Palace: Negros martial law an option amid killings

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 1) — President Rodrigo Duterte may declare martial law on Negros Island following the spate of killings there, his spokesperson said Thursday.

Grabe na yung patayan doon (The killings are grave)... He wants it to stop. The only way to do that is to use his emergency powers,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a Malacañang media briefing.

Panelo said the President has at least two options under the Constitution: “He can call the Armed Forces to quell lawless violence, he can declare martial law.”

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 a possible martial law declaration on Negros Island could be separate from the one that is currently in place in Mindanao until yearend. A fourth martial law extension is looming as National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon bared plans to recommend it.

Panelo said Duterte in his speech Wednesday night mentioned that more people are supporting the New People’s Army (NPA) in Negros, because the communist rebels are taking advantage of land disputes in the area. The NPA, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, is among the security threats cited by Duterte in previous requests to extend Mindanao martial law.

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. A P5 million reward money has been put up for the arrest of the perpetrators – “dead or alive.”

The police officers are among at least 10 people killed in Negros Oriental province alone in a span of a little more than a week.

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.

READ: Negros Oriental police chief sacked again amid new killings

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.