By Martin Sadongdong
The Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Tuesday issued similar opinions disputing the controversial statement of Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo that there is an “invasion” of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the country which could justify the declaration of a martial law.
Panelo claimed in a television program on Monday that the COVID-19 pandemic could be considered an “invasion” as the viral pandemic has entered the country and continues to threaten public health and safety.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Panelo was “technically correct” when he said that the current pandemic is an invasion. However, he was quick to clarify that the COVID-19 situation is a health issue.
“The virus came from abroad and in fact it has invaded the whole world. But this is primarily a health issue, a war against a deadly and highly contagious virus,” Lorenzana said.
The top Defense official stressed that the decision to declare martial law to address the pandemic lies on the hands of President Duterte.
“Whether it is [a] ground for M.L. [martial law] or not, it is up to the President,” Lorenzana said.
Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesperson, echoed the pronouncement of Lorenzana as he noted that declaration of martial law depends on the Chief Executive.
“The power to declare martial law on the basis of COVID-19 is within his powers as Commander-in-Chief subject to the concurrence of both houses of Congress,” Arevalo said.
However, as far as the military is concerned, Arevalo said there has been “no such discussion” of possible martial law declaration to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
At present, Arevalo said their attention remains focused on helping the national and local governments sustain their offensives against the communist and local terror groups, while performing duties pertaining to the enforcement of national health emergency measures.
Duterte has repeatedly warned that he will not hesitate to declare martial law due to the hostility of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), and not because of the virus itself.
Relatedly, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said martial law can only be declared with an armed action made by human beings, and not by non-living things such as a virus.
“In the context of martial law, ‘invasion’ refers to invasion of a country by foreign armed forces. This is analogous to the other ground for declaring martial law, i.e., rebellion, which is an armed uprising against the government by its own citizens,” Guevarra was quoted in an ABS-CBN report.