PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte may declare martial law in Negros Oriental province following the spate of killings reportedly perpetrated by members of the New People’s Army (NPA), Malacañang said on Thursday.
Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte would not hesitate to use his emergency powers to address the violence in Negros Oriental.
“From his speech last night, it appears to be soon. Because according to him, the unrest there has become widespread,” Panelo said in a press briefing.
“Grabe na ‘yung patayan doon (The killings have worsened). We have a village or a barangay captain, a municipal mayor, four policemen and a lawyer. The President doesn’t want this to happen. He wants it stopped, and the only way to do that is to use his emergency powers,” he added.
Panelo said the unrest in Negros Oriental “has become widespread” and was being used by the communist rebels as “an excuse. “
It has “even made the province into a quasi-state,” he added.
“Meaning to say that the land claimants there are involved in armed hostilities and it is the communist rebels that arbitrarily choose who will occupy or own the land,” he said.
The NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, is among the security threats cited by Duterte in previous requests to extend martial law in Mindanao.
The Constitution states that the President, as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, may place the entire country or any part of it under martial law “in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it.”
The declaration lasts only for 60 days, but in the case of Mindanao, Congress has granted all three requests for extension as Duterte argued the need for military rule to quell the rebellion in the region.
Panelo said a possible martial law declaration on Negros Island could be separate from the one that is currently in place in Mindanao until yearend.
“The Constitution says you can declare martial law in the entire country or part thereof,” the Palace official said.
Panelo said the President would place Negros Oriental under martial rule if the military on the ground or local officials would recommend it.
“He (Duterte) always follows the advice of those people in the know,” he said.
The President, according to Panelo, thinks the police could not handle the killings in Negros Oriental, prompting him to exercise his emergency powers.
“From the judgment of the President, it appears to be so (the police cannot control it). Especially, he mentioned last night that mas maraming sumusuporta ngayon sa mga NPA (there are many people supporting the NPA). They’re taking advantage doon nga sa pagkakagulo ng mga away sa lupa (of the land disputes),” he said.
But Panelo said the government was not helpless against communist insurgents.
“Kung helpless tayo ‘di hindi na tayo makakapagdeklara o makakagawa ng bagay para sirain yun (If we are helpless, then how come we are able to declare martial law or implement measures to quell the threat),” he said.
Seventeen people have been killed in the past week. The spate of killings came after the execution of four intelligence officers of the Ayungon police force on July 18, allegedly carried out by NPA members.
On Thursday, the President raised the reward money to P5 million for the capture, dead or alive, of the killers of the Negros police officers, and to P100,000 for every participant in the killing.
Duterte, according to Panelo, also said the NPA in Negros had gone overboard and its killings had become brazen and unbridled to include men in uniform as well as civilians who were were murdered with impunity.
“The President will obey the constitutional command to serve and protect the Filipino people at any cost, and to fiercely save the Republic from imminent ruin,” Panelo said.
“The President vows to replicate the atrocious acts done by the communist rebels to the civilians, the barangay officials, and the law enforcers against these murderers in defense of our countrymen,” he added.