One of our deepest problems as a nation is that as a people, we haven’t really embraced that very important concept: rule of law, or the idea that a society agrees on a certain set of rules, with which everyone complies after legislation. This means we are governed by a set of rules and laws, not by arbitrary decisions by government officials. Worse, members of our intellectual elite have become lackeys of politico-economic overlords, and often accept, if not defend such flouting of the rule of law.
Blogs and even opinion pages, indeed, have been filled with essays on how Filipinos seem to have a penchant for breaking rules – jumping queues, throwing trash out of their car windows to the street, ignoring traffic red lights. Such observations have been highlighted by OFWs who often compare how citizens of the countries they work and live in seem to respect rules so much.
But how can we blame ordinary Filipinos if the very elite who are supposed to have had the privilege of finer education have become the exemplars of law-breaking, sometimes even in crucial cases that define the nationhood of the Filipino people? Here are three such cases:
The Comelec recently showed utter disregard for its own rules that – as presumptive House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez pointed out – it hasn’t bothered to publicly issue a resolution extending for 14 days its deadline for the filing of SOCEs (statement of contributions and expenditures). It hasn’t even rescinded its Resolution No. 9991 in 2015 which declares that the June 8 deadline is “final and non-extendible.”
Yet, we have former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban rushing to defend the Comelec, writing in his column that the implementation of its resolution’s penalty on disqualification is a “harsh legal proviso (that) infringes on the winners’ right to hold public office and the voters’ right of suffrage.”
Another issue that demonstrates our nation’s very weak grasp of the rule of law involves the refusal of past administrations to allow the burial of President Ferdinand Marcos, who died in 1989, to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Except Cory Aquino, past Presidents – Ramos, Arroyo, and Estrada – who were confronted with the issue, at least kept mum and simply declined to issue the order to allow the strongman’s burial at the Libingan.
In contrast, President Benigno Aquino 2nd flaunts his disrespect for the rule of law and openly demonstrates how the rule by arbitrary decisions works, in this issue. Aquino recently claimed that Marcos couldn’t be buried at the Libingan since that honor is “reserved for people worthy of praise and emulation.” That is false: the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which manages the cemetery has no such rule that one should be “worthy of praise and emulation” to be buried there.
Although it is called “Heroes’ Cemetery,” the Libingan in reality has been the military’s de facto cemetery for all its men and women. The purpose is both to recognize their sacrifice in risking or giving up their lives for the freedom or welfare of the nation and to provide free burial facility for members of the military. Most of the country’s soldiers are from the lower classes, and the free burial facility comes most useful at a time when plots in “memorial parks” are so expensive and public cemeteries are horribly crowded. Many soldiers, especially those whose families are based in Metro Manila, are buried at the Libingan even if they died not in battle. The AFP has adopted the most liberal interpretation of dying in “combat-related duties.”
Some 50,000 military men of all ranks, including trainees and draftees, are buried at the Libingan. There are a few civilians buried there as well, as allowed by the AFP rules, such as former Presidents, secretaries of national defense and the all-encompassing category of “government dignitaries, national artists and other deceased persons whose interment and re-interment have been “approved by the Commander-in-Chief, Congress or the Secretary of National Defense.” Presidents Quirino, Garcia and Macapagal are buried there. Cory’s family had opted to have her buried at the family mausoleum with her husband, Ninoy, at the Manila Memorial Park.
Forget the issue of medals or whether he was a guerilla or not. Marcos, of course, was a President, and therefore, according to the rules, is entitled to be buried there. The only possible impediment, according to the AFP rules, would be its regulation that states, “unqualified to be buried there are personnel who were dishonorably separated/reverted/discharged from the service and personnel who were convicted by final judgment of an offense involving moral turpitude.”
But Marcos wasn’t convicted by any court of “moral turpitude,” and his downfall in 1986, which could be interpreted by the Yellows as a “dishonorable separation,” was extra-constitutional. Even the National Historical Commission hasn’t issued a resolution condemning the Marcos years as a dark era for the country.
Worse, though, is that after our rulers break the law, our intellectual elite rush to defend their actions. On November 15, 2011, former President Arroyo was set to leave for abroad to seek medical treatment for her rare spinal illness, with the Supreme Court issuing a resolution allowing her to do so.
Yet, Leila de Lima – for chrissakes, the secretary of justice then – ignored the order of the highest court of the land and prevented Arroyo from leaving. Aquino’s government then rushed the filing of non-bailable plunder charges and her consequent arrest, making de Lima’s act of contempt moot. Because she was prevented from seeking medical help abroad, Arroyo’s rare illness hasn’t been cured.
But how did a former dean of the UP School of Law, Raul Pangalanan, react to de Lima’s contempt of the Court? In his Feb. 23 column, Pangalanan called it her “fearless stand” and even portrayed de Lima as a heroine. “It fell upon De Lima to make the tough call. It took a lot of guts to block Arroyo at the airport,” he wrote. This from a law academic? Totally disregarding the former President’s serious illness, Pangalanan even bashed the Supreme Court in his column, claiming that it abetted, through its TRO, Arroyo’s attempt to evade the law.
After refusing Pangalanan’s plea to be appointed to the Supreme Court twice, Aquino in early 2015 nominated him, successfully, to the International Criminal Court.
What kind of a country have we become, that both our political and intellectual elite flout the rule of law? How, then, can we hope to build a nation governed by the rule of law?