Duterte warns of ‘drastic’ measure to address violence in PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 2) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday warned he will do something “drastic” to address the growing violence in the country following the spate of killings in Negros Island.

“I will explain in the coming days. But I’m about to do something drastic. It will not sit well with everybody, maybe including you, but it is needed,” he said in his speech before the members of the Bureau of Fire Protection.

After his imminent announcement, he assured the public he has no plans of becoming a dictator.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Friday said declaring martial law in Negros is possible after 21 people were killed in Negros Oriental province alone in a span of a little more than a week. He said if Duterte decides to declare military rule, it will only apply in Negros — separate from the one that is currently in place in Mindanao until year end.

“Emergency situations call for the exercise of emergency powers,” he told CNN Philippines.

The Constitution states that the President, as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, may place the entire country or any part of it under martial law "in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it." The declaration lasts only for 60 days, but in the case of Mindanao, Congress has granted all three requests for an extension as Duterte argued the need for military rule to quell the rebellion in the region.

Panelo said the drastic directive from Duterte will come “sooner than expected.”

Malacañang claimed communist rebels are behind the killings in Negros, saying members of the New People’s Army are the only perpetrators of violence in the area.

“Since it appears to him that the land unrest has been the trigger of all these killings and the communist rebels are using that as an excuse to justify the killings,” Panelo said.

Situation in Negros ‘blown up’ – regional police chief

The Philippine National Police (PNP) believes NPA rebels are behind the brutal killing of four police officers in Ayungon town, Negros Oriental on July 18. On July 24, a 53-year-old lawyer was shot while in his vehicle by gunmen riding-in-tandem in Guihulngan City. The next day, three public officials were shot dead in their homes in the same city. Two days later, the former mayor of Ayungon town and his cousin were killed in his home.

The New People's Army denied the Duterte administration's claims, saying those carrying out the killings in Negros Oriental are policemen who are allegedly part of vigilante group "Duterte Death Squad."

Despite the killings, Central Visayas Police Chief BGen. Debold Sinas stressed that the situation in Negros is manageable.

“I don’t know why it had blown up like this. We haven’t seen any locals crying out in the open that their place is in crisis,” he said.

Sinas acknowledged that the recent killings in Negros Oriental are considered “extraordinary,” but assured the police are on top of the situation.

PNP also echoed this, "For the moment, the situation there is under control and all PNP units there remain on full alert and vigilant to thwart and prevent occurrence of crimes and killings."

The Commission on Human Rights said because PNP assured the situation is under control, even without applying extraordinary measures, there is no need to declare military rule in the island.

"We hold that this puts to rest the need to declare martial law or any emergency power. What we are trying to avoid is the normalization of measures reserved for extraordinary cases concerning national safety," CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said in a statement.

PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde on Monday ordered the deployment of more than 300 special action forces to Negros Island following the spate of violence. Human rights watchdog Defend Negros Network said at least 87 people have been killed on the island since 2017.

Senator Risa Hontiveros on Friday called for a Senate investigation to bring justice to the victims and to create policies that will address the cause of conflict in the province.

CNN Philippines stringer Roy August Bustillo contributed to this report.