By: Emme Rose Santiagudo and Jennifer P. Rendon
DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he does not see the urgency of declaring Martial Law in Negros Oriental as of the moment.
Lorenzana expressed his view following the pronouncement of Presidential spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo on the possibility of placing the province under martial rule because of the series of killings since last month.
Lorenzana said on the sideline of his visit to Iloilo on Friday that he will have to wait for the recommendation of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
“Ako as of now, hindi ko pa nakikita na kailangan eh but we will wait for the recommendation of the PNP, AFP, and pati yung local government. Pag sinabi nila na ‘please declare martial law’, then we might recommend but until such time they can show us na there is a need for that then hindi pa siguro,” he said in an interview shortly after the turnover of the Regional Evacuation Center in Zarraga, Iloilo.
When asked for the grounds for the declaration of Martial Law, he answered, “Pag chaos na, yung magulo na masyado, yung hindi na macontrol yung patayan dito at patayan doon”.
Lorenzana also believes that most of the killings that transpired in Negros were “politically motivated”.
“Tingin ko yung patayan ngayon is more politically motivated than anything else kasi katatapos lang ng election. Siguro mainit pa yung dugo nila sa isa’t isa,” he added.
President Duterte threatened to declare martial law in the province following the series of killings which started with the ambush of four police operatives of the Regional Mobile Force Battalion (RMFB)-7 on July 18, 2019.
The police recorded 20 persons killed by unidentified motorcycle-riding suspects and suspected members of the rebel group New People’s Army (NPA) in Negros Oriental since July 18, 2019.
The church called for an end to killing sprees in the province.
San Carlos City Bishop Gerardo Alminaza called for urgent prayers and action to end the killings in Negros in a pastoral appeal he issued on July 27, 2019.
“Those who were killed are persons; they are not just number or statistics! This pattern of systemic killings is alarming. Who will be next? We continue to express our collective cry, ‘End this evil madness! End these barbaric acts meant to instill fear!” he stated in his letter.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry (Spearhead) Division based in Capiz will wait for Pres. Duterte to decide on the possible declaration of martial law in Negros Oriental.
Major General Dinoh Dolina, 3ID commander, said they will support the president’s decision.
The 3rd ID’s area of operations covers Western and Central Visayas where Negros Oriental belongs.
“Martial law is a political decision. Your Philippine Army, specifically the 3rd Infantry (Spearhead) Division, is just an implementer should our higher authorities deem it necessary to stabilize the peace and order situation of Negros Oriental,” Dolina said.
He said they will rely on the “wisdom of the duly-constituted authorities that everything will be done to promote the welfare of every Filipino citizen.”
“As such we will be ready to support and abide to the President’s decision to whether declare martial law in the province,” Dolina said.
During Thursday’s Palace briefing, Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo disclosed that the President may declare martial law in Negros Oriental to stop the spate of killings and if security officials would recommend it.
Panelo stressed that President Duterte doesn’t want the killing rampage to continue and the only way to stop this is to use his emergency powers.
He added that the President could declare martial law in Negros Oriental or even the entire country as provided by the 1986 Constitution.
“The 3rd Infantry Division is one with the clamor of every peace-loving Negrenses to end the violence perpetrated by the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army) terrorists that resulted in the unnecessary loss of lives of defenseless civilians,” Dolina said.
Based on 3ID records, 15 killings happened in the province from July 18 – 28, 2019.
These led to the deaths of 22 persons, including the four policemen who were believed to be tortured in Ayungon town.
Contrary to the claims of the NPA, the 3rd ID believed that most of the 15 incidents were perpetrated by the rebel group.
Captain Cenon Pancito III, 3rd ID spokesperson, said the recent reports of massive killings in Negros Oriental, though denied by the NPAs, have patterns similar to their doings of extra judicially executing individuals who go against their selfish motives.
The NPAs only owned up to the execution of four policemen on July 18.
“That one they could not deny because there are witnesses to that. So, it’s useless for them to deny it,” he said.
Pancito believed that the murder of a former rebel in Zamboanguita town on July 24 and the one in Sta. Catalina have traces of NPAs’ handiwork.
“They have the motive to do it,” he said.
Pancito also laughed off claims by the rebel group that government forces are doing retaliatory attacks against them.
“It’s the other way around. Prior to the spate of killings, we have been conducting relentless operations where they suffered major blows,” he said.
That’s why, “we believed that they perpetrated the killings to retaliate. But unfortunately, most of the victims are civilians.”
Aside from retaliatory attacks, Pancito believed that the NPA movement has been threatened, as the implementation of Executive Order (EO) 70 or the “Institutionalizing the Whole-of-Nation Approach in Attaining Inclusive and Sustainable Peace, Creating a National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, and Directing the Adoption of a National Peace Framework” has been taking headway.
“EO 79 has been taking grounds on addressing insurgency problems and the NPA is threatened that they will eventually be irrelevant to the people and communities they are deceiving,” he said.
Amid these killings, though, the 3ID has not augmented its current forces in Negros Oriental, citing these incidents are “police matters.”
But Pancito said they have further stepped up their anti-insurgency efforts in the area.