By: Glazyl Y. Masculino and Francis Allan L. Angelo
THE highest military official in Negros Island will be ready to implement orders from the higher-ups amid talks of martial law being imposed in Negros Oriental because of the recent spate of killings in the province.
Brigadier General Benedict Arevalo, commander of 303rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army, said he has not received any warning nor was he asked for a recommendation regarding the possible declaration of martial law in Negros Oriental.
“For now, I will not make a recommendation because I don’t want to be misconstrued of coming up a scenario and instigating the imposition of martial law. But, if they decide, we will just implement it and follow the orders of the higher authorities,” Arevalo said.
He also said that “with or without martial law, the Army should contain the area and make sure that the killings will be stopped.”
Arevalo said things are getting back to normal and they are trying to maintain the normal situation in the province after the spate of killings last week.
“We will do everything to stop the killings. There’s still some concern and worries of the populace, but we will also address that. We are also asking the help of the religious sector to help us,” he said.
“Everybody is on board, the police, military, and the local government units are helping to normalize and improve the situation not just in security but in socio-economic programs,” he said.
Arevalo said there’s nothing to worry as of now.
Police Brigadier General Debold Sinas, regional director of Police Regional Office (PRO)-7, earlier refused to comment on the possible imposition of martial law in Negros Oriental.
‘MARTIAL LAW A POSSIBILITY’
Earlier, Presidential spokesperson and chief presidential legal adviser Salvador Panelo said Pres. Rodrigo Duterte might declare martial law in Negros Oriental following the spate of killings in the province, Panelo posed the possibility in a press briefing in Malacañang on Aug. 1, 2019.
“Grabe na ‘yung patayan doon. We have a village, or a barangay captain, a municipal mayor, four policemen, and a lawyer. The President doesn’t want this to happen. He wants it stopped and the only way to do that is to use his emergency powers,” online news site www.inquirer.net quoted Panelo as saying.
Panelo said Pres. Duterte has many options in terms of emergency powers he could use on Negros Oriental.
“He has many options under the Constitution. He can call the Armed Forces to quell lawless violence, he can declare martial law,” the online news report added.
The declaration of martial law, however, will depend on the recommendations of security officials, especially the PNP and the AFP.
“Certainly. He always follows the advice of those people in the know,” Panelo said.
But in an interview with ANC Thursday morning, Brig. Gen. Bernardo Banac, PNP spokesman, said the situation in Negros Oriental is under control with more troops deployed to the province.
“There is no need to be alarmed or afraid. The public may go on with their daily activities. We assure the public we are doing our best to maintain peace and order,” Banac said.
In the same interview, Commission on Human Rights spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said the spate of killings should not lead to the declaration of martial law in Negros Oriental.
De Guia said the heightened presence of law enforcers should be enough to thwart further violence.
“We do not see the need for the President to exercise any assist prerogatives. We wouldn’t want a declaration of a state of emergency nor a declaration state of martial law in any part of the country because we feel this would normalize martial law in a sense,” she told ANC’s Christian Esguerra.
The “killing spree” in Negros Oriental happened right after the ambush slay of four intelligence police operatives of the Regional Mobile Force Battalion (RMFB)-7 in Ayungon town on July 18, 2019.
Authorities blamed rebel group New People’s Army (NPA) for the alleged torture and murders of the four police officers.
Based on police records, 20 persons were killed in a span of 10 days since July 18 by unidentified motorcycle-riding assailants and suspected rebels in Negros Oriental.
The casualties include two teachers, a former mayor, a town council member, a barangay captain, a lawyer, a rebel returnee, a farmers’ leader, among others.
The most number of killings were recorded on July 25, with seven fatalities, including a child.
While authorities linked the killings to the NPA, the rebel group claimed that the incidents are part of Operation Sauron, an anti-insurgency campaign of the military.
Meanwhile, Bishop Gerardo Aminaza of San Carlos Diocese in Negros Occidental appealed to Pres. Duterte not to declare martial law in Negros Island.
In a press statement, Alminaza said martial law is “neither the answer to the centuries-old agrarian problem nor to the decades of armed rebellion.”
Martial rule during the Marcos era did not lead to genuine peace; instead, it worsened the insurgency problem, he added.
“Even now, without any formal declaration of Martial Law, government commandos and armed partisans are sowing fear and disregarding due process and the rule of law. Even now, human and civil rights are being trampled upon, leaving more and more widows and orphans in our midst. Enough! Have we not learned from the lessons of Marcos-era Martial Law,” Alminaza said.
“We remind both sides of the armed conflict that genuine peace can never be achieved through military adventurism and tit-for-tat conflict. We reiterate our call for integral peace, one that addresses the roots of social injustice.”
Alminaza said the “first step to integral peace is the continuation of peace negotiations between the government and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).”
“As church bells in Negros continue to ring every 8 p.m., we call on the government and NDFP to listen to the collective cry of the people, ‘End violence! Stop the killings! Talk peace, now’.” (With reports from Inquirer.net and ABS-CBNNews.com)