MANILA - More troops may be deployed in regions controlled by communist rebels to suppress "lawless violence" during the run-up to the 2019 elections, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Saturday.
The defense chief said this a day after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered more soldiers to be stationed in Bicol, Samar and the Negros provinces citing a “number of sporadic acts of violence” recently.
Lorenzana said the same areas are considered "critical" during elections.
"Ito iyong mga kino-kontrol ng mga NPA (New People's Army) para hindi maka-campaign iyong mga kandidato kung hindi magbayad sa kanila," Lorenzana told reporters on the sidelines of a veterans' event in Quezon City.
(These are areas controlled by the NPA to stop candidates from campaigning unless they pay the rebels.)
"Either kontrolin nila iyong mga movement ng mga kandidato or they will campaign in favor of candidates, so hindi na pantay iyong laban," he said.
(The rebels would either control a candidate's movement or campaign in favor of other candidates, so it will be an unfair fight.)
The military is still assessing the situation in other areas but is looking at the possibility that communist rebels might meddle in the conduct of the 2019 midterm elections, the defense chief said.
Government earlier halted peace negotiations with the communist movement following continued attacks on state troops despite ongoing talks.
MARTIAL LAW EXTENSION
The suppression of lawless violence may lead to the extension of military rule in Mindanao, Lorenzana said, but it would not lead to a declaration of a nationwide martial law.
Martial law has been in place in Mindanao since May 2017, at the onset of firefights between state troops and terrorists in Marawi City.
It remained in place despite the end of the siege in October last year, as government cited remaining threats in the area. Its extension is set to lapse by the end of the year.
Duterte earlier dismissed claims that the deployment of more troops to provinces would be a prelude to his declaration of a nationwide martial law.
"Hindi ako mag-declare ng martial law. Bakit ako mag-declare ng martial law? Puwede man kitang hulihin. Puwede nga kitang patayin eh," Duterte said in a speech at the 35th founding anniversary of the Philippine Army Reserve Command at Camp General Mariano Riego de Dios in Tanza, Cavite Thursday.
(I will not declare martial law. Why will I declare martial law? I can have you arrested, I can have you killed.)
"Kaya inuutusan ko kayo ngayon. ‘Pag ako ang nag-overshoot ng isang oras sa termino ko, hulihin ninyo ako at i-firing squad ninyo ako," Duterte told soldiers and army reservists.
(That's why I'm ordering you now, if I overshoot my term by an hour, arrest me and kill me through a firing squad.)
- with a report from Arra Perez, ABS-CBN News