Leaked document says AFP will be in-charge of roads and highways
MANILA (UPDATE) – The Armed Forces of the Philippines confirmed Sunday a Philippine Air Force (PAF) document leaked online advising its personnel to prepare following President Rodrigo Duterte's pronouncement of the police and military's "martial law-type" role in the strict implementation of quarantine measures.
In a statement to ABS-CBN News, Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, spokesman of the AFP, said the document, dated April 17 and first posted on website reddit.com, is an internal memo that should not be cause for alarm.
“Per my conversation with the Commanding General of the Philippine Air Force, that document is an internal memo issued for the purpose of providing advance information to give guidance to personnel—in this case the PAF,” Arevalo said.
In advising "all personnel to prepare for strict implementation of extensive enhanced community quarantine," the document cited "PRRD's latest pronouncement on martial law-type role of AFP/PNP" as one of its references.
The AFP, according to the memo, "will be the over-all in-charge along roads and highways."
It also stated the need to conduct or request for a briefing from the Philippine National Police on rules of engagement, "legal and safety measures in dealing with pedestrians and motorists."
Lt. Colonel Lawrence Naldoza, PAF Director for Operations, drafted the memo, while Col. Reynold Rueca, AC of AS for Operations, A-3, released it, the document showed.
In a speech on Thursday, April 16, Duterte warned he might impose a martial law-like lockdown in the midst of numerous COVID-19 quarantine violations.
Arevalo said the PAF document was based on Duterte’s televised address where he raised the possibility of deployment of soldiers in case people will not heed the plea of the government, and if deterioration of discipline and order continues.
But he stressed there is nothing to worry about.
“Sa ngayon wala pa na namang utos ang Pangulo na mag-deploy na. But it is incumbent and customary on the part of the leadership of the Philippine Air Force, and the AFP under General Felimon Santos Jr, for that matter, to exercise its initiative of alerting and preparing our personnel including ROE (rules of engagement),” Arevalo said.
The document was drafted in anticipation of a possible deployment order from Duterte, the military's commander-in-chief.
“The order or instruction has been broadcast live nationwide. The AFP took cognizance of the order and already prepares for it even before the order to deploy is given. That, we suppose, makes the AFP unique and dependable as an institution because of initiative and foresight. We take orders and know which are specific tasks and which are implied,” Arevalo said.
“Again, the context is: sinabi na ni Presidente na mag-prepare ang AFP for deployment with the PNP in case people will continue to defy the protocols and disobey the rules."
Arevalo explained that various local government units had already asked the AFP for help even before the Duterte’s statements.
“Even before the announcement, local chief executives of the cities of Quezon, Pasay, Parañaque, and Mandaluyong, and the municipality of Pateros have sought the assistance of the AFP in the enforcement of regulations," he said.
"Almost all Barangays in the (National Capital Region) were actually seeking the assistance of the military and the police which shows the magnitude of the problem."
In a statement released Friday, when the PAF document was issued, Arevalo said the AFP was ready to take on the task of enforcing discipline and order “when directed” and “where there is a breakdown in both, and [if] the people will not heed government’s pleas to observe community quarantine, stay at home, and when authorized to leave home, to observe physical distancing.”
“We believe there is nothing to be alarmed about in this natural reaction of the AFP to prepare and deploy when it becomes necessary…Law abiding citizens and those who follow the rules should not worry. There is no reason to be alarmed,” he said in reference to the issuance of the PAF internal memo.
“What we should all be alarmed about instead is the fact that a lot of people are blatantly violating the law and disobeying the rules and health protocols which MUST be strictly enforced —otherwise people die,” Arevalo said.
PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac said the document was just "a reminder to all our personnel to be prepared if ever given the orders."
"There is no plan (for a martial law) and if ever, this will be coming from the President himself or an announcement to be made by the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases). As of yet, there is no announcement of such thing," Banac told ANC.
Rights advocates have questioned the Philippine government’s “militaristic” approach in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing focus should be on mass testing and addressing other public health needs.
They also warned against using war as a metaphor in the fight against COVID-19, saying this highlights reliance on the armed forces and on state violence as key instruments in addressing the pandemic.