On Lawlessness in the Philippines By Alyssa Encarnacion | September 2016
The night of September 2 has left the Philippines in shock. A deadly blast in Davao City that killed 14 people and wounded 60 others did not just stir fear among Filipinos; it also forced President Rodrigo Duterte to take a hard stance against the growing presence of ‘lawlessness’ in the country, which he claims are manifested through terrorism, killings, and even drugs. In light of all these, Duterte released Proclamation 55 declaring “a state of national emergency on account of lawless violence,”1 especially after the recent attack in Davao.
‘State of Lawlessness’ Explained
Article VII Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution grants the President the right to reinforce law and order through the armed forces when extraordinary circumstances call for it. As stated in the Constitution, “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."2
The state of lawlessness had already been declared before. In 2003, attacks in the old Davao International Airport and the main dock Sasa Wharf which left roughly 40 people dead and more than a hundred others injured, prompted former President Arroyo to make this declaration.
In this case, the Davao City bombing caused a similar ripple effect which made Filipinos feel unsafe in their own country. It started with a deadly blast in a densely occupied area which killed and wounded many innocent people, followed by subsequent bomb threats that targeted schools and malls which increased paranoia among citizens. Violence (or the likelihood thereof) seemed to have escalated since then. All of these prompted him to declare a ‘state of lawlessness’ in order to “protect the integrity of the nation,” thereby inviting the armed forces to help him fulfill this duty.3 Given the heightened presence of policemen and checkpoints after the blast, it’s clear they took this declaration (and the responsibility that came along with it) very seriously.
Has this proclamation done any good?
Some would say the proclamation was strategic, again citing the increased efforts of the PNP and military officers as favorable responses to the crisis. According to the National Capitol Region Police Officer Chair Oscar Abayalde, three to five checkpoints are being placed per city, with roughly 8 police officers and military personnel present in each. The checkpoints are being rotated every few hours to ensure all areas get covered. Continuous inspections across Metro Manila are also being conducted by the Regional Public Safety Battalion and SWAT. Abayalde said that, even though these were their routines before, they doubled their efforts in light of the recent blast in order to ensure the safety of the citizens.4
Although declaring a state of lawlessness may not have been necessary to achieve this end, doing so made it clear to the police and armed forces that they had a duty to fulfill. It stressed the urgency of the situation and, hence, prompted everyone—even citizens and public officials —to be more vigilant amidst growing tensions in the country. The heightened vigilance definitely is an added benefit, especially given the threats that surfaced after the blast. In any circumstance, threats should be treated seriously, but most especially now, in light of recent attacks, these threats should be treated with utmost caution.
‘Abuse of power’
Although Duterte was simply doing his responsibility by encouraging the police and armed forces to increase their efforts, the powers being vested to them can also be abused. Normally, this wouldn’t be probable, but in light of the extrajudicial killings that have been taking place lately, it becomes a legitimate concern for Filipinos today. As of August 23, there have been more than 1,500 drug-related killings since the beginning of Duterte’s term. According to the Philippine National Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa, 712 drug traffickers and users have been killed in police operations since the beginning of July. Despite all the criticism from human rights groups and international bodies, Duterte is still steadfast, even going to the point of saying that human rights and due process can be sacrificed for the anti-drugs campaign.
There’s room for the police and military to abuse their power because they operate under a system that endorses and does the same. On the one hand, the declaration becomes futile because instead of making Filipinos feel safer, it can make them feel more frightened by the increased presence of officers whom they feel they cannot trust. On the other, the officers also become part of the problem because in essence, their acts are “lawless” as well.
This is where it becomes important for the police and military to remember that Duterte clarified he isn’t declaring martial law. The rights of Filipinos must still be respected, even if there is a national emergency at hand.
Ultimately, everyone wants to ask if declaring a state of lawlessness was an appropriate use of Duterte’s executive power. It is, because it increases the efforts of the police and military to ensure national security. However, those efforts also have extents, and these officials must understand the limits of their power. Rights should never be trampled on, even for the sake of national security. Once that happens, then the country will just be as lawless as the acts of violence the declaration was supposed to protect everyone from.
Other references: https://www.hrw.org/reports/2007/philippines0707/background/2.htm http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2016/07/15/1603156/what-due-process...-i-am-not-court-duterte-tells-critics http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2016/08/25/1617193/duterte-human-rights-groups-see-drug-problem-yourselves
The Free Market is a blog created by the SESC for both informative articles, as well as opinion pieces, for the consumption of the UPSE community and the public at large. Should you have any ideas that you would want to share on a larger platform, kindly contact SESC Education and Reserach at 0917 884 0220 or message the SESC Facebook Page.