President Rodrigo Duterte early Saturday morning declared a "state of lawless violence" in the country hours after an explosion ripped through a popular night market in Davao City, and killed at least 12 persons and hurt 60 others.
Duterte said the declaration would involve the increase of military and police presence throughout the country to combat not just terror threats, but also to step up his campaign against illegal drugs and to curb the recent rise in extrajudicial killings.
"These are extraordinary times. We are trying to cope up with a crisis now. There seems to be an environment of lawlessness. I just might declare a state of lawless violence in this country," Duterte told reporters after meeting security officials for a few hours near the area of the explosion at the Roxas night market.
"It's not martial law but I am inviting now the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the military and the police to run the country in accordance with my specifications," he added, noting that he will not be suspending the writ of habeas corpus.
Article 7, Section 18 of the Constitution reads: "The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion."
Specifically, Duterte said he was allowing searches of motor vehicles at checkpoints.
"Maghinto kayo sa mga checkpoints. If you see a sign and there are soldiers flashing their lights, switch off your headlights, switch on the light inside your cars because I'm authorizing them to search," Duterte said.
"So if you do not have anything to hide, I am suggesting that you be liberal enough to understand us because we are trying to cope up with a crisis now," he added.
Duterte said the authorities received information warnings against an attack by the Abu Sayyaf Group, but could not frisk citizens at the risk of being branded "fascistic."
"They gave us the warning. Not only in Jolo, but in other places. We were forewarned, we were ready," Duterte said, noting that his top law enforcement and intelligence people were in Davao City for that reason.
"Unfortunately, we cannot frisk or order people to stop and search because that could be fascistic. Then that is not a democracy anymore. That is the price of being a democratic state," he added.
Duterte dispelled notions of his 'state of lawless violence' declaration repressing civil liberties.
"Any action at all taken by the security forces will be in furtherance to stop terrorism. And I am including drugs because there are so many killings unfairly attributed to the police," Duterte said.
"I have this duty to protect the country, keep intact the integrity of the nation," he added
The president also made it clear that citizen's movements would not be controlled, nor would there be random searches, as these would be "fascistic."
"Government is here with you, as much as humanly possible. We will protect everybody," assured Duterte.
He also called on citizens to be vigilant and cooperate with the security checkpoints.
Davao is safe
The president said Davao City was safe, and that the explosion was a police matter with investigators exploring several leads on who was behind the bombing.
He also floated the possibility that another terror band, the Maute group, and even drug gangs, could be behind the bombing.
"Everybody is a suspect. Of course, ASG made the threat. We will look into that," he said.
"There will be, I said, a reprisal for all of these things. Maybe because of the Sulu incident. At least we know who made the threats."
Duterte noted that he had warned against the dangers of terrorism over the past few weeks in a series of speeches before law enforcement groups.
For now, however, the incident will be treated as a police matter while investigation is ongoing.
"We have leads, but I will not reveal it to the public as of now," he said. — NB/JST, GMA News