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VERA FILES FACT CHECK: How Duterte’s threat to declare martial law escalated amid the COVID-19 crisis

President Rodrigo Duterte has once again raised the martial law threat, this time in reaction to the military’s claim that communist rebels had blocked the delivery of aid in some parts of the country in the midst of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

In his public address aired on April 24, Duterte said he “might have” to declare martial law if “lawlessness” by the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), would continue on a national scale.

But nearly seven weeks earlier, the president made clear that the community quarantine — declared on March 12 to cover Metro Manila and later expanded to an enhanced community quarantine for the whole Luzon — is “not martial law.”

Watch this video to see how the president’s statements evolved.

Duterte’s latest martial law pronouncement came on the heels of incidents that became viral on social media involving police officers enforcing quarantine protocols.

On April 22, retired soldier Winston Ragos, who was said to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, was shot dead by police following a heated argument over his supposed violation of quarantine protocols. A few days prior, armed cops reportedly entered a private condominium in Taguig without a warrant and accosted residents for allegedly not practicing physical distancing measures.

Critics and rights groups have also denounced the government’s alleged use of the COVID-19 crisis to impose martial rule. Groups, including Amnesty International Philippines and Karapatan, have warned that a “militarist approach” is not effective in dealing with the current health crisis and that additional powers vested in the police and military must be compliant to international human rights laws.



RTVMalacanang, Public Address on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) 3/12/2020, March 12, 2020

RTVMalacanang, Message / Meeting with the IATF-EID (Speech) 3/16/2020, March 16, 2020

RTVMalacanang, Talk to the People on COVID-19 4/16/2020, April 16, 2020

Philippine Information Officer, Police apprehends 2,602 quarantine violators in Tarlac, April 23, 2020

People’s Television WATCH: IATF Virtual Presser | April 17, 2020

RTVMalacanang, Press Briefing by Presidential Spokesperson Sec. Harry Roque Jr. 4/20/2020, April 20, 2020

RTVMALACAÑANG, Spox Roque Press Briefing New Executive Building, MALACAÑANG, Manila April 24, 2020, April 24, 2020

ABS-CBN News, No more warnings: PNP to make arrests in ‘martial law-type’ lockdown – chief | DZMM , April 20, 2020

RTVMalacanang, IATF-EID Meeting and Talk to the People 4/23/2020, April 23, 2020

Winston Ragos shooting

Taguig police raid

Martial law critics

Alleged NPA attacks


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)