President Rodrigo Duterte can impose martial law due to the spread of the deadly coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the Philippines, his chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo said Monday.
Under the 1987 Constitution, a president can only declare martial law in case of invasion or rebellion when the public safety requires it.
However, Panelo said the definition of invasion had evolved and should not be confined to the use of armed forces to occupy another country.
“It can mean the entry of a disease and the transfer from one area to another. There is an actual invasion of the coronavirus disease which is [a] pandemic. It threatens, in fact, the entire country,” he said in his commentary program aired on state-run PTV.
The Philippines has so far reported 9,485 COVID-19 cases, with 623 deaths and 1,315 recoveries.
“Lahat ng sitwasyon o kalakaran na maaaring parang rebellion at invasion at ito’y nagbibigay ng malubhang panganib, imminent danger sa taumbayan ay puwede kang gumamit ng isang extraordinary power under the Constitution,” Panelo said.
Panelo said his legal theory might attract controversy.
Sought for reaction, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said, “No comment, but that's not [the] Palace position."
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre Olalia said Panelo’s legal position was “factually absurd.”
“Unbelievable. Legally untenable, constitutionally preposterous and factually absurd, yet an extremely perilous fable,” Olalia said.
On April 23, Duterte told the nation that he might impose martial rule should the communist rebels continue with their atrocities including attacks on police and military officers who are delivering aid to communities.
Lawmakers gave mixed reactions to the President’s pronouncement with opposition Senator Francis Pangilinan saying that an "iron hand" would not kill the virus that causes COVID-19 and end the decades-old communist insurgency.
Roque, meanwhile, denied that the President was using the pandemic to declare martial law.
Duterte used this power in 2017 in quelling rebellion in Mindanao by extremist groups accused of plotting a caliphate for international terror group ISIS. The martial law in Mindanao ended in December last year.—AOL/BM, GMA News