CANBERRA—When President Duterte flew to Laos last week to attend the Asean summit on his first foreign policy trip, he had a fearsome international reputation as the emerging butcher of Asia in the wake of his bloody war on drugs in the Philippines. He departed after declaring a national emergency following a bomb explosion on Sept. 2 in his hometown, Davao City, that killed 14 people and wounded 70 others. Mr. Duterte declared the emergency on account of “lawless violence” in Mindanao, the country’s second-largest region. The declaration triggered fears nationwide that he opened the way for the imposition of martial law and a military-backed dictatorship modeled on the authoritarian rule clamped down by then President Ferdinand Marcos on Sept. 21, 1972. When he returned from the Laotian capital of Vientiane, Mr. Duterte tried to dispel the worst fears of the Filipinos, with the surprise announcement that there was no need for additional powers for the President after he had declared a state of lawlessness. He said he would use only the powers at his disposal as President to prevent and suppress violence in the country. “We are in a state of lawlessness. I do not need any additional power,” he said. “If you use the word, that is just to instill fear. I do not need anything except that you know that there is lawlessness in the country, period,” he told a press briefing in Davao City on his arrival from Indonesia. He said there were laws and measures he could use to keep the country safe. “I will just exercise the powers of the presidency the natural way—law and order, stricter measures,” Mr. Duterte said. Security measures He made the statement in response to a proposal by Sen. Richard Gordon to give him the power to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and to help fight terrorism and illegal drugs. The President also defended the security measures that would come with the declaration of national emergency on account of lawless violence, such as checkpoints and more stringent security procedures at places like airports. He noted that some people objected to the checkpoints, as lawyers had been warning the police could be committing violations.
But opposing random checkpoints could mean a person was hiding something, he said. In a state of lawlessness, “I feel that I have to to do some extra mile of putting things in order,” the President said. Airlines could advise passengers to be at the airport earlier than usual to allow more time to go through time stringent procedures. Open-ended emergency The national emergency proclamation empowers the President to call out the military, along with the police, to suppress violence in Mindanao and prevent it from spreading across the country. Under the guidelines of the proclamation, the military and the police would be deployed to major throughfares and crowded places, such as airports, shopping malls and transport terminals. What worries civil liberty activists is the fact that while the one-page proclamation does not suspend any of the people’s basic rights, it remains in force until lifted by the President, i.e., it is open-ended with the duration at his discretion. As of this writing, Malacañang has not released a hard copy of the proclamation, although a Palace assistant communications official had disclosed its salient points. The proclamation commands the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to undertake measures permitted by the Constitution and laws in order to suppress all forms of lawless violence in Mindanao and prevent these from escalating elsewhere The military and the police should perform these tasks “with due regard to fundamental and civil political rights,” the Palace official said. “There is no loss of civil or political liberties, so there is no suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. There is no declaration of martial law. It is simply a call to the military and police to help,” he added. Damaging investments Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said the basis of the proclamation was terrorism, citing the escape of prisoners, the beheading of hostages, and the Davao City night market blast that killed 14 people.
He emphasized that there was no time limit for the proclamation. “This is not martial law that has a 60-day limitation,” he said. The national emergency declaration and the war of words between US President Barack Obama and Mr. Duterte over insults unleashed by Mr. Duterte at Obama over the extrajudicial killings by the Davao Death Squad protected by Mr. Duterte when he was Davao City mayor came under fire from American investors in the Philippines.
The American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines warned that Mr. Duterte’s brutal war on drugs and foul-mouthed tirades, including one branding Obama a “son of a bitch,” could hit foreign investments. The chamber issued a statement that noted that while the crackdown on illegal drugs had seen Mr. Duterte’s domestic popularity soar, it had prompted widespread international condemnation from the United Nations and human rights watchdogs. It was also damaging investor sentiment. The “increased number of killings during the heightened antidrug campaign is harming the country’s image … some investors are now asking if this campaign is reducing the rule of law,” the chamber said.