DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Progressive groups criticized President Rodrigo Duterte for “diverting” the public’s attention following his threat to declare martial law amid the Coronavirus crisis in the country.
“Why is our attention being diverted with threats of Martial Law? Why take advantage of the COVID crisis to impose more fascist measures while covering up the more pressing problems of the country?”, said Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Secretary-General Renato Reyes in a statement.
The President made the threat due to the supposed lawlessness of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), accusing them of attacking the government’s relief effort being accompanied by the military.
“I am warning everybody and putting notice to the Armed Forces and the police, I might declare martial law,” he said in a taped address that was aired on Friday, April 24, just as the government announced the extension of the Enhanced Community Quarantine until May 15 in Metro Manila and several “high-risk” areas.
President Duterte further threatened communist “legal front organizations” to go into hiding if the martial law would be declared.
“We have now heard straight from the horse’s mouth that Pres. Duterte intends to exploit the COVID pandemic as a pretext to implement his scheme of imposing nationwide martial and ruling as a dictator,” said members of the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives.
The group added, in a statement, that Duterte is using “unverified reports of alleged NPA attacks to divert attention from his administration’s poor handling of the pandemic.”
They also lamented how President Duterte made no mention of the death of retired Army Cpl. Winston Ragos after he was shot by a policeman at a quarantine checkpoint in Quezon City on April 21, as well as reports of military offensives amid the government’s unilateral ceasefire order.
President Duterte’s ceasefire order lapsed last April 15. The CPP, on the other hand, ordered the extension of its own unilateral ceasefire until April 30.
Instead of issuing threats, Reyes said the government should first address the “biggest problems” under the quarantine period, including “inadequate mass testing, slow social amelioration for the poor, the economic slowdown, and the relentless assault on human rights.”
On Friday, April 24, the cumulative cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines already breached the 7,000 mark.
Human rights group Karapatan also criticized President Duterte for singling out the group in his threat of going after “communist fronts”.
“Its implications are evidently clear: Duterte is singling out human rights organization like Karapatan to deflect accountability from the abuses of authority borne from his militarist and violent pronouncements as well his neglect of the people’s welfare in general and to herald a witch hunt of human rights workers in the country,” said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan Secretary-General.
They reiterated that militarist measures have “already proven ineffective” to curb the pandemic, and a martial law threat will only worsen it. (davaotoday.com)