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President Rodrigo Duterte of Philippines Criticized Over Martial Law Warning


President Rodrigo Duterte inspected troops at a celebration of the Philippine armed forces in December. Mr. Duterte has made a bloody campaign against drug dealers and users a central part of his administration. Credit Mark R. Cristino/European Pressphoto Agency

MANILA — Rights advocates and survivors of the dictatorship of Ferdinand E. Marcos, the former Philippine leader, criticized President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday for saying that he could impose martial law to curb what he has called a runaway drug problem.

Mr. Duterte has made the war against illicit drugs a centerpiece of his administration. On Saturday, in a speech to business leaders in Davao City, in the country’s south, he warned that if the drug problem deteriorated into “something really very virulent, I will declare martial law.”

“No one can stop me,” he said. “My country transcends everything else, even the limitations.”

More than 6,000 killings across the Philippines have been linked to the antidrug campaign that began after Mr. Duterte took office in June. About 2,200 of those happened in encounters with the police, according to the Philippine National Police. The rest are classified as “deaths under investigation,” including those carried out by unknown vigilantes. More than a million people suspected of being drug users or dealers have also surrendered or been arrested.

“He has fascist dreams,” Loretta Rosales, 77, a former chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines and a leftist politician, said of Mr. Duterte in an interview. She was detained and tortured under Marcos, who was elected president in 1965 and imposed martial law from 1972 to 1981. He was forced from power in 1986.

“As a martial law victim and survivor, I detest his martial law threat,” Ms. Rosales said, referring to Mr. Duterte’s warning. She added that he “finds governance under the rule of law and human rights an obstruction to the advancement of his political agenda.”

“This is clearly meant to establish authoritarian rule to enforce his goals of cleaning society of drugs, crime and corruption, and he is happy to slaughter three million Filipinos to do this,” she said. She was alluding to Mr. Duterte’s statement in September comparing his antidrug campaign to the Holocaust, when he said that he would kill drug addicts by the millions, as Hitler killed Jews.

“I suspect he idolizes the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and this manifests in his behavior,” Ms. Rosales said of Mr. Duterte.

Ramon C. Casiple, a political analyst and the executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, a nongovernmental organization, said that there was no “basis for declaring martial law,” and that Mr. Duterte could not do so “unless he can convince people that there is a serious threat of rebellion or foreign armed intervention.”

Under the Philippine Constitution, the president may declare martial law “in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it,” for a period of no longer than 60 days. But the president must seek approval by the Congress, which can overturn or extend it.

Although Mr. Duterte has expressed admiration for Marcos, who died in 1989, and is a clear ally of his family, “He is his own man, at least at this time,” said Mr. Casiple, who was also a torture victim during the martial law years.

Mr. Duterte’s threat on Saturday that he could declare martial law appeared at odds with a statement in December, when he dismissed accusations that he was pivoting toward authoritarian rule.

“That’s foolishness,” he said at the time. “We had martial law before, what happened? Did it improve our lives? Until now no.”

On Sunday, the president’s communications secretary, Martin Andanar, accused the news media of misreporting Mr. Duterte’s remarks, saying that the president had categorically said no to the imposition of martial law.

“Such headlines sow panic and confusion to many,” Mr. Andanar said in a statement. “We consider this kind of reportage as the height of journalistic irresponsibility.”

“He mentioned declaring martial law only under the premise that the country has deteriorated into an utter state of rebellion and lawlessness,” Mr. Andanar said of Mr. Duterte. “As president, he recognizes the challenges and limitations set by our Constitution in declaring martial law, but he would nonetheless act accordingly if it warrants the preservation of the nation.”

But Franklin Drilon, the president pro tempore of the Philippine Senate, countered on Monday that Mr. Duterte had not been misquoted.

“The reports were based on the president’s speech, and the statements were quoted verbatim,” Mr. Drilon said. He added that Mr. Duterte’s remarks reinforced perceptions that “the rule of law plays second fiddle to the administration’s war on drugs.”

“The truth is, mere talk of martial law is enough to send chills to the spine of any Filipino,” he said. “Therefore, it is something that should not be taken lightly.”

Source: NYT > World

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