and there have been some vocal critics including from powerful media outlets.
But there has been minimal public outcry over his martial law declaration. Surveys have consistently shown that Duterte and his drug war enjoy wide popular support.
Under the constitution, Congress has the power to revoke a martial law declaration. But Duterte’s allies hold an overwhelming majority in the legislature and many leading lawmakers have expressed support for his move. AFP