DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 October) – President Rodrigo Duterte announced Saturday afternoon that he wants “all checkpoints dismantled” nationwide except “if necessary” but he has yet to lift the “State of National Emergency on Account of Lawless Violence in Mindanao” that allowed the installation of additional checkpoints following the September 2, 2016 blast at the Roxas night market here that left 15 persons dead and 69 others injured.
“Except really if it’s necessary, only if it is necessary, only if there is specific reason to do it, I’m ordering all checkpoints dismantled,” Duterte declared as he was about to end his speech at the launching Saturday afternoon in Cotabato City of the Comprehensive Reform and Development Agenda for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and other conflict-affected areas in three neighboring regions.
The announcement was greeted with applause by an audience used to passing through checkpoints along the main highways of Mindanao, even without a declaration of a state of lawlessness.
Explaining what he meant by “only if it is necessary,” Duterte said: “Ngayon kung may suspect ka… tapos alam mo dadaan (if you have a suspect and you know he will pass this way), there is a probability or A-one information (that he would pass), a checkpoint is necessary.
“Pero kung mag-ano lang kayo ng — mutagna ba — baka meron o baka wala, huwag ‘yan” (but if you are merely guessing if there is or none, don’t).
“And that is for the entire country,” the President said, adding, “pag walang purpose, huwag ka na lang mag-checkpoint.”
“Pampagulo lang ng buhay ng Pilipino ‘yan. (That will just cause trouble to the Filipino people),” he said.
Duterte signed Proclamation 55 declaring a state of national emergency on September 4, two days after the Roxas night market blast.
The Proclamation directs the AFP and PNP to “undertake such measures as may be permitted by the Constitution and existing laws to suppress any and all forms of lawless violence in Mindanao and to prevent such lawless violence from spreading and escalating elsewhere in the Philippines, with due regard to the fundamental civil and political rights of our citizens.”
On September 7, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea issued Memorandum Order No. 3, providing guidelines for the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police “in the implementations of measures to suppress and prevent lawless violence,” including guidelines on checkpoints.
Section 5 of MO3 provides that “in the case of police/military checkpoints, inspection shall be limited to a request to roll down vehicle windows, search for things in plain view only, and production of identification and vehicle registration papers.”
“No further intrusive actions shall be taken, such as demanding the opening of trucks or lids or asking person(s) on board to step out, unless the subject individual consents or agrees thereto,” it added.
It also said that in “stop-and-frisk situations, search shall be limited to light patting on the outer garments of the subject individual to detect the possession of weapons or similar effects.”
From “lockdown” to “national emergency
At the blast site just before sunrise of September 3, Duterte initially ordered a “lockdown” that later within the same media interview became a declaration of a “state of lawlessness” nationwide and by the time he signed the declaration on Sept. 4 became a “state of national emergency on account of lawless violence in Mindanao.”
“These are extraordinary times, and I suppose that I’m authorized to allow the security forces… of our country to do searches,” he said of the lockdown, as he urged the people to be “liberal enough to understand us because we are trying to cope up with a crisis now.”
“Maghinto kayo sa mga checkpoints. If you see a sign there, that there are soldiers flashing their lights, turn off your headlights, switch on to your lights inside your cars because I’m authorizing them to search,” he said.
“There is a crisis in this country involving drugs, extrajudicial killings..,” the President told reporters, adding, “there seems to be the environment of lawlessness, lawless violence, so I might just declare a state of lawless violence in this country. 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.”
He said the declaration is effective immediately “until there is threat against the people and against the nation” and later said, “until such time I say that it’s safe for everybody.”
Proclamation 55 listed six reasons behind the declaration, the September 2 night market blast in the city as the fourth “whereas.”
It cited Mindanao’s “long and complex history of lawless violence perpetrated by private armies and local warlords, bandits and criminal syndicates, terrorist groups, and religious extremists;” a spate of violent and lawless acts across many parts of Mindanao in recent months, “including abductions, hostage-takings and murder of innocent civilians, bombing of power transmission facilities, highway robberies and extortions, attacks on military outposts, assassinations (of) media people and mass jailbreaks.”
It also noted that “valiant efforts” of the police and armed forces “to quell this armed lawlessness have been met with stiff resistance,” leading to several casualties on the part of government forces, the most recent of which was the death of 15 soldiers in Patikul, Sulu on August 30. Duterte waged war against the Abu Sayyaf eight days before the blast.
The September 2, 2016 bombing at the night market in Davao City was cited as the fourth “whereas.”
It said the acts of violence cited “exhibit the audacity and propensity of these armed lawless groups to defy the rule of law, sow anarchy, and sabotage the government’s economic development and peace efforts;” and that based on government intelligence reports, “there exist credible threats of further terror attacks and other similar acts of violence by lawless elements in other parts of the country, including the metropolitan areas.”
Proclamation 55 provides that the state of national emergency “shall remain in force and effect until lifted or withdrawn by the President.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)