Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte formalized a “declaration of lawlessness” before leaving the country Monday, enhancing the powers of the military in response to a bomb attack last week that Islamic State affiliate Abu Sayyaf claimed.
Duterte announced the declaration last week, but signed it on Monday, shortly before leaving for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) conference in Laos. Duterte was scheduled to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama there, but that meeting is now in jeopardy after Duterte referred to Obama as a “son of a whore.”
The declaration makes official a “state of national emergency on account of lawless violence,” which allows the military extended powers in how to handle the arrest or killing of terrorists and violent state actors.
Communications Assistant Secretary Chris Abla explained:
It commands the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and PNP [Philippine National Police] to undertake measures permitted by the Constitution and laws to, number one, suppress all forms of lawless violence in Mindanao and number two, prevent lawless violence from spreading and escalating elsewhere with due regard to fundamental and civil political rights.
Ablan noted that the state of emergency was unofficially in place since the terrorist attack last Saturday, but that it took several days to finalize the language in the declaration.
Officials were also enthusiastic about clarifying that a state of emergency is not a declaration of martial law, and that separation of powers does not require Duterte to go through the legislature or receive temporary approval for the measure, the Philippine Star reports.
“We’re trying to cope up with a crisis now. There is a crisis in this country involving drugs, extrajudicial killings and there seems to be an environment of lawless violence,” Duterte himself said on Saturday in a visit to Davao to survey the damage.
Fourteen people died and 67 were injured in the bombing, which took place in southern Davao City on the island of Mindanao – Duterte’s hometown, where his son is deputy mayor. Rappler reports that sixteen of those injured are in critical condition; therefore, the death toll may yet rise.
Mindanao is home to most of the Philippines’ Muslim minority, and where most members of Abu Sayyaf, the jihadist group responsible for the attack, are located. Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Rami confirmed that the group, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is taking responsibility for the attack.
Duterte, who took office in June, has struck a conciliatory tone with militarized Islamic groups. “We have to stop this war. If we cannot stop it, do not hate more,” Duterte said in one of his first speeches as president, calling for Muslims to integrate into Filipino society without taking up arms and acknowledging “historical wrongs” against Muslims. Some groups have listened, such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), who have made overtures to Duterte by supporting his war on drugs.
Duterte has changed his tone on Abu Sayyaf, however, which continues to wage terrorist attacks in the south of the country. “My orders to the police and to the armed forces against all enemies of the state, seek them out in their lairs, whatever, and destroy them,” he said late last month, following the latest beheading of a foreign hostage.
While Duterte has struggled to control Islamic violence, he has become the object of international fascination through his war on drugs, which has killed an estimated thousands so far and sent 600,000 drug addicts to rehabilitation centers, fearing extrajudicial police killing. The topic has made Duterte a controversial leader after international observers, including President Obama, expressed concerns about human rights in the country.
“I don’t give a shit about anybody observing my behavior,” Duterte said this week before leaving for Laos, where he is scheduled to meet with Obama. He also threatened to swear at “putang ina” [“son of a whore”] Obama if he asks Duterte about human rights concerns on the island, and urged the American president to end Hollywood’s cocaine problem.