Manila – In recent weeks, the Arroyo government has warned that terrorism, oil prices and the breakdown of law and order are emerging as threats to thePhilippines' economic and political stability. Now, her Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita is saying that President Gloria Arroyo is keeping the declaration of emergency rule as an option to handle a crisis situation that may be triggered by any of these three threats – even as he seeks to allay public fears that some form of martial law is imminent.
"This option is always open, and (Justice) Secretary Raul Gonzalez was open enough to say as a responsible Cabinet member (that) he has been making preparations on things that he thinks might happen," Mr Ermita told reporters at his weekly briefing in Malacañang on Oct 12. "The situation might be OK today but a day or two later, could be different," he said.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer, quoting two opposition leaders, reported late last month that the Department of Justice had prepared a draft proclamation that stopped short of an imposition of martial law.
But Mr Gonzalez denied this, saying he and his staff had merely been studying the idea of a government takeover of vital industries if rising oil prices would trigger an economic crisis.
Mr Ermita said while the government could not blame anyone for speculating on the President's motives in declaring emergency rule, it did not mean that keeping the option open was intended to make the public "afraid".
In a phone interview with the Inquirer, Lieutenant-General Samuel Bagasin, Armed Forces deputy chief of staff, said: "I would like to assure you there's no talk (within the military) about martial law or emergency rule … We don't believe it will come to pass. The current situation does not warrant it. At present, the level of violence and lawlessness does not warrant the institution of a state of emergency."
However, he admitted that a declaration of martial law or emergency rule would be a "political decision" made solely by Malacañang, and the military would "just be on the receiving end".
* Palace sets 3 terms for emergency rule (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Oct 13)