Updated 12:25 PM PHT Sun, February 19, 2017
Baguio City (CNN Philippines) — Thousands of alumni of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) returned to Fort General Gregorio Del Pilar in Baguio City for their annual homecoming Saturday.
After more than a decade, a seating president attended the gathering as guest of honor.
President Rodrigo Duterte is an adopted member of PMA Dimasupil Class of 1967.
And this year, the PMA Alumni Association Inc. (PMAAAI) also adopted Mr. Duterte as an honorary member during the ceremonies.
PMAAAI Chairman Anselmo Avenido said they are affirming their support for Duterte's advocay against crime and drugs.
Duterte said, "But to be formally adopted by the Philippine Military Academy Alumni is a double honor in my case because of my long and harmonious relationship with PMA Alumni, not about political consideration."
One of the President's staunch critics, PMA alumnus Senator Sonny Trillanes, did not attend the alumni gathering this year.
In a rather unusual occasion, the President spoke for around seven minutes, sticking to his prepared speech. He talked about the problems the country is now facing: illegal drugs, terrorism, climate change, and poverty.
He said, "As a child immigrant from Visayas to Mindanao, we hoped for a better life in the so-called 'Land of Promise.' But now, it is threatened by climate change caused by man-made diseases like extractive industries. The rest of the nation is threatened by the widening gap between the rich and the poor, crime, corruption, criminality, and illegal drugs... I need the help of each one, especially the military, not for social control but protection the citizens from the lawless, the reckless, and the selfish."
Martial law hints dismissed
The military is quick to dismiss that the President's statement hints at a possible declaration of martial law.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief General Eduardo Año, a member of PMA Matikas Class of 1983, says there is no existing scenario that merits military rule in the country.
He said, "Wala naman kaming nakikitang situation na magwa-warrant ng martial law. We can do our mandate... we are actually in full control."
[Translation: We see no situation that warrants the enforcement of martial law. We can do our mandate... we are actually in full control.]
Año says they are carrying-out intensified operations in Mindanao to run after Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the so-called Islamic State in Mindanao and other terror groups in Maguindanao.
Meanwhile, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Director General Isidro Lapeña, a member of PMA Maagap Class of 1973, said a joint task group will soon replace the Philippine National Police's defunct Anti-Illegal Drugs Group.
He said, "We don't have the number yet. But it will depend on the need to address the war against drugs."
Lapeña says he is now waiting for an Executive Order that will create the lead task force in fighting illegal drugs in the country.