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‘Martial law on Sept. 21 a remote possibility’

The powers include the declaration of martial law, but Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said yesterday that this possibility is “remote.” Presidential Photo/released

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte can use the vast powers of his office to quell lawlessness and anarchy in case mass protests  on the 45th anniversary of the imposition of martial law by dictator Ferdinand Marcos get out of hand.

The powers include the declaration of martial law, but Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said yesterday that this possibility is “remote.”

He said he did not believe protesters have the capability to mount the type of mass actions that would warrant the declaration of martial law on Sept. 21.

Instead, Duterte might declare a holiday in government offices and schools in case mass protests become too disruptive, Lorenzana said.

Duterte had earlier said he might declare martial law to quell lawlessness in case anarchy reigns during the martial law anniversary.

Duterte said that he saw no problem if the people wanted to express grievances against his administration, or even resort to burning his effigy, as long as the protests remain peaceful.

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Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella clarified that Lorenzana did not say that Duterte would be expanding martial law to Metro Manila.   

“It is clear from the press briefing that as per Defense Secretary Lorenzana, PRRD (Duterte) would declare martial law if and when protest action leads to anarchy and disrupts the civilian government,” Abella said in a statement.

Lorenzana said the commander-in-chief can call out the Armed Forces to ensure peace and order in the metropolis.

“The normal thing that we can do under an emergency is we can put up checkpoints, we can establish curfews. Just like martial law. Martial law is more severe, but almost the same,” he said.

“We can… arrest people and hold them for 36 hours. Yun kasing martial law, 72 hours eh. So 36 hours. And then we have to let them go if we cannot find any culpable violation of law and we cannot charge them with any cases, we can let them go,” Lorenzana said.

Left-leaning organizations plan to stage massive protest rallies against the administration on Sept. 21, which marks Marcos’ declaration of martial law in 1972.

Duterte had warned protesters not to resort to violence, such as burning of property, during their planned protests.

“The President said, ‘if the Left will try to have a massive protest, they will start burning (things) on the streets, they will disrupt the country, then I might’,” said Lorenzana, quoting Duterte’s statement last weekend in Cagayan de Oro.

“In our view, in my estimate, that is very remote to happen right now,” said the defense chief, who is the implementer of martial law in Mindanao.

He added that Duterte “is very concerned” that the massive protests “might get out of hand.” 

“So he said, ‘I might declare martial law’,” Lorenzana said. “But I don’t think … the Left will be able to conduct a massive demonstration across the country, disrupting the civil government or the lives of the people. Eh hindi naman siguro mangyayari ’yun.”

“This morning I was in Malacañang and I was explaining to them that the President is threatening... that if there will be massive violence that will undermine civilian lives as well as functions of government, then he might (declare martial law),” said Lorenzana after attending a graduation at the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP).

Lorenzana pointed out that the threat to declare martial law did not come from him but from the President himself, who brought it up during their meeting.

He said local and foreign media attributed the plan to him.

“It’s there, but they did not mention that I was just repeating what the President said,” Lorenzana said.

Ant-government groups have been claiming that Duterte intends to place the entire country under martial law for him to be able declare a revolutionary government in order to fast-track a federal form of government.

The President has repeatedly declared that he will resign immediately once the federal system of government is in place.

Protest actions

Human rights advocate groups yesterday vowed to hold protest actions next week amid reports that Duterte would declare martial law nationwide.

In a statement, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary-general Renato Reyes said militant groups are set to hold demonstrations on Sept. 21.

Reyes said they will also be protesting the “worsening human rights situation” in the country.

“It is important that we commemorate martial law and ensure that its nationwide imposition will not happen again. The protests are also well within our constitutionally guaranteed rights,” Reyes said.

Though Malacañang has denied the report of Duterte declaring nationwide martial law, Reyes said the public must remain vigilant of any threat to curtail the freedom of assembly.

“We urge everyone to remain vigilant and thwart the desperate moves of the Duterte regime to sabotage or derail the nationwide protests,” Reyes said.

Meanwhile, Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said she is confident that any attempt to suppress the freedom to protest as well as any dictatorial efforts will not triumph.

Fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas also maintained that they will continue holding mass protests next week. – With Christina Mendez, Jaime Laude, Elizabeth Marcelo

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