MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte's declaration of a state of lawless violence or lawlessness is the first in recent Philippine history given its coverage.
A state of lawless violence was once declared in 2003 by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, but this was limited to Davao City.
President Duterte on early Saturday, September 3, said it was a nationwide declaration. He did not indicate if it's for a limited period of time only.
His presidential spokesman said the limit is such that "he can only call out the armed forces to suppress the lawless violence."
"It is a different case from the existence of invasion or rebellion," explained Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella in a statement. "Only if there is invasion or rebellion, and when public safety requires it, can he (Duterte) suspend the writ of habeas corpus or declare martial law."
Hours after Duterte's statement, Malacañang officials clarified that the declaration only covered Mindanao. Yet, they changed their minds again shortly past 10 am Saturday to stress that it's nationwide.
The Executive Secretary will be issuing a "definitive statement" on the matter on Saturday, they said.
This prompted the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the military to declare a red alert nationwide.
Duterte assured the public that what he declared “is not martial law” and that there would be no suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
What it simply means, he said, is that more soldiers and policemen will now be deployed, government will set up more checkpoints, and impose, if needed, curfews in certain areas.
The 1987 Constitution allows the President to call on the armed forces "to prevent or suppress lawless violence."
Section 18, Article VII of the Philippine Constitution states: "The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion."
Duterte's declaration is similar to previous presidential declarations of state of emergency, lawyers told Rappler. (READ: Making sense of Duterte's declaration of state of lawlessness)
It is the "mildest" of the 3 commander-in-chief powers of the President granted by the Constitution, they said.
The second and stronger power is the power to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, which allows the state to arrest and jail anyone without trial.
The 3rd and strongest power is to declare martial law.
Lawyers said that Duterte should be specific and formalize his declaration so that law enforcers are given strict parameters for its implementation.
"It is not the label of proclamation but the modalities of execution that characterizes the declaration," said a judge who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Military, police visibility
Persida Acosta, chief of the Public Attorney's Office, told radio dzMM that more cops and soldiers will now be deployed in "vital posts, vital areas," such as telecommunication towers.
"Makikita mo na hindi nasa barracks lang ang ating mga pulis at military," Acosta said. (You will see them operating outside the barracks.)
Curfews will be imposed when and where necessary, Acosta said.
Duterte himself already announced a lockdown in Davao City, allowing soldiers to search vehicles and people as government pursues the perpetrators of the explosion.
PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa said he took the order to mean that the police should help in "suppressing any form of lawlessness such as terror attacks."
The PNP has ordered all units to be "on full alert," he told reporters in La Union on Saturday. He also stressed that authorities cannot simply arrest anyone. "This is not martial law."
The PNP is already on full alert nationwide. "All RDs are directed to strengthen and fortify all police stations, detachments and camps to be double alert. Likewise, coordinate with all intel and friendly units in your areas and exercise extreme caution in conducting checkpoints," Chief Superintendent Camilo Pancratius Cascolan said in a memorandum to the PNP's regional directors.
Policemen in the mega capital were ordered to "set up checkpoints where deemed necessary and maximize security and presence in all vital installations, malls, churches, MRT and LRT stations, and all places of convergence," according to PNP Metro Manila chief Chief Superintendent Oscar Albayalde.
In a statement Saturday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said they were ready to implement the President’s declaration. The AFP is likewise on full alert, especially in Metro Manila. (READ: AFP on heightened alert in Metro Manila)
"The continuing directive by the AFP chief of staff General Ricardo Visaya has been for our personnel to be vigilant and ready for any eventuality," the statement added.
But Dela Rosa and Visaya also appealed for calm.
Arroyo's state of lawlessness in Davao City
The last time a Philippine president declared a state of lawless violence was in 2003, ironically in Davao City, a response of then President Arroyo to bombings outside 3 mosques that had occurred hours before she was set to visit the city.
Arroyo's declaration, however, was limited to the city.
Arroyo also declared a nationwide state of emergency 3 years later, in February 2006 – for a limited period of 7 days. Arroyo lifted it on March 3, 2006.
This was an offshoot of a failed coup attempt against her. The state of emergency had led, among others, to the revocation of all permits to hold demonstrations and protests.
Earlier in May 2001, Arroyo declared a "state of rebellion" in Metro Manila following the attack of supporters of former president Joseph Estrada, who was recently ousted at the time, on Malacañang, according to a Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism report.
After the December 1989 coup that came close to toppling her, the late president Corazon Aquino also declared a national emergency, the PCIJ added.
The September 2, 2016 explosion at the Roxas night market in Davao City followed a series of gun battles in Sulu that have claimed the lives of 15 Army troops.
The President has pledged to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf, which is behind the spate of kidnappings in Western Mindanao and which has claimed responsibility for the Davao explosion.
The military has already deployed about 8,000 troops in Sulu alone, the biggest provincial armed deployment by the state in years. – Rappler.com