MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte can opt to “declare martial law” in Negros Island to stop the spate of killings there, Malacañang said on Thursday, August 1.
Panelo made the statement in a Palace news briefing, where he said the President would likely invoke emergency powers "soon."
The President had mentioned his plan on dealing with Negros violence in his speech at the National Security Council and National Intelligence Coordinating Agency anniversary on Wednesday night, July 31.
Asked which emergency powers Duterte would use, Panelo said: "He can call the Armed Forces to declare lawless violence. He can declare martial law."
A martial law declaration, said Panelo, would be "separate" from his current declaration covering Mindanao and lasting until December this year. (READ: Martial Law 101: Things you should know)
The President would "certainly" declare martial law if its declaration was recommended by security officials, said the spokesman.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he so far has made no such recommendation.
"As of now, absent any recommendation from the AFP and PNP forces, intel reports and local government unit recommendation, I am not yet recommending martial law in Negros," he told Rappler.
It was not the first time for Malacañang to raise the possibility of a martial law declaration in the Visayas.
A day after he declared martial law in Mindanao following the terrorist siege on Marawi on May 23, 2017, Duterte had said that he might expand martial law to the Visayas and Luzon if the threat of the terrorist Islamic State (ISIS) persists. He later modified this to a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in Visayas if terrorism reached the region.
Duterte's plan for Negros was in response to the spate of killings in Negros Oriental, where a total of 21 people were killed from July 18 to 27. These include a lawyer, a barangay captain, a city councilor, a former mayor, and a one-year-old child. (READ: 15 shot dead in Negros Oriental in 1 week)
Back in November 2018, Duterte had issued Memorandum Order No. 32 deploying more cops and soldiers to Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental, aside from Samar province and Bicol.
The order cited "sporadic acts of violence" committed by "lawless groups" and directed military and police to "prevent such violence from spreading and escalating elsewhere in the country."
The Philippines has been under a state of national emergency on account of lawless violence since September 5, 2016, after a bomb exploded in Davao City, killing 14. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.