AFP: No 'copycat' of abuses during Marcos martial law

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 19) — The Palace and the military reiterated today its assurance that the rule of law and human rights would be upheld in Mindanao which is under martial law.

The clarification comes after President Rodrigo Duterte said on June 17 that if the Supreme Court rules to stop martial law, he may restore it the way of the late strongman President Ferdinand Marcos.

"But if that rebellion burns Mindanao and the other parts of the Philippines, and I will be forced to declare martial law again, this time, I will do it on my own to preserve my nation," he told the media after visiting a military camp in Butuan City. "I will not consult anybody and there is no telling when it will end. Then it could be a copycat of Marcos."

Martial law under the Marcos era, which officially lasted from 1972 to 1981, was fraught with widespread corruption and human rights abuses like extrajudicial killings and detention of dissidents.

However, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a Palace briefing that the President's statement did not mean that human rights abuses would be repeated.

"It does not include at all any human rights abuse," he said. "The President was talking about the length and breadth and the depth of the efforts."

Abella added that the Commission on Human Rights, which is critical of alleged extrajudicial killings in the administration's war on drugs, has not received any reports of human rights abuses since martial law was declared in Mindanao almost a month ago.

At the same briefing, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the President's statement may have been made in jest.

"You know, the nature of the question and answer that transpired in Butuan was of an extent that nagkakabiruan na eh [he was starting to kid around]," he said. "The AFP will always guarantee the safety of each citizen who are doing the right things."

The Supreme Court will decide on the legality of martial law on July 5, which was declared on May 23 along with the suspension of the privilege of writ of habeas corpus following clashes between government troops and the Maute terrorist group in Marawi City.

As of June 18, the conflict has killed 26 civilians, 62 government troops and 257 terrorists.

Although Duterte said he will withdraw troops from Marawi if the High Court rejects his declaration, Padilla said he doesn't see this as a likely scenario.

"It would be foolhardy to stop the fight because martial law was lifted," he said. "So there's a threat to public safety, so tuloy pa rin po [it goes on]."

As far as the AFP is concerned, military offensives should continue with or without martial law.  However, it admits hunting down terrorists without martial law is more difficult.

CNN Philippines Digital Producer VJ Bacungan contributed to this report.