But rights group warns of abuses, says military restraint "may be wishful thinking"
MANILA – The government on Thursday said the public should not worry about President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao, even as a human rights group warned of possible abuses by the military.
Human Rights Watch, which has been critical of Duterte’s war on drugs, said that “military restraint in Mindanao may be wishful thinking” given the human rights climate under the president.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, however, said the 1987 Constitution, which was crafted following the downfall of strongman Ferdinand Marcos, had safeguards against abuses in the implementation of the martial law.
“Given the safeguards provided by the Constitution, and the President’s pure intention to do everything within his power to maintain peace and order and ensure the safety of the public, there should be no reason for the public to be anxious about the proclamation of martial law,” Panelo said in a statement.
Duterte placed all of Mindanao under martial law following clashes between government troops and the terrorist Maute group in Marawi City.
With the declaration, the President suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, which would allow warrantless arrests. He is also planning to impose a curfew in certain parts of Mindanao.
James Ross, HRW’s legal and policy director, however, said while the Constitution provides for safeguards against abuses under martial rule, “words on paper are just that.”
“The coming days and weeks will see if the Philippine Congress and courts are up to the task of keeping a wildly abusive president in check. Since Duterte took office nearly a year ago, they haven’t been,” Ross said.
Duterte’s martial law declaration followed repeated statements of his intent to impose military rule in Mindanao to solve the restive region’s law and order problems.
The President said Wednesday that he might later on extend the declaration to the Visayas region if violence spills over the region.