Duterte warns of martial law in Mindanao if violence escalates

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte warned on Thursday, March 9, that he will be “forced” to declare martial law in Mindanao if violence in the region worsens.

“Either tulungan 'nyo ako (you help me) or I will declare martial law tomorrow for Mindanao,” Duterte told Mindanao local officials in Davao City on Thursday, March 9.

“I am pleading with you because I do not want the trouble in Mindanao to spin out of control because then, as President, I will be forced, I will be compelled to exercise extraordinary powers. You’ve had experience with martial law and it could be a brutal war,” he said. 

Duterte had threatened to declare martial law in the country in the past, only to withdraw it later. (READ: Duterte: I will declare martial law if I want to)

Such pronouncements had even triggered a word war between Palace Communications Secretary Martin Andanar and members of the media, particularly the Malacañang Press Corps. (READ: Palace slam Andanar over 'misreporting' tirade)

On Thursday, however, Duterte gave some details of his supposed martial law plan for the region as well as its potential basis. The President said he was prompted to make the appeal and warning after reading thick briefers about violence in Mindanao.

He spoke of a bombing of a school in Zamboanga and numerous occasions of grenade attacks in Central Mindanao.

Earlier that day, he visited the wake of policemen who died following a New People’s Army attack in Davao del Sur.

Duterte said martial law would allow warrantless arrests, because of the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. 

“Martial law would open the doors of every house there; the arrest of every person. The detention of every person, everyone; anyone. The military and police will be allowed to just pick you up from the streets and detain you,” he said.

The return of martial law in the Philippines would be a “traumatic” experience, he admitted. But he said this would be necessary to contain the violence in Mindanao.

Duterte urged local government officials to use their supervisory powers over police to ensure peace in their cities and towns.

Local governments, he said, should be more proactive in going after lawless elements.

"You have the police, use it to the hilt," he said.

Not to extend term

Duterte emphasized that if he declares martial law, it will not be to keep him in power, as was the case with the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. (READ: Martial Law, the dark chapter in Philippine history)

“I will be compelled now to exercise extraordinary powers, not to perpetuate myself believe me – I am not happy continuing with this job – but since I am here, I have to. It’s not a question of emotion, it’s a question of duty,” said Duterte.

If he declares martial law, it may “last for 20 days or one year,” depending on the Mindanao situation, he said.

He explained how a worsened situation in Mindanao may not be properly addressed by the limitations of "regular government," thus requiring martial law.

"If you go by the rules, regular government, nothing will happen. Right to bail then habeas corpus. That's the purpose of martial law. You also spread terror against the enemies. That's what it is actually. It’s almost terrorism by the establishment," said Duterte.

While the Supreme Court may oppose his martial law declaration, he implied that Congress may support his move.

“The Supreme Court might not agree with me but you must remember that Congress, a political body, and congressmen there will be forced to face the issue squarely,” he said.

The House of Representatives, in particular, is dominated by administration allies.

“I’m not saying I will disobey the Supreme Court but I have a limited period to do it, then go to the Supreme Court to explain how it has affected the lives of people in Mindanao,” said Duterte. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

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 pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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