Duterte to military: I need you in leading the country

HOMECOMING. President Rodrigo Duterte attends the annual Philippine Military Academy alumni homecoming on February 18. Screenshot from RTVM

HOMECOMING. President Rodrigo Duterte attends the annual Philippine Military Academy alumni homecoming on February 18.

Screenshot from RTVM

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte during the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) alumni homecoming on Saturday, February 18, said he needs the military in leading the county.

"I need the help of each one, especially the military, not for social control but protection of the citizens from the lawless, the reckless, and the selfish," said Duterte in his speech in Baguio City. (READ: PMA alumni present manifesto of support for Duterte).

Duterte said he wants to replicate nationwide his peace and order campaign when he was mayor of Davao City.

"What I desire for the Philippines is a prosperous society that includes everyone, a peaceful law-abiding citizenry, and people of different beliefs who choose to get along with one another. That is why I appreciate the PMA. You have the template of discipline and civility," Duterte said.  

It was his first speech as commander in chief before PMA alumni.

Duterte's speech was unusually short, only about 10 minutes. He read a prepared speech and did not stray from it as he is wont to do when speaking before other audiences, including the police. This has become noticeable whenever he attends formal military events. 

'Situation doesn't warrant martial law'

There have been persistent fears that Duterte's strong-handed measures are a prequel to a declaration of martial law. Just last January, referring to his war on drugs, he said: 'If it will deteriorate into something really very virulent, I will declare martial law if I want to. Walang makapigil sa akin (Nobody can stop me)."

But Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Año dismissed them, saying there is no situation that would warrant the declaration of martial law.

"We can do our mandate. We are in full control. There is no situation that will warrant it," Año said. 

Año welcomed Duterte's call on the military to support his campaigns. "Maganda ang panawagan ng PanguloAng alumni homecoming ay tamang-tama para sa renewal of vow para sa mga graduates ng PMA (The President made a timely call. The alumni homecoming is the best time for the PMA graduates to renew their vows)," Año said.

Since Duterte assumed office, he has been taking time to visit camps nationwide. These visits were seen to be a means to boost troop morale and possibly enlist military support for his war against illegal drugs.

Año also dismissed talks about a possible coup against Duterte. "The whole armed forces is solid behind the President right now. Our focus is really eliminating all internal threats. [When it comes to] other forms of destabilization, we have not monitored anything," Año said.

ISIS threat

Duterte discussed the need to continue his controversial war on drugs, containing the influence of the foreign terrorist organization Islamic State (ISIS) in the country, and enforcing peace and order. He did not dwell lengthily on his favorite issue: the war on drugs.

"As I predicted, ISIS would find its way to the Philippines.... I have directed AFP and PNP to continuously contain the ISIS threat, to intensify operations using all available assets and resources. This is the only way to secure Mindanao," Duterte said.

In January, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the leadership of ISIS in Syria made direct contact with Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon back in December 2016 to instruct him to find a suitable area to establish a caliphate in Mindanao.

Earlier, Duterte also asked the military to help in the war on drugs. He ended the police campaign after the death of Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo exposed how it has been abused by "scalawag cops."

Duterte ordered the "cleansing" of the Philippine National Police and said he was extending the war on drugs to the last day of his term.

Año said he has ordered the troops to intensify operations against local terrorist groups. "As soon as possible, we should reduce or eliminate the Abu Sayyaf," he said. 

When it comes to the war on drugs, Año said the military will provide forces and share intelligence with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), which he said, remains the "main operating unit." – Rappler.com