By Genalyn Kabiling
Malacañang has shot down the legal theory of Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo that the coronavirus pandemic is a form of invasion that can justify a martial law declaration.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said President Duterte’s stated position is clearly different from Panelo’s theory. He said Duterte already mentioned that his threat to declare martial law is based on the premise that the acts of lawlessness of communist rebels will persist.
Under the Constitution, the President may place the country or any place under martial law “in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it.”
“Ilalagay ko lang po sa proper context. Ang sabi ni Presidente, hindi siya mag-aatubili magdeklara ng martial law sang-ayon po doon sa basehan na nakasaad sa ating Saligang Batas at iyan po ay rebelyon ng NPA (New People’s Army), lalung-lalo na kung patuloy nilang aatakihin ang ating sundalo para nakawin iyong mga ayuda na nakalaan sa ating mga kababayan (I will put in it in the proper context. The President said he will not hesitate to declare martial law based on what is stated in the the Constitution and that is rebellion of the NPA especially if they will continue to attack soldiers to steal relief items intended for our countrymen),” Roque said during a virtual press conference Tuesday.
“So, I think that is the presidential proclamation on this issue. Hindi lang po ako ang nagsalita niyan, ang Presidente na po ang nagsalita niyan. Ibig sabihin po, magkaiba po sila ng posisyon ni Secretary Panelo (I was not the only one who said it. The President himself said it. It means, he and Secretary Panelo have different positions),” he said.
Roque said the President knows the Constitution well, especially after having served as state prosecutor and public servant for many years. “He’s probably one of the most noted Constitutionalists in this country right now by (dint of his) experience, if not by academic training,” he said.
Roque also recognized Panelo’s right to free speech but reminded him that the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson is the sole authority to speak for the President on matters related to his action, programs and activities.
“I think that is the personal view of Secretary Panelo. There is a memo which designates the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson as the only authorized office to speak on behalf of the President and behalf of the Executive Branch of government,” he said.
“We cannot of course deprive Secretary Panelo of his freedom of speech,” he added.
Roque also agreed with Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra’s statement that invasion refers to invasion of a country by a foreign armed forces, not an action by non-living things like viruses.
“In legal parlance, I concur with the view of Secretary Guevarra,” he said.
Roque, also a lawyer, replaced Panelo as the President’s spokesman last month. Panelo has kept his other job as the President’s chief legal counsel.
Last Monday, Panelo argued that the “invasion” by the new coronavirus disease could be a basis for martial law declaration in the country due to threat to public safety.
Panelo argued that invasion has another “international meaning” about the entry of a deadly disease, apart from the forced entry of army to occupy and control another country.
“There is an actual invasion of the coronavirus disease which is a pandemic. It threatens in fact the entire country ‘yung lahat ng kababayan so may actual invasion and public safety is in danger. ‘Yan ang sinasabi ng Constitution, rebellion or invasion when public safety requires,” he said.