MANILA, Philippines – Opposition congressmen warned the nation yesterday that the Duterte administration may be creating a scenario of violence and lawlessness that could lead to the proclamation of martial law.
Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay noted the statement of presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo that suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is an option open to President Duterte in his war on illegal drugs.
Lagman said the statement should be taken together with Duterte’s pronouncement that he would soon submit to the National Security Council and leaders of Congress a list of more than 5,000 officials involved in illegal drugs.
“They are justifying the imminent suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus so they can resort to arrests and detentions without warrants. After that, the declaration of martial law is not a remote possibility,” he said.
He added that Duterte’s statement that the so-called Maute group is now part of the Islamic State and the police report linking an improvised explosive device (IED) found along Roxas Boulevard to the Maute group could be part of scenario-setting for eventual martial rule.
Lagman pointed out that stage-managed incidents such as the ambush of then defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile preceded the declaration of martial law in 1972 by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Rep. Gary Alejano of Magdalo party-list said he believed that Panelo’s statement on the habeas corpus suspension had Duterte’s go-signal.
“They floated it to gauge public reaction and acceptance. If there is no protest, they will interpret it as acceptance. I think that people should begin to complain before it’s too late,” he said.
He said administration officials are creating a scenario for “stronger measures that could lead to authoritarian rule.”
Alejano, a former Marine officer, lamented that the President “is always painting the country on the brink of collapse and that only extraordinary measures could save it.”
Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat Jr. said it is incongruous for the President to claim there is brewing rebellion in Mindanao “when the government is in the middle of peace talks with various armed Muslim groups.”
He said the report that presidential guards were injured in a blast in the Lanao area could be part of administration efforts to project increasing lawlessness in the south.
For his part, Rep. Tom Villarin of Akbayan said the people should be vigilant against Duterte’s “increasing Marcosian tendencies.”
The four congressmen belong to the minority group led by Lagman and Baguilat. The group styles itself the genuine opposition in the House of Representatives.
An official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) yesterday said that government should secure the Filipino people but it should not suspend the writ of habeas corpus.
CBCP Public Affairs Committee executive secretary Fr. Jerome Secillano issued the statement a day after an IED was found outside the United States embassy in Manila and raised speculations that it was part of a destabilization plot that would lead to the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
He said that while the Duterte administration should consider the neutralization of lawless elements and make them pay for terrorizing the people, it should not violate basic rights.
“Any move to ensure the security and safety of the public should be welcomed. But to go as far as suspending any legal remedy aimed at protecting the rights of our citizens, like the writ of habeas corpus, must be opposed,” said Secillano.
On the part of church leaders, the CBCP official said that they are willing to suspend the liturgical activities if the safety of churchgoers would be compromised.
“The church, for practical purposes, will be more than willing to suspend any liturgical activity if there will be threats to the safety of mass-goers. We will also instruct our parishioners to report to the police any suspicious looking individuals roaming the vicinity and depending on parish priests, they can request for police and military forces to secure their parishes,” Seciliano added.
Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo yesterday said that the bombing in front of a church in Sultan Kudarat last Sunday was a pure act of terrorism. - With Evelyn Macairan