Declaring martial law over NPA stealing relief goods an 'overkill' – Carpio

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 27) — Reports that members of the New People's Army are hijacking relief goods amid the COVID-19 crisis do not merit the declaration of martial law, retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said Monday.

The legal expert said President Rodrigo Duterte has other options to stop the illegal activities of armed rebels, whose attacks have been a security concern even before the local coronavirus outbreak.

"I think martial law is an overkill," Carpio said during an online forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

"I think it will really be terrible if you declare martial law when there is a pandemic. You are just compounding the problem, we have now difficulty in getting supplies to urban centers. If you impose martial law, you aggravate this difficulty. I don't think that's the proper solution," he added.

Duterte on Friday threatened to declare military rule following repeated incidents of NPA attacks in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, saying that some of them have ambushed government personnel and troops who were bringing relief goods to poor communities.

However, Carpio said the President can leave lawless elements to the police and military. He added that martial law is only meant to curtail insurrection, rebellion or invasion, according to the 1987 Constitution.

"We have to look at the gravity of the situation. I don't think that just because the NPA hijacked some of the relief goods, that's already a ground for declaring martial law. That rebellion has been going on, but it has not merited any martial law declaration in Luzon because it can still be addressed by calling out the Armed Forces," the long-time Supreme Court justice said.

In his hour-long speech last week, Duterte accused NPA rebels of stealing government aid to remote communities. The President earlier asked government troops to stand down so government can focus on COVID-19 relief efforts. The government ceasefire ended April 15.

The Communist Party of the Philippines, however, extended their truce until April 30. The President also vowed to "finish" all members of the left-wing rebels in the last two years of his term.

Two soldiers manning the distribution of cash aid in Aurora were reportedly killed and three were wounded in an hour-long standoff with NPA guerillas last week. Prior to that, there was a reported encounter in Rodriguez, Rizal and a supposed hacking of members of a tribe in Surigao.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Jr. said last week that there are now more calls to end the ceasefire due to numerous violations. Attempts at peace talks between the Duterte government and the communist party have fallen apart so far.

"Ang sinabi naman po ng Presidente na ang martial law ay gagamitin kapag nagpatuloy ang NPA doon sa kanilang pag-atake sa mga sundalo, lalung-lalo na 'yung mga nagbabantay lang naman sa nagbibigay-ayuda sa ating mga taumbayan. 'Yan po ay nasa Saligang Batas," Roque said in his Malacañang press briefing.

[Translation: The President said that he will implement martial law if the NPA mounts more attacks on soldiers, especially those who are guarding the distribution of aid to our fellowmen. That is in the Constitution.]

For more than two years, the entire Mindanao had been placed under martial law as the national government sought to retake Marawi City from Maute rebels and eventually restore peace and order in the island group. The military rule, which involved heightened patrol of armed personnel and checkpoints in provinces and cities, only ended last December.