PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte's latest pronouncement that he may declare Martial law in Mindanao region simply indicated that he wants local executives to find ways to address aggression, Malacañang said Friday.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the President was merely emphasizing the "depth and breadth of lawlessness and violence" in Mindanao when he hinted that he would announce an autocrat rule if hostility escalates in the region.

Abella said Duterte wanted the local government executives to exhaust all means in ensuring that the people there are safe and secure.

"The context of the statement was the challenge to the local chief executives in Mindanao to be more fully engaged in the regional challenges, otherwise, he would be constrained to enforce more drastic measures," the presidential spokesperson said.

"By raising the possibility of Martial law in the island, [Duterte] is hopeful that local leaders would realize the magnitude of the law and order problem and consequently help in his administration to fight terrorism, illegal drugs and other forms of violence," he added.

Speaking before Mindanao's local officials in an event held in Davao City Thursday night, Duterte expressed concern over the "unstoppable" lawless activities done by terrorists in the region.

The Chief executive then appealed to them to make a way to end the violence or else, he would announce a one-man rule in Mindanao, if the situation worsens.

"Somebody has to act on the problem with dedication and seriousness. We have to protect our nation. It is high time that you decide. Whether we exist with one nation or there will be a breakage in our society and our lives," the President said.

"I have no choices but to talk to you. Either you help me or I will declare Martial law tomorrow for Mindanao," he added.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, for his part, allayed the public's fears over Duterte's threat to declare Martial law.

“Even he declares Martial law, the Presidente, he is always very strict on himself. In fact, he’s the only official I know who enforced the law even against himself so there’s no reason to be afraid,” Panelo said in an interview with reporters.

Panelo said Duterte is not yet inclined to declare Martial law in the embattled region and is simply warning the local officials there to step up in addressing lawlessness.

He said the Chief Executive, in fact, had never mentioned the possible declaration of Martial law during Cabinet meetings.

Panelo said Duterte might not have been satisfied with the performance of local officials in Mindanao, prompting him to mull a one-man rule.

"The President is only pushing Martial law on particular place, depending on the exigencies and conditions. As he said, he will be compelled to declare Martial law if mayors will not help him because violence worsens in their place," Panelo said.

"I do not think so [that he'll declare Martial law]. It's a warning that he will not sit idly with people trying to destroy our society. He will use powers granted by him the Constitution to suppress violence, to stop criminality and other," he added.

Meanwhile, Panelo criticized the international group Human Rights Watch (HRW) for interfering in the instruction of the President to state forces to wage war against the communist New People's Army following the rebel ambush of four policemen in Davao del Sur.

Panelo said HRW seems to be “not thinking” as it always expressed an opposing views to the policies and orders made by the President.

“That human rights commission, it’s always opposing. It’s like it’s not the thinking commission. They always oppose. They have not yet seen what the President will do, they already speculate,” he said.

The group earlier said that the President's order would only harm the safety and security of the people.

"International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, rejects the 'anything goes' approach to warfare and places specific restraints on all parties to an armed conflict to spare civilians and other non-combatants the horrors of war," the group said in a statement.

"Armies must take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians. Attacks against unlawful targets cannot be indiscriminate or cause civilian loss greater that the expected military gain," it added. (SunStar Philippines)