In justifying possible martial law, Panelo says COVID-19 can be considered an 'invasion'

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 04 2020 04:38 PM | Updated as of May 05 2020 02:04 PM

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo. file

MANILA (UPDATE) - The coronavirus pandemic can be considered an invasion, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo claimed Monday as he sought to explain how the crisis can serve as a basis for President Rodrigo Duterte to employ extraordinary measures such as martial law.

Panelo said the coronavirus pandemic threatens the whole country, claiming that there is an "actual invasion" happening. 

"May bago nang international meaning ang invasion...It can mean the entry of a disease and the transfer from one area to another," he said in his commentary program.

"Ano bang meron ngayon (What do we have now)? There is an actual invasion of the coronavirus disease which is pandemic," he said.

Panelo made the remark 2 weeks after President Rodrigo Duterte warned that he "might declare martial law" if communist rebels continued their deadly attacks on state troops during the coronavirus crisis.

Transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, isolated from a patient. Image captured and color-enhanced at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Photo courtesy of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

While the Constitution requires a rebellion or an invasion as a basis for declaring martial law, Panelo said the charter also states that public safety could require an extraordinary measure.

The coronavirus pandemic falls into the classification of a threat to public safety, he said.

"It threatens in fact the entire country yung lahat ng mga kababayan natin so may actual na invasion," he said.

"Sa aking pananaw po bilang abogado, lahat ng sitwasyon o kalakaran na maaaring parang rebellion o invasion at nagbibigay ng panganib, imminent danger sa taumbayan eh pwede kang gumamit ng extraordinary power under the constitution," he added.

(In my view as a lawyer, all situations that can be likened to a rebellion or invasion and threatens or serves as an imminent danger to the public can be met with an extraordinary power under the constitution.)

Reacting to Panelo's statement, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said martial law can only be declared if there is an armed action by human beings, "not by non-living things like viruses."

"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. Both terms refer to armed actions by human beings, not by non-living things like viruses," he said in a statement.

So far, the Philippines has responded to the coronavirus pandemic with lockdowns, enhanced testing, and physical distancing measures.

As of Monday, the Philippines has a confirmed 9,485 cases of COVID-19. This includes 623 deaths, and 1,315 recoveries.