By AFP and Argyll Cyrus Geducos
President Duterte may declare nationwide martial law if threatened massive protests by communists and other leftists against his rule turn violent or disrupt the country, his defense chief said Friday.
“He said, if the Left will try to have a massive protest, start fires on the streets, they will disrupt the country, then I might (declare martial law),” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters, recounting a conversation with Duterte this week.
Lorenzana emphasized he thought the chances of Duterte declaring martial law were remote because he doubted the scheduled protests on September 21, the 45-year anniversary of the imposition of martial law by former President Ferdinand Marcos, would be as big as the organizers said they were planning.
“But the President is indeed very concerned because it might get out of hand. So he said I might declare martial law.”
Lorenzana said Duterte is keen on declaring a holiday when massive protests are held by various leftist groups but did not specify the date.
“During my interaction with him early this week, sinabi niya na pagka magkaroon ng massive rallies sa Metro Manila and it might inconvenience the public, para hindi ma-inconvenience, sinabi niya, ‘di ko na lang sila papasukin (he said that in order to not inconvenience the people in case of massive rallies in Metro Manila, he will just suspend classes and government work),” Lorenzana said.
“[He] will declare na wala nang papasok sa mga opisina (that there will be no government offices that day) so they will have a free hand kung anong gagawin nila sa mga demonstration nila (on what they want to do during their demonstration). That’s what he said,” he added.
“Hindi naman niya sinabi kung anong araw (He did not specify the date) but since the left is threatening to have this massive demonstration on the 21st, siguro (maybe) it will be on the 21st. Pakikiramdaman naman daw niya (But he will wait and see),” he continued.
Malacañang is also yet to confirm if Duterte will declare a holiday on the 21st or if the President is referring to the said date during his earlier speeches.
But in an interview over state-run PTV-4 Thursday night, Duterte said that he is “ordering a holiday” at this early stage so no one will get hurt during the massive demonstrations.
“At this early, I am announcing that I am ordering a holiday para walang masaktan, walang ano kung may demonstration diyan, magkagulo (so no one will get hurt in case of a demonstration),” Duterte said.
“Walang trabaho ang gobyerno ‘yang araw na ‘yan at ang klase suspended. At lahat ng public places dito na gusto ninyong i-occupy, kunin ninyo (Government work and classes will be suspended on that day. You can occupy all public places you want),” he added.
Duterte also said that he will deploy only a small number of police in those areas, not to go against the protesters, but to man the traffic so the public would not be inconvenienced.
The President, however, had a stern warning against those who will join the demonstration: they should not destroy properties, vandalize, or set private properties on fire. He, however, encouraged them to burn his effigies instead.
“Do not take the law into your own hands. Huwag kayong magpapasok ng sabihin niyo red army ninyo na may armas (Do not go there with your own armed men),” Duterte said.
“Huwag kayong magkamali na magsira diyan, sira dito (Do not commit the mistake of destroying properties there) because if you do it, the next thing, ang kaharap ninyo (you would see) would be the military and the police,” he added.
‘Movement Against Tyranny’
A coalition of groups naming themselves the “Movement Against Tyranny” had announced it was planning protests on September 21.
It said the protests, to be held at the Rizal Park in Manila, would voice opposition against 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 won last year’s presidential elections on a brutal law-and-order platform in which he promised an unprecedented campaign to eradicate illegal drugs in society by killing up to 100,000 traffickers and addicts.
Police have reported killing more than 3,800 people in anti-drug operations since he took office 15 months ago, while thousands of others have been murdered in unexplained circumstances.
Duterte has repeatedly threatened to impose martial law across the country, but neither he nor his aides have previously given a specific timeframe or event that would trigger it.
He imposed martial law across the southern third of the Philippines in May after Islamic State group supporters occupied a major Islamic city there, leading to a conflict that has claimed more than 800 lives.
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