Palace: No martial law

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Palace: No martial law
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque made this clear at a press briefing where he also cited the Chief Executive’s “difficult” balancing act of containing the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 and cushioning the impact of the Luzon-wide quarantine on the people, especially on their livelihood.
Presidential Photo / Yancy Lim

‘Total lockdown audio clip is fake news’

MANILA, Philippines — Despite his warning of tougher enforcement of the enhanced community quarantine, President Duterte has no plan to declare martial law, Malacañang emphasized yesterday.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque made this clear at a press briefing where he also cited the Chief Executive’s “difficult” balancing act of containing the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and cushioning the impact of the Luzon-wide quarantine on the people, especially on their livelihood. The lockdown is slated to end on April 30.

Roque said the President’s pronouncement that he would ask the military and police to strictly enforce the quarantine was simply an exercise of his “calling out powers.”

This is one of the three extraordinary powers of the President, Roque explained, the other two being the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and declaration of martial law.

“The least intrusive is what we call ‘calling out powers,’ and that was what the President mentioned during his latest address to the nation. He may call upon the armed forces to enforce the ECQ... that is not martial law,” Roque said.

He also dismissed as rumor reports that the government was laying the groundwork for a total lockdown.

The Department of National Defense, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government have debunked a viral voice clip that made the rounds on social media warning people about a total lockdown.

Roque said the President may issue such directive to the military without issuing an executive order.

Asked whether the public can expect a more drastic participation of the military if violations of quarantine protocols persist, Roque replied: “When ordered by the President, of course, the military will have to comply.

“With regard to the information that the Armed Forces is preparing, that’s natural. Because the President said they should prepare. But the President has not actually exercised this extraordinary power of calling upon the military for this purpose,” he added.

Duterte, however, may issue the necessary executive issuance on tapping the military to enforce the quarantine if he so decides, Roque said.

Roque called on the public to cooperate with authorities, saying violators may deprive other people of the right to life.

“The right to life is also a human right. If we violate the ECQ, we also pose a threat to the right to life of our countrymen.”

The Palace spokesman also reminded local governments to respect human rights when disciplining quarantine violators. He noted that in Pampanga, violators were asked to plant vegetables.

“While there was no mention of punishments for those who violated the ECQ, they should be within the Constitution and should be proportional to the objectives of ECQ to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Roque stressed.

Duterte placed Luzon, home to more than 57 million people, under quarantine last March 17 to arrest the further spread of COVID-19, which has infected more than 6,000 people in the Philippines and more than two million persons worldwide. The quarantine, which sidelined thousands of workers and forced the government to spend billions in aid, was supposed to end last April 13 but the President extended it until April 30 to allow the government to conduct more tests.

Duterte was scheduled to meet with health experts, including former health secretaries yesterday to determine whether he would lift or extend the quarantine period or ease some measures being implemented to stop the spread of the disease.

“The problem really is finding the balance between how many more will die if we relax the ECQ and our obligation to feed our countrymen. It is a very difficult decision to make,” Roque said.

“I don’t envy the President for having to make this decision, but we are hoping and praying that the right decision will be made. But as I said, it is difficult, because the decision is one of the most difficult that the President has to make, he will be guided by science,” he added.

Roque said Duterte was expected to decide on the quarantine within the week.

“Ang Presidente, sabi po niya, ay inip na inip na  (Even the President is getting very impatient). Just like you, he has not left his residence in Bahay Pangarap. This is the longest time he spent in Manila since he studied here. The President has not left Malacañang complex for nearly six weeks. Just like you, he wants changes in the ECQ,” he said.

“But the decision to be made by the President should be based on science... He wants to make the right decision,” he added.

Roque said the President may lift or extend the quarantine or adopt a modified quarantine that covers certain provinces, municipalities or barangays.

“A modified ECQ limited to a geographical location is possible. We all know that not all parts of the Philippines have COVID-19 cases,” the Palace spokesman said.

Among the experts invited to brief Duterte about the COVID-19 situation are former health secretaries Janet Garin, Esperanza Cabral, and Jaime Galvez Tan; Susan Mercado, Anthony Leachon, Ana Lisa Ong Lim, Marissa Alejandria, Katherine Ann Reyes and Alfredo Mahar Lagmay.

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