By Mario J. Mallari
and Ted Tuvera
The government has upgraded the terror alert on the country but President Duterte said in a speech in Davao City yesterday that he is not crazy enough to impose martial law (ML), saying that it is not a solution to safeguarding public order.
Duterte ruled out military rule as a response to the Islamic terror threats stating that he’s not a “war freak” as what his critics are trying to depict him.
Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald dela Rosa, at a press conference in Camp Crame, said the public should expect intensified checkpoint operations throughout the country, particularly in highly-urbanized areas.
Dela Rosa said that the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) and the National Security Adviser (NSA) declared Terror Alert Level 3 which was a heightened level since last September deadly bombing at a night market in Davao City that killed 15 people and wounded 70 others.
However, such declaration was not publicly announced until yesterday. It will be recalled that President Duterte only announced the declaration of state of lawless violence immediately after the Davao City bombing.
“In the PNP, we are on full alert status,” said dela Rosa.
Duterte appears to have shifted gear on martial law which earlierhe said remains an option to combat terrorism and the drug menace, saying yesterday that it was not an effective measure in the past.
“They have been raising the issue of martial law. Should I raise martial law. For what Should I kill all the Maute (gang members) and all religious extremists?”, Duterte said.
“Martial Law for what Killing people I would rather empower every mayor. If they are expecting martial law from me, that is pure madness,” he added, addressing local government leaders of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
In dispelling martial law as one of his options, Duterte said even if he believes that former President Ferdinand Marcos was “a good leader”, his infamous military rule did not improve the lives of ordinary people.
“Martial law was imposed in the past, did our lives improve Until now there is none,” he said.
“So these people in Manila, they thought that they can incite my anger for me to declare martial law here, martial law there, killings everywhere,” the President added.
Bato: Be alert, vigilant
Dela Rosa said the 160,000-strong police organization is in close coordination with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) with the heightened alert level.
“My assurance is that our PNP and the AFP are trying their very best to secure the country,” said dela Rosa.
“Let us not be alarmed, let’s just be alert. I am advising the public to be vigilant, alert and cautious,” he added.
Chief Supt. Oscar Albayalde, acting director of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), said that Metro Manila is under full alert status to thwart any attempt to disrupt peace.
Dela Rosa’s announcement of Terror Alert Level 3 came following the arrest of two suspects behind the foiled bombing at the United States Embassy in Manila last Monday.
The two, Rayson Kilala, alias Rashid, and Jiaher Guinar are tagged as members of the Ansar Al-Khalifa Philippines (AKP) which is allied with the Maute group now the subject of intensified military operations in Lanao del Sur.
Authorities are not discounting the possibility that sympathizers and supporters of Maute group would engage into diversionary attacks to ease the pressure in Butig.
As of noontime yesterday, the Army’s 103rd Birgade, under Col Roseller Murillo, had already dislodged the Maute group from the old municipal building in Butig after seven days of intensified military assault.
The military launched the operations against members of the Maute group after they occupied the abandoned town hall and raised the “Black flag” to highlight their allegiance with ISIS.
More than 60 Maute group members have reportedly been killed while more than 30 soldiers were wounded during the week long clashes.
Clearing operations are still ongoing in the area as the Maute group laid booby traps to counter the advancing military troops.
Localized emergency measures
Despite Duterte’s pronounce-ment, the Palace said if ever the President resorts to the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus or declare martial law, it will not cover the entire country.
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said extreme measures to assure public order are possible in certain areas, particularly now with the entire nation under terror alert level 3.
“The state of lawlessness and the lifting of the privilege… of the writ of habeas corpus, in my view will be selective in places where the problem has escalated in terms of insurgency,” Andanar said.
The Palace spokesman, in a text message to reporters said the PNP’s alert warning is intended to beef up Duterte’s earlier proclamation placing the entire Philippines under the state of lawlessness in Mindanao.
“Placing the Philippines under terror alert level 3 is consistent with the declaration of state of national emergency or the declaration of state of lawless violence declared by President Duterte,” Andanar explained.
Moreover, Andanar conceded that the supposed terror attack at the US Embassy in Manila last Monday and the sudden activities of the terrorist Maute Group in Lanao del Sur were security lapses in the administration’s two-month old state of national emergency proclamation.
“There is no such thing as perfect security but what is more important is that authorities have successfully disarmed an improvised explosive device (IED) which could have wreaked havoc to the lives of our people,” he said.
“The PNP placed in Alert 3 to conform with PNP Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) which put the whole PNP in extreme alert for terrorists who might commit similar acts of planting bombs in Metro Manila. This could mean for the PNP to heighten their mobile checkpoints, increase intelligence activities and law enforcement operations,” Andanar added.
Meanwhile, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago expressed fears that the “terror alert level 3” coupled with the state of lawless violence declaration still being implemented, will result in a political crackdown and may in fact be a prelude to the imminent declaration of Martial Law.
“While we do not discount the very real threat posed by terrorist groups, we are wary that the so-called ‘terror alert level 3’ coupled with the state of lawlessness proclamation will pave the way for political persecution, crackdowns even – especially as this announcement comes at a time when dissent against the Duterte administration’s recent actions are mounting,” Elago said.
Meanwhile, Duterte fired a veiled criticism against his “idol” former President Fidel Ramos saying that the Ramos administration’s peace initiative with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was ineffective.
Duterte was referring to the Ramos administration’s Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) which caused rifts from within the MNLF, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and all their respective breakaway groups.
“All these years, all of those covered suffered. We are suffering because there seems to be no cohesive action on the part of the Moro people and the central government. There were several meetings, several attempts, from SPCPD,” he said.
“Instead of uniting, (the SPCPD) was more of divisive measures, one against the other Moro tribe or groupings,” Duterte said of Ramos’ supposed peace pact with the MNLF in 1996.
Duterte pointed out that the best way to end the Moro insurgency and as well as Islamic militancy is to expedite his federalism bid.
“I really don’t know where to go. But I think the only acceptable arrangement, as of today, this moment of our generation, and of the lives of the Moro people is federalism. Other than that, war is expected,” the President stressed.