DOJ shoots down Panelo’s virus ‘invasion’ theory
MANILA, Philippines — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday put an end to chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo’s theory that President Duterte can impose martial law due to the new coronavirus “invasion.”
“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 told reporters.
“Both terms refer to armed actions by human beings, not by nonliving things like viruses,” he said.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) described Panelo’s twisting of the constitutional provision on martial law as “unbelievable, legally untenable, constitutionally preposterous and factually absurd.”
“Yet [it is] an extremely perilous fable,” said NUPL chair Edre Olalia.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., who is also a lawyer, toyed with Panelo’s theory in several Twitter comments before bowing to Guevarra’s opinion.
“He is as usual right; but I had fun taking the idea of infection as invasion as far as I could take it,” Locsin tweeted on Monday night, calling Guevarra “the smartest deepest thinking jurist I know.”
Speaking on his program on state-run television on Monday, Panelo said the President could declare martial law because the new coronavirus epidemic in the country could be considered an “actual invasion.”
Panelo said the definition of “invasion” — a requirement for the declaration of martial law — had evolved and was no longer limited to the use of military force by a nation to occupy another nation.
“It can mean the entry of a disease and transfer from one area to another. What do we have now? There is an actual invasion of the coronavirus disease, which is a pandemic. It threatens, in fact, the entire country and our countrymen. So there’s an actual invasion and public safety is endangered,” he said.
Not Palace position
On Tuesday, Malacañang said the President did not share Panelo’s opinion.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, who took over Panelo’s post in April, said Panelo’s statement was his personal opinion and not the Palace’s official position.
Roque told a press briefing that Mr. Duterte’s threat last month to impose military rule was related to communist rebels’ attack on government troops escorting relief missions.
“I think that is the presidential proclamation on this issue. I’m not the one who said that but the President. It means that his and Secretary Panelo’s position are different,” he said.
Roque stressed that he, as presidential spokesperson, is the only official authorized to speak on behalf of the President and the executive branch of the government.
“We cannot, of course, deprive Secretary Panelo of his freedom of speech,” he said, but added that he agreed with Guevarra’s opinion that “invasion” in the constitutional provision on the declaration of martial law refers to an “invasion of a country by foreign armed forces.”
There was no immediate comment from Panelo on Tuesday.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, a former military chief of staff, said Panelo’s comparison of the new coronavirus epidemic to an invasion was “just a joke.”
He stressed that under the Constitution, martial law can be declared only if there is rebellion in the country or it is under invasion.
Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said there had been no discussion of martial law declaration in the military.
—WITH REPORTS FROM JULIE M. AURELIO AND JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE
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