Photo courtesy of Defend Negros Facebook page

CHR, rights groups oppose threat of Martial law in Negros

The spate of violence in Negros Oriental that has killed more than 20 people over a month could force President Rodrigo Duterte to put the province under martial law but rights advocates opposing the move say a militarist solution is not the answer while a top police officer says the situation is under control.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, in a press briefing on Aug 1, said Duterte would likely invoke emergency powers “soon” to stop violence in the province wracked by land disputes. “He has many options under the Constitution. He can call the Armed Forces of the Philippines to quell lawless violence. He can declare martial law.”

CHR Spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia told VERA Files that the killings in Negros are a cause for “grave concern” but their office does not see the need to declare Martial Law on the island.

“What we are trying to avoid is the normalization of measures reserved for extraordinary cases concerning national safety,” she added.

Duterte's threat to place Negros Oriental under martial law followed the rampant killings in the central Philippine province, where a total of 21 people were killed from July 18 to 27, including a lawyer, a barangay captain, a city councilor, a former mayor, and a one-year-old child.

On July 25, seven people were killed in a span of 24 hours. On July 18, four cops were ambushed by the New People’s Army in Barangay Mabato in Ayungon town.

Amid the violence and a possible martial law declaration in the province, Philippine National Police (PNP) Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Bernardo Banac, in a television interview, assured the public that the situation in Negros Oriental is under control.

“There is no need to be alarmed or afraid. The public may go on with their daily activities. We assure the public we are doing our best to maintain peace and order," Banac said, adding that more security forces were sent to the province to augment the current complement there.

CHR’s De Guia said the violence in Negros “adds to the growing number of killings in the country that needs to be resolved and given due justice.” She said their office has already deployed investigators to look into the killings.

The violence in Negros, the hotbed of the communist insurgency during the martial law years

under ex-president Ferdinand Marcos, has also alarmed the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the province, prompting bishops to call on parishes, chaplaincies, mission stations, and religious houses to ring the church bells every 8 p.m. starting July 28 until the killings stop.

For human rights group Defend Negros, “A militarist solution such as the declaration of Martial Law, and more tyrannical actions, would never be the solution to the alarming situation in Negros.”

“We have witnessed what happened in Mindanao after the declaration of Martial Law in 2017. In the aftermath, we saw Marawi in irreparable ruins, and the entire Mindanao island and its people, gripped under repressive rule and fear,” the group said in a press statement.

“While we mourn over the rising number of brutal deaths in Negros, we also rage against state policies that have sanctioned these attacks -- Executive Order No. 70 and Memorandum Order No. 32, approved by the President Duterte, also the concurrent Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” the group added.

Back in November 2018, Duterte issued Memorandum Order No. 32 deploying more cops and soldiers to Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental, aside from Samar province and Bicol.

The order directed the police and military to prevent "sporadic acts of violence" committed by "lawless groups" from “spreading and escalating elsewhere in the country.”

Rights group Karapatan also sees that the declaration of martial law in Negros “will significantly impact” the human rights situation on the island.

“As what we have seen in the course of martial law implementation in Mindanao, we foresee extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, forced surrender, forcible evacuation and other rights violations that will wantonly be committed by State forces once martial law is declared in Negros,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.

“We call on Negrenses and the Filipino people to oppose this spiralling descent to full-blown dictatorship in the country,” Palabay urged.

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