MANILA - Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan on Friday criticized President Rodrigo Duterte for threatening to declare martial law over rebel attacks as the country grappled with the coronavirus crisis, saying the government should instead focus on addressing the global pandemic.
Duterte earlier threatened to declare martial law should the New People's Army (NPA) continue to attack government troops while the national government is busy addressing the disease outbreak.
"COVID ang pinakamatinding problem ng bansa ngayon, hindi ang insurgency," the opposition lawmaker said in a text message to reporters.
(COVID is the country's biggest problem today, not insurgency.)
"Tigilan na nila ang pagtulak ng kamay na bakal dahil hindi kayang gipitin o sugpuin ng kamay na bakal ang mikrobyo o nakakamatay na virus," the opposition senator said.
(They should stop pushing for the iron fist because the iron fist cannot defeat bacteria or the deadly virus.)
"Sa panahon ng COVID, unahin nilang hanapan ng solusyon 'yung milyon-milyon na ginugutom na kababayan natin sa mga komunidad at langsangan ng Maynila at iba pang lockdown areas, at hindi mga rebeldeng nasa tuktok ng malalayong bundok," he said.
(During the time of COVID, they should look for solutions to feed the millions who are starving in streets and communities in Metro Manila and other lockdown areas, instead of focusing on rebels on top of mountains in far-flung areas.)
The military said the rebel New People's Army's attacks infuriated the President as they struck even soldiers engaged in the distribution of aid to families affected by the coronavirus crisis.
Sen. Joel Villanueva said national agencies should instead "focus all our energy" in improving the capacity of the country's health care system and COVID-19 testing and surveillance programs.
"'Yung martial law will not help in these priority areas," he said in a separate message.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Duterte's planned imposition of martial law would be justified should communist rebels' "attacks persist."
"If NPA attacks persist and therefore rebellion continues in the midst of the pandemic, the President is obligated to declare martial law," Sotto said.
Senators Panfilo Lacson and Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III said the declaration of military rule can be "location-specific."
"I will support the President's decision to declare martial law at least in areas where the NPAs operate with impunity and without regard to the ongoing public health crisis that we are going through," Lacson said.
"In fact, I will encourage a no-nonsense military offensive against them... if the so-called 'enemies of the state' will continue to harass military and police non-combatants, especially those performing the humanitarian task of assisting in the distribution of social amelioration funds."
"That (martial law declaration) is part of Presidential powers... It can be location specific," Pimentel said, noting that Congress can always review the imposition of military rule.
The government and communist rebels earlier declared unilateral ceasefires as the Philippines continued to grapple with the outbreak. The CPP extended the ceasefire to April 30, the end of the Luzon-wide lockdown, but government has yet to reciprocate. The latter's ceasefire declaration lapsed on April 15.
Despite the ceasefire, several incidents have been recorded between state troops and rebels, including incidents in Eastern Samar, Surigao del Sur, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Masbate, Aurora and most recently Negros Occidental.