Protesters slam martial law, killings under Duterte

MANILA (Updated) -- Thousands of protesters marked the anniversary of the 1972 martial law declaration by late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos with an outcry against what they say is the current President's authoritarian tendencies and his brutal crackdown on illegal drugs.

Hundreds of riot police deployed to secure the marches and rallies, which are expected to be among the largest against President Rodrigo Duterte since he took office last year.

Pro-Duterte followers also staged rallies in Manila and police said they would guard against possible confrontations. Duterte supporters who trooped to the rally wore orange shirts and caps bearing the name of Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, an ally of Duterte.

Duterte has warned he would use force or expand nationwide his martial law declaration in Mindanao if anti-government protesters threaten public order. He placed the entire Mindanao under martial law in May to deal with a bloody siege by the Maute terror group in Marawi City that has dragged on for nearly four months.

READ: Troops, Maute group clash in Marawi City

Marcos' martial law era, which ended in 1981, had been marked by massive human rights violations and muzzling of civil liberties.

According to left-wing group Karapatan, "Duterte and his security cluster have utilized narratives and tactics straight out of Marcos's playbook of repression, repeating and justifying rights violations, with increasing frequency and intensity."

Known for bombastic remarks, Duterte has said activists can stage street protests without government permits, and that even communist guerrillas can join as long as they don't bring their guns. He said he was also ready to turn in his resignation to Congress anytime if the military agrees.

He warned protesters not to break the law. "I will not hesitate to use force even if it would mean my downfall as president of this country, remember that," Duterte said Friday on state TV.

Waving red flags and carrying placards that read "Stop the Killings," left-wing groups started to mass up in three Manila areas, including at the foot of a bridge leading to the presidential palace.

Demonstrating how thousands of drug war victims were slain under the Duterte regime, one of the protesters spilled fake blood on the street and pretended dead, with a piece of cardboard on top of his body that said, "Huwag tularan, napag-kamalan lang! (Do not imitate, just mistaken) Stop the killings.”

Former Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, a former member of the Duterte cabinet whose ad interim appointment was rejected by the administration-led Commission on Appointments joined the protest. He said that he might no longer support Duterte, especially if dictatorship flourishes under his watch.

"I am one with the Filipino to fight and disband the revival of martial law in the country," Mariano told reporters.

Police Senior Inspector Leonardo de Guzman, the ground commander, anti-Duterte groups swelled to 5,000, while at least 3,200 pro-Duterte supporters turned up at the rally, as of 3:30 p.m.

A few thousands marched at a university area, yelling "Never again, never again to martial law." They planned to gather later Friday, September 22, at a park by Manila Bay for the main protest.

Rallies at the nearby United States Embassy have been prohibited by police.

Another group of protesters staged a separate rally at the Commission on Human Rights, which has been repeatedly denounced by Duterte for raising an alarm over his police-led campaign against illegal drugs that has left thousands of suspects dead.

Duterte's dominant allies in the House of Representatives initially voted to reduce the commission's annual budget to P1,000 but reconsidered the decision late Wednesday, September 20, amid an outcry and after the human rights chief met congressional leaders.

Washington and European Union officials, along with the United Nations and human rights watchdogs, have expressed alarm over the drug killings in the Philippines, sparking expletives-laden outbursts from Duterte.

The unorthodox president, however, has remained popular in his crime-weary country, helped by his common-guy demeanor and populist rhetoric.

Duterte said Wednesday he has ordered law enforcers to kill his own children, two of whom serve as mayor and vice mayor of Davao City, if they're involved in illegal drugs.

"You can just kill them so the people can't say anything," Duterte said. "I will protect the police who will kill you, if that is true." (AP/Ruth Abbey Gita/SunStar Philippines)
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