Press Release
November 28, 2018

Dispatch from Crame No. 426:
Sen. Leila M. de Lima on Duterte's Memorandum Order No. 32


With election campaign season fast approaching, the objective behind the issuance of Memorandum Order No. 32 on the deployment of additional troops to Samar, the Negros Island, and the Bicol Region on account of "lawless violence" is highly suspect.

Although the President has the power to call out the AFP in case of lawless violence, the timing of the additional troop deployments being so close to the campaign season worries us that there are sinister motivations behind the President's move.

For a President that has staked his legacy on maintaining peace and order, Duterte is spending most of his time in office under a state of national emergency on account of lawless violence. This same declaration is what he uses to justify extraordinary measures to respond to what otherwise are just "sporadic acts of violence", as MO 32 itself admits.

Sporadic acts of violence do not constitute lawless violence. This is why the MO remains suspect. It might be intended and used for purposes other than its avowed objective. One of them is influencing and controlling the conduct of the election campaign.

Mobility is one of the most important things in an election campaign for any candidate. A candidate has to reach out to the farthest corners of the country in order to get his or her message across to the people and to convince them to vote for him or her. However, the presence of additional troops in certain areas would mean greater control by the military over such area.

The military can therefore restrict access to certain areas in the provinces that are the subject of MO 32, under the guise that these areas are unsafe either because of military operations against "lawless elements" or because of the threat posed by the presence of rebels.

The provinces mentioned in MO 32 are areas where the opposition still maintains a significant presence, especially in the Bicol Region. Curtailing the movement of opposition candidates not only in these areas but in other provinces as well will certainly affect the reach of their campaign and the chances of their candidacy. Severely restricting their movements on grounds of national security would indeed be a convenient excuse. Military control can also be used to restrict the exercise of the right to vote, with the aim of effecting a low voter turn-out in opposition areas.

We still hope that this will not be the case, and that the AFP will remain true to its constitutional mandate and not engage in partisan politics for the benefit of administration candidates and Duterte's allies.

What is worse of course is if MO 32 is used as a prelude to the declaration of Martial Law nationwide. If this happens, then the chances of holding clean and honest elections in May 2019 is as good as dead.

The right to suffrage is one of the last remaining basic rights that we still enjoy relatively unimpaired despite the current conditions of political repression and human rights violations under the Duterte regime. We cannot let it suffer the same fate as it is the only remaining voice we have to protest and resist authoritarian rule.

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