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COVID-19 ‘invasion’ as possible ground for martial law just for academic discussion —Panelo

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said Tuesday his opinion that the COVID-19 pandemic could be a ground for the imposition of martial law in the country was meant for academic discussion.

Panelo has been criticized for his remarks aired on state-run PTV on Monday with a group of lawyers calling it “legally untenable, constitutionally preposterous and factually absurd.” 

“The remarks this representation made about martial law, particularly with respect to its other ground – the existence of an invasion – were more of an academic and theoretical discussion, and were not meant to express the official position of the government on the matter,” he said.

“Those were intended for those trained in the law, as well as law students and legal scholars, to explore the ever-changing state of affairs vis-à-vis the dynamics of our Constitution, especially now as we battle a global pandemic.”

The Palace official also posed the question on whether the Constitution “should restrict itself to conventional understanding.”

“In times of exigencies or dire need, when lawless violence pervades in the face of a severe crisis and danger knocks on our doorsteps, we are obliged to explore theories that will create an avenue for the government to exercise powers that are well within its arsenal,” Panelo said.

“While such practice does not necessarily connote implementation, a discourse on the same may help us further understand the very purpose of the rule of law.”

He also said only the Supreme Court is constitutionally tasked to finally interpret the nation’s laws, “and our obligation as lawyers is merely to raise our respective theories before it.”

Under the 1987 Constitution, a president can only declare martial law in case of invasion or rebellion when the public safety requires it.

Panelo said the definition of invasion had evolved and should not be confined to the use of armed forces to occupy another country.

But Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said an invasion can only be done by people, not viruses.

Duterte told the nation on April 23 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. —LDF, GMA News