VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Panelo, Duterte’s outlandish martial law justifications

Martial law has been a part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s vocabulary since he assumed power in 2016, and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo appears to share this fascination.

From citing the country’s illegal drug problems, the former spokesman is now claiming the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic — which, he said, now falls under a “new, international meaning of invasion” — may also be used as basis to justify any potential declaration of martial rule. Panelo, however, did specify where he got this definition.

This, as Duterte threatens to impose martial law if communist rebels continue to “hamper” the government’s COVID-19 response efforts. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: How Duterte’s threat to declare martial law escalated amid the COVID-19 crisis)

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During the deliberation on the provision on suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus under the Bill of Rights, members of the 1986 Constitutional Commission referred to invasion as “any entry or actual invasion by a foreign power.”

The late Brig. Gen. Crispino de Castro, in his interpellation on the martial law provision, further said “actual invasion” is when the country’s “enemies are actually landing on the shores of our coasts.” In which case, he said, “that is already a state of war.”

While the power to declare martial law is given solely to the chief executive, the Congress may still vote to revoke the proclamation, which the president must not “set aside,” according to Sec. 18, Art. VII of the 1987 Constitution. (See VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Explaining martial law)

The “sufficiency of the factual basis” of the president’s proclamation may also be reviewed by the Supreme Court, should any citizen opt to file appropriate proceedings.

Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao in May 2017 in response to the Marawi Siege, which was then upheld by Congress. (See Martial law in Mindanao: A timeline)

The measure, initially lasting 60 days as mandated by the Constitution, was extended until the end of 2019.

In October that year, Duterte repeated his false claim that the five-month-long siege between government forces and ISIS-affiliated Maute group was triggered by an anti-drug operation gone awry. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Duterte, Locsin repeat claim Marawi siege caused by anti-drug ops, VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Duterte revises Marawi story, contradicts martial law justification)



RTVMalacanang, Counterpoint with Secretary Salvador Panelo, May 4, 2020

Official Gazette, 1987 Constitution

RTVMalacanang, IATF-EID Meeting and Talk to the People, April 23, 2020

RTVMalacanang, Talk To Troops speech, Aug. 9, 2016, Panelo says drug problem can make martial law ‘valid’, Aug. 10, 2016

Rappler, Drilon hits Panelo on marital law: Review some more, Aug. 11, 2016

SunStar Philippines, Panelo: Duterte has right to declare Martial Law, Aug. 10, 2016

RTVMalacanang, 49th Annual Installation of Officers and Board of Trustees of DCCII (Speech), Jan. 14, 2016

Record of the Constitutional Commission Volume I, p. 710

Record of the Constitutional Commission Volume II, p. 394

RTVMalacanang, Press Briefing by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, May 5, 2020

Presidential Communication Operations Office, Press Briefing of Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, Dec. 10, 2019


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)