Confusion after Philippines’ Duterte threatens martial law

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte / AFP PHOTO / NOEL CELIS

Controversial Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened over the weekend to impose martial law to prosecute his deadly war on drugs.

His comments triggered deep anxiety in a nation still haunted by the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, which ended in 1986 with a famous “People Power” uprising.

Duterte frequently makes controversial comments that he or his aides then seek to clarify or quash completely, making it hard to determine the government’s position.

With his martial law threats attracting a barrage of criticism, there was a familiar outpouring of contradictory and confusing statements from various officials.

Here are Duterte’s quotes, and the various explanations or responses:

– ‘No one will be able to stop me’ –
Duterte on Saturday night:

“If I wanted to, and it (the drug war) will deteriorate into something really very virulent, I will declare martial law if I wanted to. No one will be able to stop me.”

And for emphasis:

“If I have to declare martial law, I will declare it — not about invasion, insurrection, not about danger. I will declare martial law to preserve my nation –- period.”

– Media to blame –
Presidential spokesman Martin Andanar:

“The president has categorically said no to martial law. He even made a pronouncement saying that martial law did not improve the lives of the Filipinos.

“We therefore decry the latest misreporting that the president will declare martial law simply ‘if he wants to’ or that ‘no one can stop the president from declaring martial law’. Such headlines sow panic and confusion to many. We consider this kind of reportage as the height of journalistic irresponsibility.”

– ‘Just an angry expression’ –
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre:

“It’s just an angry expression from the president and the public, especially the media, should not be surprised and rather be already accustomed to this mindset of the president.”

– Doubtful, but full support –
National police chief Ronald Dela Rosa:

“By all means we will support the president if he declare(s) (martial law), but I doubt he would declare it. He only said that because of frustration about the (drug) situation, out of anger, but I doubt he will do that.”

– No need –
Military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla:

“Right now we’re able to operate and catch all the people who have been perpetrating violence and we are operating within the bounds of law. So currently we are able to accomplish our mission without the complexity of needing any kind of special rule applied.”

Bristling at the comments by Andanar that reporters took Duterte’s comments out of context, the local press also hit back via scathing editorials:

– ‘Fools’ –
Manila Standard:

“It is difficult to imagine how anybody could deny a direct quote, but (Presidential) Palace officials did it anyway. It is not the first time they have made fools of themselves and the president they serve.”

– ‘Shut up’ –
Philippine Star:

“The president may be familiar with the wartime admonition that loose lips sink ships. When one is prone to rambling in public, leaving a wide room for different interpretations, there is virtue in circumspection.

“If President Duterte sincerely believes imposing martial law is needless and stupid, he should just shut up about it.”

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