President Rodrigo Duterte is contemplating on declaring martial law on Negros Island following a spate of killings blamed on communist rebels.

Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo told reporters “the unrest there has become widespread,” prompting Duterte to consider using emergency powers to call the Armed Forces of the Philippines to quell the violence.

“He (President Duterte) has many options under the Constitution…He can call the Armed Forces to quell lawless violence; he can declare martial law,” Panelo said in a press briefing.

A martial law declaration would likely be separate from the one in place in the entire Mindanao since the Marawi siege of 2017, he said.

Grabe na iyong patayan doon (There are a lot of killings there), we have a village, a barangay captain, a municipal mayor, four policemen and a lawyer. The president doesn’t want this to happen. He wants it stopped, and the only way to do that is to use his emergency powers,” Panelo said.

The death toll from the spate of shooting incidents in Negros Oriental increased over the weekend with the killing of a former mayor and three others.

The killings brought to 21 the number of those killed in the province in little over a week.

Authorities have arrested suspected communist rebels after four police intelligence officers were shot on July 18 and after a clash on July 29 in Ayungon, Negros Oriental.

The Catholic Church’s social action arm on Wednesday added its voice to calls for a stop to the series of killings in Negros Island.

In a statement, the National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (Nassa) said a huge responsibility lies on the government in ending the bloodshed gripping the region.

“To the military and the police, exercise restraint and maximum tolerance, and enforce the laws with total regard to justice and respect for human rights,” said Archbishop Rolando Tria Tirona, Nassa chairman. WITH ROY LAGARDE (