PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte threatened to declare martial law if communist rebels disrupt the flow of relief goods for people affected by the coronavirus lockdown restrictions, and asked the military to be ready.

“I am now warning everybody, I am putting notice to the armed forces and police. I might declare martial law and there will be no turning back,” he said at the beginning of the meeting on the extension of coronavirus containment measures, which was screened on television on Friday morning.

Mr. Duterte blasted the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) for the attack on Wednesday at the Paquibato district in Davao City which wounded two soldiers. He added if such incidents continue, he will ultimately declare martial law.

Mr. Duterte has long been at odds with the CPP-NPA, worsened by repeated breakdowns in a peace process he launched at the beginning of his presidency.

The President first announced a unilateral ceasefire a day after the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon was imposed on March 17, in order for the government to be able to focus on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. However, rebels initially doubted the sincerity of this ceasefire.

Since the declaration of the ceasefire, two other rebel attacks have been reported during the ECQ period, one in Barangay Magroyong, Surigao del Sur and the other in Rodriguez, Rizal.

CPP founder Jose Maria C. Sison announced a ceasefire last month, days after the United Nations called for a global armistice in order to focus on the COVID-19 issue. The government’s ceasefire lapsed on April 15, while the communist rebels extended their declaration until April 30, the last day of the ECQ’s extension in Luzon.

Solons on Friday backed the President’s declaration. “If NPA attacks persist and therefore rebellion continues in the midst of the pandemic, the President is obligated to declare ML (martial law),” said Senate President Vicente C. “Tito” Sotto III in reply to a question posed to him on Viber.

Senator Aquilino L. “Koko” Pimentel III, concurred, quoting the Constitution’s Section 13 which spells out the President’s powers to declare martial law, saying in a Viber message that the “Declaration of ML is the president’s decision subject to substantive requirements of the Constitution…” But he did point out that “the congress reviews it also pursuant to the constitution. That (ML declaration) is part of Presidential powers. The review is part of Congressional powers.” He went on to point out that “ML declaration can be location specific.”

Meanwhile, Ako Bicol Party-list Representative and vice-chairman of the House committee on justice Alfredo A. Garbin, Jr., released a statement saying that there was no need for the president to declare martial law “as the effect of Luzon Wide Total lockdown has the force and effect of a de facto Martial Law,” He pointed out that the police and AFP are already manning checkpoints and enforcing the enhanced community quarantine, and that there are already 24-hour curfews. “Liberty of travel and abode is suppress[ed] and the right to peaceably assemble is wanting. In fact the President is also authorized to take over private property of which he deems proper and necessary in order to meet the needs of this public health emergency,” he noted.

“Declaring martial law is too cumbersome,” he said. “When the President judges that it is necessary to impose martial law or suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, his judgment is subject to review by the Supreme Court and subject to concurrence by Congress. But when he exercises this lesser power of calling on the Armed Forces, when he says it is necessary, his judgment cannot be reviewed by anybody.”

On Thursday, Davao City Mayor Sara Z. Duterte, the president’s daughter, condemned an attack by the NPA on a village in the city’s Paquibato District the previous day, according to a report by the Philippine News Agency. Two soldiers sustained slight wounds during what the army said was an attack meant to disrupt the distribution of financial aid by the Department of Social Welfare and Development. — Reuters, Genshen L. Espedido, Gillian M. Cortez