Panelo says drug problem can make martial law 'valid'


MANILA, Philippines — While other officials dismissed President Rodrigo Duterte's comment about martial law as mere rhetoric, his chief legal counsel said that the illegal drug problem in the country may warrant a declaration of military rule.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said on Wednesday that the president has the "right and duty to declare martial law when the public safety requires it."

"The drug problem has risen to a crisis of gigantic proportion that endangers the public safety hence constitutionally a declaration of martial law is valid since there is imminent danger to the public safety," Panelo told reporters in an interview, a transcript of which was released by the Palace.

The 1987 Constitution requires Congressional concurrence when a president uses Article VII, Section 8 to declare martial law.

The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.

The current Constitution was framed after former President Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown through a people's revolution in 1986 after years of martial rule.

READ: 1987 Constitution explained: Can Duterte declare martial law?

A visibly angry Duterte on Tuesday night lashed out at Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who called as "premature" the executive branch's announcement of names of judges believed to be linked to the illegal drug trade.

"Would you rather I declare martial law?" Duterte said in an address before troops in Cagayan de Oro City, responding to Sereno's call for judges on Duterte's list not to surrender without warrants of arrest against them.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said Duterte "may be joking" in mentioning martial law, while Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said the president "merely asked a rhetorical question and said it under the context that his anti-drug campaign cannot wait for the slow wheels of justice, Philippine style."

Panelo, meanwhile, said Sereno "may have misconstrued" Duterte's motive in releasing the list.

"There was no order for their arrest but they were only required to show themselves up and explain themselves, and with respect to the judges, to report to the Supreme Court, which shows that the president defers to an equal branch of government," he said.

He also called Sereno's reaction "misplaced" but done as the head of the judiciary.

"CJ Sereno may have also misappreciated the extent and magnitude of the drug crisis hence her misplaced reaction. She may just be being protective of the members of the judiciary which she heads," Panelo said.

On Wednesday, Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te said Sereno "sees no need to add to what are being said" following Duterte's statements. — Camille Diola

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