MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE – 11:24 a.m.) President Rodrigo Duterte was warned by a predecessor on Friday against pushing through with any plans to expand martial law beyond Mindanao to the Visayas and even nationwide.
In fact, former President Fidel Ramos urged resistance to any such move as he maintained that the military and police, along with local government officials, are capable of containing the violence in Central Mindanao that prompted the declaration of martial law over the whole southern island.
“Huwag tayong pumayag (Let’s not allow it),” Ramos said of proposals to expand martial law.
“Kaya natin ito (We can handle this),” he added.
Ramos said instead of being expanded, the coverage of martial law should be reduced only to “specific localities in Mindanao, hopefully (to) Lanao (del) Sur alone, and that this martial law period would end before 60 days are over.”
Duterte declared Mindanao under martial law late Tuesday after clashes broke out between government forces and the Maute group in Marawi City. On his arrival in the country Wednesday after cutting short a visit to Russia, he raised the possibility of including the Visayas and, if needed, the whole country under the coverage of martial law.
However, Ramos said such talk has “created in our people, especially those who do not live in Mindanao, but even among those who are there, a sense of fear and foreboding which is very unbecoming at this time when the present administration claims to be scoring successes” in its governance efforts.
“Our leaders should not talk spreading martial law to the Visayas and other parts of the country,” Ramos said, describing such notions as “panicky” and instead work on “raising the morale of our people” and “mobilizing assets of government and country in order to help … rehabilitate any of our dislocated people and communities,” Ramos said.
He also stressed that “our government must take strong measures (against lawlessness) without abusing human rights, to limit the violence without any violation of human rights.”
But on a skeptical tone, he added: “Tingan natin kung mangyayari ‘yan … wala pang martial law katakot-takot na ang human rights violations (Let us see if that will happen … even without martial law there were already horrific human rights violations).”
Ramos, a career soldier, also chided members of Duterte’s Cabinet and his allies in Congress “who are very vocal about (saying) martial law is good for Mindanao … they may have never experienced being shot at by someone or forced to evacuate to a safe place, ford a river in order to reach sanctuary, lose a job or livelihood or loved members of their family.”
The former president also hinted that the government may have allowed itself to be caught flatfooted when Duterte included military and police leaders in what he called the “junket” to Russia, leaving no one in charge of overseeing national security despite previous attacks by the Maute group.