If this is the person giving legal advice to President Duterte, there is cause for alarm.
Presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo last week said that the COVID-19 pandemic can be considered an invasion – a constitutional ground for the declaration of martial law.
Mr. Duterte had said that he was considering declaring martial law to counter communist activities. Much earlier, he said the military and the police were preparing for a “martial-law type” of situation to instill discipline among those who violate the enhanced community quarantine.
During his program on the state-run network PTV, Panelo explained: “It can mean the entry of a disease and transfer from one area to another. Remember, what do we have now? There is an actual invasion of the coronavirus disease which is pandemic. It threatens, in fact, the entire country and all of our countrymen.”
“So, there is an actual invasion. And public safety is endangered. Isn’t that what the Constitution says?”
Even as we have grown accustomed to Panelo’s outrageous pronouncements, this most definitely takes the cake. If the pandemic issue were not so tragic, it would almost be funny to imagine the spiked virus donning a combat suit and brandishing weapons – much like the communists – to invade a body. Maybe Mr. Panelo only wishes to make light of a grave situation.
But this is neither science fiction nor situational comedy. The virus has infected more than 3.6 million people across the globe, and 9,684 in the Philippines. Here at home, 637 have died, and even as everybody is anxious to resume economic activity and get out of confinement, we do not really know the extent and magnitude of the threat, since we are only now picking up on testing.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers has slammed Panelo’s words. “Unbelievable. Legally untenable, constitutionally preposterous and factually absurd, yet an extremely perilous fable,” NUPL President Edre Olalia said in a statement.
Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio simply let out a laugh when asked for a reaction.
It’s a tragedy that “the best and the brightest” who should be advising the President during these precarious times are scarce, while the likes of Mr. Panelo feel uninhibited to utter words that serve only to diminish his master’s credibility.
Then again, he could be floating an idea and testing how the people would react to such absurdities. They can have deniability when they say that it was only a joke after all – that is, until the next incendiary suggestion or abominable move.
Alas, such a pattern has invaded this administration, and this is one that has no value aside from comic relief.