Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday appeared to rule out declaring martial law, but said he could do so if he wished, and anyone questioning his justification should “shut up” and stay out of his business. The former prosecutor has threatened several times to invoke military rule to help his war on drugs and said he had the power to declare martial law, even though narcotics did not meet conditions required by the constitution.
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The mercurial leader has been criticised by opponents for acting in an authoritarian way and for showing willingness to circumvent the constitution. Some have ridiculed him for his contradicting remarks on whether he intends to pursue martial law. “I will not declare martial law, and if I declare martial law, I will not make noise,” he said in a speech on Wednesday.
“And if you ask ‘what is the basis?’, you son of a bitch, it’s none of your business. Just shut up, all of you.” The constitution states martial law can only be declared in the event of invasion or rebellion, when public safety requires it.
Congress can revoke a president’s declaration, as can the Supreme Court, but there is no scenario in the constitution outlining which of the two institutions would prevail should they disagree. “Who decides now? Supreme Court says ‘no’, Congress says ‘yes’, who decides? The sitting president – me,” he said.
“For me, it is not found in the constitution, it is not written there. But if I feel as a president that I have to preserve my country, I will declare martial law.” He also said the military felt the security climate did not warrant martial law. “The military is correct, there is no compelling reason really.”
Legal issues aside, Duterte’s comments offer little clarity about why he is discussing martial law at a time when his approval ratings are high, political opposition is muted, and the government is touting success in its crackdown on drugs. Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar on Sunday criticised media for reporting Duterte’s statements on martial law and for headlines that “sow panic and confusion”. He called that “the height of journalistic irresponsibility”.
The presidential palace press corps hit back on Wednesday urging the government to stop chiding journalists. “We are disturbed and appalled by the propensity of the officials of this administration to blame the media whenever the inflammatory statements of the president stir controversy or draw flak,” the media group said in a statement.
“We hope that such behaviour is not an attempt to discredit or undermine the media.”