The title of this article is a reference to a news report I wrote in August last year (Did Duterte really threaten to declare martial law?), to which the answer was “no.” This time, mainstream media are again pouncing on a similar-sounding statement made by President Rodrigo Duterte during the 49th Annual Installation of Officers and Board of Trustees of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (DCCCII) last January 14.
Here, watch the video first (the pertinent portion is somewhere in the middle):
This was how most traditional media interpreted his statement, based on their headlines and the first few paragraphs:
INQUIRER: Martial law eyed in war on drugs
President Rodrigo Duterte said on Saturday that he would impose martial law if the drug problem became “very virulent,” just a month after dismissing as “nonsense” any suggestion he might do so.
“If I wanted to, and it will deteriorate into something really very virulent, I will declare martial law,” he said in Davao City.
“No one can stop me,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court and Congress. “My country transcends everything else, even the limitations.”
MANILA STANDARD: Duterte revives Martial Law fears
DAVAO CITY—President Rodrigo Duterte said Saturday night no one can stop him from declaring Martial Law to deal with a worsening drug problem and to protect the Filipino people.
“I tell you now, if I have to declare Martial Law, I will declare it. Not about invasion, insurrection, not about danger. I will declare Martial Law to preserve my nation, period,” he said in a speech before members of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
TRIBUNE: Duterte raises ML threat anew
‘IF I WANT TO, NOBODY CAN STOP ME’
As if tempting fate, President Duterte yesterday threatened to impose martial rule in the pursuit of his deadly war on drugs, days after a survey showed that 74 percent of respondents reject the necessity of military rule to solve the country’s problems.
“If I wanted to, and it (the narcotics problem) will deteriorate into something really very virulent, I will declare martial law if I wanted to. No one will be able to stop me,” Duterte said in a speech during the oath-taking rites of the new officers of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce last Saturday night.
So it’s clear that the mainstream media heard Duterte threatening to declare martial law again. But what did he actually say? If you watched the video above then you heard it for yourself, and the transcript provided by the News and Information Bureau (NIB) proves that it was, as presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo said, “an ‘if’ situation.”
Here is what the President actually said, based on the transcript:
You know, I have to protect the Filipino people. It’s my duty. And I’d tell you now, if I have to declare martial law, I will declare it – not about invasion, insurrection; not about danger. I will declare martial law to preserve my nation – period. Wala akong pakialam diyan sa Supreme Court or… because the thing, the right to preserve one’s life and my nation, my country transcends everything else, even the limitation. Kung gusto ko, at it will deteriorate into something really very virulent, I will declare martial law if I wanted to. Walang makapigil sa akin. And l will just say, why are you declaring martial law? Because I have to preserve the Filipino people and the youth of this land. That’s what I said.”
The operating word there is IF (which I emphasized in the above quote). He wasn’t threatening to declare martial law, he was saying IF the drug problem deteriorates so badly THEN he would have to resort to martial law. And what is he doing right now? Isn’t the President doing all he can precisely so the situation doesn’t become “virulent”?
If we read between the lines, what Duterte said was also a dig at his critics, those who seem to want to see the war against drugs fail. To paraphrase him liberally: “If you don’t let me deal with the problem, then it will grow worse, and I will have no resort but declare martial law.”
(Please note that none of what I wrote was an interpretation of what Duterte said: I merely wrote what he actually said, and what his context was for saying them.)