MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday assured the public that there would be no abuses in the implementation of martial law in Mindanao, where he imposed military rule following clashes between government troops and the Maute terror group.
This amid concerns that several human rights groups and progressive lawmakers have aired over possible excesses in the imposition of military rule.
“I will assure you I am not willing to allow abuses. Government is still running, the Congress is functioning, and the courts are open for citizens to seek grievance,” Duterte said upon arriving in Manila from a shortened official visit to Russia.
The President, however, said those who would dare to carry out terror and criminal acts would deal with the government’s wrath.
“We are the least of your worry but if you confront government - and my orders are [first], to enforce the law. And anyone caught possessing a gun and confronting us with violence, my orders are shoot to kill. I will not hesitate to do it,” he said.
“If I think that you should die, you will die. If you fight us, you will die. If there is an open defiance, you will die,” he added.
Duterte rushed home from Russia after declaring martial law in Mindanao following a gunfight between government troops and the Maute Group in Marawi City on Tuesday.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines said six government troops have died from the clashes.
Sporadic clashes erupted Tuesday as government troops were about to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf leader who has been named the Philippine head of the Islamic State. The US government is offering a $5-million bounty for his capture.
Along with the martial law declaration, Duterte said the privilege of writ of habeas corpus has been suspended in Mindanao, allowing government forces to arrest anyone charged with rebellion or invasion without a court-issued warrant.
Duterte said he might expand the coverage of martial law to Visayas, noting that terrorists might reach the major island group.
Armed Forces Chief of Staff Eduardo Año, who was supposed to take over as Interior secretary this June, would stay on as the military chief as he was tapped to serve as martial law administrator.
The President is mandated by the Constitution to submit to Congress his justification for declaring martial law within 48 hours.. The legislature will then conduct a review and decide by a majority vote whether to uphold or revoke the declaration.