Defense chief: Nationwide martial law ‘very remote’

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DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Friday played down President Rodrigo Duterte’s threats of declaring martial law nationwide, saying this was a “very remote” possibility, given the weakened state of militant groups.

“He said if the left launches massive protests and they set fires on the streets and disrupt the country, then I might declare martial law,” Lorenzana said in Filipino at a Palace briefing.

“In my estimate, that’s a very remote chance that will happen.”

In his speech before troops at Cagayan de Oro City, Duterte said that “he will not hesitate to impose martial law throughout the country and order the arrest of everybody” if communists stage a rebellion against the government.

Lorenzana said the President was only concerned that a leftist rebellion that might get out of hand and disrupt public order, but their intelligence people have seen no indication that the militant groups could gather the same strength they showed during the Marcos administration.

The Defense chief also made it clear that Duterte would not declare martial law simply because of street protests.

Militant groups are expected to mount protests on Thursday, Sept. 21, the 45th anniversary of the declaration of martial law by the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos. Duterte said he is considering suspending government work and classes in Metro Manila on that day.

“This early, I am announcing that I am ordering a holiday so that no one gets hurt if there is a demonstration there and it gets messy,” Duterte said in an interview on state-run PTV that aired Friday night, transcripts of which were made available much earlier.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana

“Government will have no work that day and classes will be suspended. All public places that you want to occupy, take them,” he added.

Lorenzana said that when he and the President last talked, Duterte had raised the possibility of suspending work in government offices as well as all classes so as not to inconvenience the public. He did not mention a holiday, Lorenzana added.

A coalition of groups calling themselves “Movement Against Tyranny” announced it was planning protests on Sept. 21. The protests, to be held at a park in the capital of Manila, would voice opposition to Duterte’s war on drugs that has claimed thousands of lives, as well as the President’s attacks on democratic institutions.

The coalition also voiced outrage at Duterte’s public support for Marcos, who was overthrown in the “People Power” revolution in 1986 and died in US exile three years later.

The announcement for the protest said its theme was: “Stop the Killings! Never Again to Tyranny and Dictatorship!”

Duterte, who imposed martial law across Mindanao in May after Islamic State group supporters occupied Marawi City, leading to a conflict that has claimed more than 800 lives. 

A Palace spokesman blamed the talk about martial law on a misleading headline in an Agence France-Presse story that was picked up by a national newspaper (not Manila Standard).

“It is clear from the press briefing that as per Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, [the President] would declare martial law if and when protest actions led to anarchy and disrupt the civilian government,” said Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella.

The human rights group Karapatan, however, said the Defense chief’s statements were “an expression of the Duterte regime’s fear of its own demons.” 

“It is increasingly becoming desperate in quelling the legitimate and peaceful protest of the Filipino people against the fascist and anti-people policies of the regime. It is fearful of the people’s growing resistance against its tyrannical rule,” the group said.

“Duterte has no one to blame for the rising dissent against his administration but himself. His military and police unleashed the slaughter of the poor through the war on drugs, Oplan Kapayapaan and martial law in Mindanao. Poverty, landlessness, unemployment, inhuman working conditions and meager wages have worsened,” they added.

“If Duterte declares martial law nationwide, he is likewise declaring his regime’s quicker demise,” Karapatan added. “The Filipino people have triumphed over the dictator Marcos’s martial law. Through our unity, courage and determination to uphold people’s rights and genuine democracy, we are certain that the Filipino people will defeat Duterte’s martial law and tyranny.” With Bill Casas

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