DEFENSE SECRETARY Delfin N. Lorenzana said martial law in Negros Oriental province should not be declared until the recommendations of security officials on the ground and local government executives have been fully assessed.

This as Malacañang on Friday said that claims that the recent killings in the province were government-sponsored are “baseless” and “malicious.”

Mr. Lorenzana said the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and local officials should first explain why the recent spate of killings would warrant such a declaration.

“Ako (As far as I am concerned) as of now, hindi ko pa nakikita na kailangan (I don’t see the need)… but we will wait for the recommendation of the PNP, AFP, and local government,” Mr. Lorenzana told the media after the turnover ceremony for the Regional Evacuation Center in Zarraga, Iloilo on Thursday.

“Pag sinabi nila na (When they say) ‘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 (perhaps not yet),” he added.

Mr. Lorenzana said he believes that most of these killings could be “politically motivated.”

“[They are] more politically motivated than anything else,” he said, noting that political rivalries could still be intense in the aftermath of the May 2019 elections.

On Thursday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo told reporters that President Rodrigo R. Duterte might use his “emergency powers under the Constitution to quell the lawless violence engulfing the island.”

Twenty people have been killed including four police officers, by either unidentified motorcycle-riding suspects or alleged members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in Negros Oriental between July 18 and July 27, said the PNP.

Meanwhile, on Friday Mr. Panelo issued a statement calling recent remarks by Bayan Muna Chairperson Neri J. Colmenares as “baseless” and “malicious.” Mr. Colmenares had blamed the PNP for the spate of deaths in Negros Oriental.

“The remarks of former senatorial candidate Mr. Colmenares, along with his blaming the police for the spate of deaths is… baseless and laced with malice,” Mr. Panelo said.

He said Malacañang agrees that justice must be given to the victims and their families.

“Such utterances of Mr. Colmenares are but a part of the propaganda of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), to which obviously he subscribes [to] and parrots, to discredit the Administration and the security forces of the government, while trying to give himself the appearance of relevance after being repeatedly repudiated by the electorate in the national elections. Apparently, he has purposely turned deaf to the voice of the people,” Mr. Panelo said further.

The Catholic church has appealed for an end to the killings, with Bishop Gerardo A. Alminaza of San Carlos calling for prayer and action in a pastoral appeal issued last July 27.

“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 said in the letter. — Emme Rose S. Santiagudo and Arjay L. Balinbin