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Panelo eyes more constitutional powers for Duterte

"You revise the constitution, give the powers to the president, legislative and executive powers," says presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo, explaining what he meant in trying to propose a "constitutional dictatorship" for President Rodrigo Duterte. Philstar.com / File

MANILA, Philippines — Presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo is open to having expanded powers granted to President Rodrigo Duterte placed in the Constitution.

Asked to explain his earlier proposal to grant a "constitutional dictatorship" to Duterte, Panelo said the term is contradictory, but the Constitution can be altered to give way to Duterte's reforms.

"So what I am saying is, it's constitutional. You revise the constitution, give the powers to the president, legislative and executive powers. So in a sense parang dictatorship kasi dalawa ang powers niya, pero constitutional eh," Panelo told host Karen Davila on ANC'S "Headstart" on Thursday.

Panelo said that the setup will not be illegal, but may address clamors for additional authority to the president. A bill for emergency powers is pending in the Senate pushed to ease Metro Manila's worsening road congestion.

"Kaya ko pino-propose iyon (additional constitutional powers), because palaging nagpe-fail ang presidente natin, eh at iyon ang palaging sinasabi, 'We need this power, we need that.' So sabi ko di bigyan na lang natin, so there is no more excuse not to fail," Panelo said.

Panelo also expressed his confidence that Duterte, if given additional powers, will not abuse it.

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"A president who is a man of integrity beyond corruption, who has a political will and he walks his talk," he said.

The president's lawyer, moreover, defended an earlier statement that Duterte can declare martial law is he wants to. Panelo said he disagrees with Sen. Franklin Drilon's views that the country could only be placed under martial law only if there is invasion or rebellion.

"Ang sabi doon, 'when public safety requires it.' In other words, kahit na may invasion or rebellion, kung iyong public safety is not endangered, you have to declare martial law," Panelo said.

So, ano ang ibig sabihin ng mga framers of the constitution? They wanted to prevent the destructive effect brought about by invasion or rebellion, so that any similar circumstance or akin to invasion or rebellion that produces the same destructive effects, puwede kang mag-declare," he added.

Duterte, however, has no plans to declare martial law because he finds threats to the country still under control, Panelo said.

Earlier this month, Duterte placed the country under a state of national emergency for "lawless violence" following the blast that killed 14 in Davao City.

Martial law, meanwhile, was last declared by strongman Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in 1972 leading to human rights atrocities, government plunder and suppression of the freedom of expression and the press. The 1986 Constitution was framed after Marcos was deposed through a people's revolution.

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