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Friday, July 18, 2014

ALL of a sudden, there is a proliferation of legal experts as a result of the ongoing skirmish between the Executive and the Courts. I am reminded of my short stint as a night school law student and how I found a particular professor off-putting by the degree of self-importance he accorded himself and his profession as defenders of this thing they like to call "the rule of law."

My sociological training caused me to automatically flag such unquestioned assumptions and the default critique has always been in whose behest is this rule of law being imposed? It was an eye-opener of sorts and caused me, among other reasons, to quit law school almost immediately.

Let us first disabuse ourselves the notion that we are a modern republic run according to codified rules and legal processes. Much is said these days about the primacy of the Constitution, the democratic principle of checks and balances embedded in the three co-equal branches of government, and the need for the executive to respect the rule of the law. Many of these points are good in theory but in reality these are never practiced.


How many corporations are actually controlled and owned by foreign interests with Filipinos acting as dummies violating salient provisions of the constitution on the protection of the national patrimony? How often is congress emasculated just so that the executive can push its political and economic agenda by way of pork barrel as the proverbial grease? How many court cases have been decided in finality in favor of the highest bidder? How many activists have been extra-judicially murdered so that government through its armed forces can pursue its anti-insurgency campaign outside the bounds of law? And there are more examples that will prove that the conduct of governance in our country is driven by finding exceptions and loopholes to the law instead of following it to the letter.

To appeal to the rule of law at this time is somewhat disconcerting given that it has never existed anyway. We can never claim to an autonomous executive, congress, and judiciary protective of their independence for the good of the general public. Each one has been quick to usurp the power of the other, or surrender its autonomy for the sake of political expediency of the dominant interest groups festering in each. But when Malacanang itself is the one that takes on this defensive tact when it was revealed that they have violated the Constitution, then we know that we are in interesting times.

What has been the gist of the administration's defense so far: that all presidents before have shuffled government savings to be re-allocated to pet projects; that the judiciary has its own slush fund that functions similarly as the controversial DAP; and that they should be exempted from the rule of law since they have acted in good faith with the best interest of the public in mind. In other words, they have somewhat admitted that we have never been governed by the rule of law and that in effect, good intentioned that they are, are the rule of law.

The bravado with which the Executive has assumed this righteous defense is telling of how the president and his cabinet view their important roles vis-à-vis other branches of government. They are entitled to their own illusions of grandeur. But what ultimately leaves a bad taste in the mouth in the defensive posturing that they want us to swallow is that this administration was catapulted to power on the platform of the straight and narrow path or the “tuwid na daan.” Now that it has been exposed as a sham with the Supreme Court ruling, they point to everyone else as a sham.

I have never been comfortable with the arguments about how the current debacle about Executive’s DAP and the Supreme Court challenge the rule of law. To me and a big swath of our people still at the margins of governance, the scales of justice and the law have always been skewed in favor of those who have political and economic power. And the rule of law taken out from abstraction and translated to reality is the law of the elite.

In real political terms, what did this administration really violate? Nothing really of sociological import. It is merely a momentary setback in this administration’s grand design to keep themselves influential beyond 2016. At best, this has been an important lesson in Political Sociology – that this faction of the elite has been exposed for the sham that they are, that the “tuwid na daan” is actually the rule not of the law but the same rule of the crooked.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on July 18, 2014.


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