(Reuters/NAN) Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte has declared a “state of lawlessness” in the country after an explosion in a market killed 14 people in his home city while he was on a regular weekend visit there.
Duterte who is regarded as the crime-busting mayor of Davao City for more than two decades was at a meeting some 12 km (7.5 miles) away from downtown Davao when the explosion occurred at about 10.30 p.m. on Friday
The explosion went off at a market outside the Marco Polo hotel, a place Duterte visits often and used for meetings during a campaign for a May election that he won by a huge margin.
Duterte who typically spends his weekends in Davao told a group of reporters on Saturday that the blast has intensified an “extraordinary time” in the Philippines, and that security forces would redouble efforts to tackle crime, drugs and insurgency.
“I must declare a state of lawless violence in this country, it’s not martial law,” Duterte told a group of reporters after visiting the blast site.
“It’s not martial law until it’s a threat against the people and against the nation … I have this duty to protect this country.”
The blast came as the uncompromising president wages war with just about anyone from drugs kingpins and street dealers to Islamist rebels and corrupt bureaucrats, scoring big points in opinion polls, but at a risk of making powerful enemies.
There was no claim of responsibility though suspicion centered on an Islamic State-linked militant group.
Police said 67 people were wounded in addition to the 14 dead.
Police have yet to disclose details of their initial investigation, but Davao Mayor Sarah Duterte who is the president’s daughter said in a television interview that it was a bomb.
Police and military promised to implement the nationwide “state of lawlessness”, although there appeared to be confusion about what that actually entailed.
Duterte’s office said it was “rooted” in an article of the constitution that puts the president in charge of the armed forces.
Several officials said the declaration meant troops would assist police in anti-crime and anti-terror operations.
Rumors have swirled of a plot to assassinate the 71-year-old president, which he has shrugged off as part of his job.
The talk has been fueled by his controversial crackdown on drugs that has killed more than 2,000 people since his June 30 inauguration, and has been condemned by activists and the United Nations.
Asked on Thursday about death threats, Duterte’s spokesman Ernesto Abella said: “He eats that for breakfast, it’s not something new.”
Also, asked if he thought drugs gangs were behind it, Duterte said: “It is also being considered … At least we know who made the threats.”