Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte placed Southern Mindanao under a “state of lawlessness” following an explosion that rocked a busy night market in Davao City late Friday night Philippine time, leaving at least 14 people dead and 67 severely wounded.
Anticipating the potential for the public to misunderstand the state of lawlessness declaration, the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson (OPS) clarified, citing Article VII, Section 18 of the Philippine Constitution, in a statement on the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) website, that it is “limited such that [President Duterte] can only call out the armed forces to suppress the lawless violence.”
“It is a different case from the existence of invasion or rebellion. Only if there is invasion or rebellion, and when public safety requires it, can he suspend the writ of habeas corpus or declare martial law,” the OPS added.
For his part, President Duterte said that “these are extraordinary times.”
“We are trying to cope up with a crisis now. There seems to be an environment of lawlessness,” Duterte told reporters after meeting several officials near the site of the explosion, GMA News reported.
“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,” Duterte said.
The president also advised the driving public to stay calm and cooperate as he allowed searches of motor vehicles at checkpoints in the wake of his declaration of the state of lawlessness in Mindanao.
Informing reporters that authorities were previously warned about a possible attack from the Abu Sayyaf group, Duterte said, as quoted by GMA News, that “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.”
Dispelling notions that his declaration of the state of lawlessness is meant to repress civil liberties, the President said that “any action at all taken by the security forces will be in furtherance to stop terrorism.”
An Abu Sayyaf spokesperson, Abu Rami, a son-in-law of a late influential militant commander Mohammad Said, claimed responsibility for the the bombing, according to the Associated Press. While not dismissing the claim, Duterte said that investigators were also exploring other possible suspects, “including drug syndicates, which he has targeted in a bloody crackdown.”
The attack, which prompted Duterte to place Southern Mindanao under a state of lawlessness, came presumably in response to an ongoing Philippine military offensive against Abu Sayyaf extremists in southern Sulu province, which, the Associated Press noted, “intensified last week after the militants beheaded a kidnapped villager. The militants threatened to launch an unspecified attack after the military said 30 of the gunmen were killed in the weeklong offensive.”
The bombing has left at least 14 dead, including 10 who died on the spot. At least 67 individuals were injured, most them severely wounded by shrapnel, 15 are still in critical condition, including a pregnant woman, according to CNN Philippines.
While investigators from the Davao City police explosive and ordinance division have already been deployed to examine pieces of evidence in the area, an official detailed statement regarding the explosion is yet to be issued.
Following Duterte’s declaration of state of lawlessness in Southern Mindanao, the Philippine government has placed Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila under full alert, according to PIA.
“This is not to alarm the public. We have raised our alert status as a proactive measure to ensure safety and security of airport users,” said Manila International Airport Authority general manager Ed Monreal, as quoted by PIA.
“We have directed baggage screeners to remain vigilant and discerning and to conduct thorough inspection only when the need calls for it,” Monreal added. “We do not want to cause inconvenience in the process by creating long lines at the baggage screening checkpoints.”
Advising airports users not to be alarmed by the increase of police visibility in the area, Monreal said that motor vehicles will be randomly subject to rigid inspections at all checkpoint areas.
“Depending on intelligence reports, we may completely suspend issuance of visitors passes for everyone’s safety,” the airport chief added. “Together with the PNP-Aviation Security Group, we appeal to everyone to bear with us during this time.”
[Photo by Bullit Marquez/AP Images]