MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday he is no fan of Martial Law even as he maintained that such declaration can be a “contingency” to address violence.
Duterte allayed fears that his recent statement on the possible suspension of the writ of habeas corpus could be a prelude to martial rule similar to that of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
“I am not a fan of Martial Law. I am a lawyer. People are afraid of Martial Law but if ever, Martial Law is a contingency to meet widespread violence,” the president told reporters at the Presidential Security Group compound Tuesday night.
Writ of habeas corpus, which literally means “produce the body,” requires arresting officers to deliver or present the body of a detained person. It provides a person an opportunity to challenge what he believes is an unlawful arrest or illegal detention before a court.
Under the 1987 Constitution, the president may suspend the writ “for not more than 60 days in case of an invasion, rebellion” or “when the public safety requires it.”
Last week, Duterte said he might suspend the writ of habeas corpus if lawlessness spread in Mindanao, adding that the move could intensify the crackdown on drugs and rebellion. Duterte clarified though that he would not declare Martial Law and that he would only suspend the writ if criminals “force” his hand into it.
EXPLAINER: Why is the writ of habeas corpus important?
Officials sought to downplay Duterte’s pronouncement by saying that the president was just articulating an idea and a hyperbole. Some lawmakers, however, have raised concerns over the president’s statement, noting that Marcos suspended the writ before declaring Martial Law.
Critics of Duterte’s war on drugs are worried that the campaign could lead to human rights abuses and extralegal killings. More than 4,000 drug suspects have been killed since Duterte assumed the presidency in July.
Duterte said Mindanao, which is plagued with armed private and Islamist groups, is in a “state of rebellion.” He reiterated his concern over the involvement of some government officials in the illegal drugs trade.
“There are officials elected to offices by the use of drug money… (Those with) elective positions, they were able to parlay their influence,” the president said.
Duterte revealed that an elected official with alleged links to the narcotics trade has amassed P5.9 billion worth of “dirty money.”
“We are trying to build a case. Watch out for it…Matutumba kayo (You will be shocked). P5.9 billion,” he said without identifying the person.
Last September, Duterte placed the entire country under a “state of emergency” after a bombing in Davao City that killed 14 persons and wounded about 60 others.
The declaration, which was contained in Proclamation no. 55, also ordered the military and the police to suppress “any and all forms of lawless violence in Mindanao” and to prevent lawless violence from spreading in other parts of the country.
Duterte has said he would consult Congress on the drug menace, admitting that he cannot address the problem by himself.
The president has said he is expecting the number of drug addicts in the country to increase to four million by year end.
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