Ombudsman’s Statement on the State of Emergency
At this very serious moment in our collective life, many citizens are wondering about the meaning and scope of the State of Emergency, decreed on the 18th by His Excellency the President of the Republic. The questions, associated with natural feelings of unease and apprehension, are in themselves more than justified. Never before, during the almost forty-four years of the Constitution of the Republic, had the need been felt to resort to this exceptional instrument of ordering social relations. The need has now arisen.
The Ombudsman, as the holder of a State institution to which the primary function of ensuring compliance with democratic legality and the defence of citizens’ rights is attributed, has a special obligation to explain to all those who, with good reason, wonder about the foundations and characteristics of the particular legal situation that has existed in our country since yesterday. It is in this context that the following clarifications are understood.
1. The State of Emergency does not imply the suspension of the Constitution. On the contrary: the possibility of its enactment is provided for by the constitutional text itself (Article 19), in certain extreme situations that seriously threaten the normal development of life in society. Public calamity is one of them.
2. The Decree of the President of the Republic No. 14-A/2020, which declares the State of Emergency for the entire national territory for 15 days, is based on the verification of a situation of public calamity, caused by the pandemic outbreak associated with Covid-19 disease.
3. The declaration of the State of Emergency has a very precise purpose. It consists of providing the public authorities with exceptional means of law, other than those at their disposal in normal situations, so that as soon as possible the calamity that has struck us all can be overcome. The State of Emergency is not seeking to achieve anything other than to restore, as soon as possible, the situation of constitutional regularity that has been lost.
4. In order to pursue this goal, we suspend or limit ourselves in these situations rights and freedoms that we exercise daily, and which, because they are fundamental, could not be suspended in any other way or in any other circumstances.
5. In view of the present public calamity, the imperative need to contain the spread of Covid-19 disease and thus save lives, the rights and freedoms whose exercise is from now on temporarily suspended are those and only those that the Decree of the President of the Republic no. 14-A/2020 identifies. Freedom of movement throughout the national territory, which we always exercise without any restrictions, tops the list. All of this, however, is justified by the need to contain the risk of contagion of the disease, and to allow the Government – which is responsible for implementing the State of Emergency – to manage the crisis centrally, with the adoption of the necessary measures to prevent and combat the epidemic.
6. Since the Constitution is not suspended, as the basic values of our democracy are not suspended, the law applicable here – Law No. 44/86, of 30 September – provides for institutions to be in "permanent session", "with a view to the full exercise of their powers to defend democratic legality and citizens’ rights". The Ombudsman’s Office is one of these institutions, together with the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic. Thus, all of the Ombudsman’s services, with the exception of face-to-face service, remain fully active. We are ready to answer any questions, complaints or complaints that citizens may wish to address to us.
The declaration of the State of Emergency is only one means at our disposal to face the serious danger we are facing today. It alone will not eradicate it. It does not, therefore, absolve us from the responsibility that each of us must assume, towards ourselves and towards our neighbour, for safeguarding health and life. The spirit of loyalty to the community to which we belong, and the spirit of humanity in our relations with all others, will guide us in overcoming this hard test.
Maria Lúcia Amaral