MANILA - Malacañang on Thursday assured the public that there would be no return of the dictatorial rule under President Rodrigo Duterte amid fears that the tough-talking leader may soon place the entire country under martial law to quell security threats.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the government and the military have not abused their powers since the martial law declaration in Mindanao on May 23, when firefights erupted between state forces and Islamic State-inspired terrorists in Marawi City.
He said Duterte's martial law is different from the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos' authoritarian rule, which saw killings and enforced disappearances of activists and opposition figures.
“This is not the same martial law that we had in 1972. Courts remain functioning, Congress remains existing, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution is enforced,” Roque, a human rights lawyer, said in a news briefing.
“So I don’t think there’s been any legal basis for the fears of many that there will be the return of dictatorial rule. Neither has there been any systematic or gross violations of human rights so far,” he said.
Duterte on Wednesday welcomed Congress’ approval of his request to extend martial law in Mindanao for another year, saying this would provide the government a “big window” in fighting terrrorism.
He had sought the extension citing persistent threats of terror groups in the region, including communist rebels.
Critics, however, said the extension could be a prelude to the declaration of martial law in the entire country, considering that the supposed threat posed by communist rebels were cited as new grounds.
The President said “all options are [on] the table” when asked if he is indeed considering declaring martial law nationwide, adding that his decision would be heavily influenced by the military.
Duterte placed Mindanao, home to 22 million people, under military rule after Islamic State sympathizers attacked Marawi City on May 23. On his request after the lapse of the initial 60-day declaration, lawmakers extended martial law until December 31.
On Thursday, Congress granted a fresh year-long extension.
Over 1,100 people, mostly Islamic State-inspired terrorists, were killed in the siege, which also displaced over 300,000 residents from the city considered as the center of Islamic faith in Mindanao.