• A government of law, not of men



    The rule of law, at its most basic, means that the law applies to everyone equally. It means that no one is above the law. It is also popularly understood as “a government of law, not of men.” And, while the law may be harsh, it is the law. Dura lex, sed lex.

    One of the countries with a strong rule of law is Singapore. The Singaporeans follow the law, not because Singaporeans are good, according to Dean Kishore Mahbubani of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP), but because the laws are implemented. There are consequences if you break the law. “We don’t jump the queue. We fall in line.” – was how another professor at the LKYSPP illustrated equality before the law in Singapore. They have no padrinos and there is no palakasan. Everyone stands an equal chance of getting hired or promoted or meted out a just sentence, among other things. And because the laws are strictly enforced in Singapore, anyone can walk alone in any part of the country at anytime of the day or night without getting mugged, raped or killed. Businesses, both local and foreign, thrive. The Singapore government ranks Top 6 in the world for least corruption in the economy and as the most transparent country in the world. It ranks second to Switzerland in the World Competitiveness Ranking. It is rated as the No. 1 most business friendly place in the world. It also ranks for best quality of life, according to data of the Singapore Economic Development Board. The point is, if you have a strong rule of law, you’ll have a booming economy and a safe country where the quality of life is high. The rule of law results in meritocracy, safety and progress, or, to quote the founding father of Singapore, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, “from Third World to First.”

    Admittedly, the rule of law in the Philippines is weak. Kung makakalusot, lulusot. And why not? If the law is not applied equally to all, why should Juan or Juana dela Cruz follow it? “Catch me if you can” seems to be the attitude of many Filipinos who are wont to disobey a simple traffic rule, the payment of correct taxes and a host of other laws. But does this mean that Filipinos do not want the rule of law? If the historic win of now President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is any indication, Filipinos are sick and tired of the laws not being followed. They want change. And they want the laws observed. That is why 16 million Filipinos catapulted DU30 to the presidency in a historic and phenomenal win. Three months into the presidency, it is still too early to say whether the Philippines now has a strong rule of law that will transform it from “Third World to First.” Majority of Filipinos are optimistic though. Ninety-one percent of Filipinos trust that the President will indeed bring the Philippines to a better place.

    There’s one wrinkle, however. The fight against illegal drugs, which is the centerpiece of the Duterte administration, shows two opposing faces: one face shows strict adherence to the law against drugs, regardless of the person’s stature – general, congressman, mayor, judge or an ordinary citizen; the other face shows disregard of the due process of law where drug suspects are killed without giving them their day in court. Our policemen and other law enforcers enjoy the presumption of regularity in the performance of their official functions and the President, who enjoys immunity from suit, has made himself clear that it is only in extreme situations where the life of the arresting officer is jeopardized, or put in peril, that he/she should shoot back at the suspect. The President has also put to task our law enforcers and ordered the dismissal of erring and abusive policemen. Hence, it will not be correct to attribute the extrajudicial killings of drug suspects to the police authorities and to the President without giving them any opportunity to explain their side. They, too, are entitled to the due process of law.

    The police have presented data in the Senate investigation on extrajudicial killings that out of the more than 3,000 deaths (still rising), only about half of them were committed by police authorities where the suspects opened fire at them. They attribute the big part of the killings to drug cartels. This looks logical after the relentless fight of the administration against drugs that will result, if it has not resulted yet, in the loss of billions of dollars to these drug cartels. That is a big loss. An assassin or a mercenary is always readily available to kill for as low as P5,000.00 to P10,000.00. Do the math. In the meantime, lives are lost.

    The rule of law will be here to stay in the Philippines if both the suspect and the accuser are given their day in court before they are judged “by the lawful judgment of [their]peers” or according to “the law of the land,” as enshrined in Article 39 of the Magna Carta and in Section 1, Article III of the Bill of Rights of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which states: “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the law.” Until then, a strong rule of law remains an ideal that all Filipinos should strive for.

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    Rowena Nieves A. Tan is an alumna of Harvard Kennedy School of Government and is the Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 118 of Pasay City (Metro Manila).


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    1. Nice article. All women…. Please….Let us remind the mindless president to take cognizance of this very fact which every citizen do understand… dura lex sed lex. He cannot be above the law. He cannot harrassing Leila De Lima just because he is the president. He cannot be assuming unjustly that a person will be imprisoned just because he is the President. Tame your BIG BAD MOUTH . yOU ARE A DISGRACE AND YOU ARE CAUSING ME A LOT OF EMBARASSMENT AND UNNECESSARY ANXIETY EVERYTIME YOU OPEN YOUR MOUTH. You are not exempt from the compliance of laws against violence on women. If you can harass a Lady Senator, I can;’t believe you are capable of respecting anyone. May the eternal force of justice act on your dirty cursing mouth.

    2. mabait na pinoy on

      If this article was written because the way PDU30 is running his war on drugs, it may never happen for all the accused to have their day in court, because of the following reasons:
      1. PDU30 is operating his war on drugs on limited budget and resources. The Public Attorney’s Office will be flooded with requests because most, if not all of the street pushers are indigent, and the government has the responsibility in providing lawyers to defend these accused, hindi ba?
      2. The availability of prison spaces are not there. The city jails right now are packed with prisoners, and most of them have yet to be formally charged. Judge Tan, do you have any recommendation, to unclog the city jails now?
      3. Rehabilitations are badly needed now. New hospitals to be built, programs have to be designed, staff should be medically trained, and the availability of medications needed for these addicts. All of these cost MONEY.

      Presently, there are over 3,000 people that are out of misery and the government did not have to spent a single cent, by providing free lawyers so they can spend a single day in court. The government did not spend money for their security and transportation from jail to courthouse and back. The government will not spend money for their jail accommodations, meals, medical, dental, clothing, security, and more because they are no longer here and if business people have to view this type of strategy, the government just saved lots of money.

      It is also absolutely true that the “rule of law” is here to stay. However PDU30 have only two rules in his war on drugs, and they are very simple and easy to understand.
      Rule 1. Any drug suspect that resist arrest or running away from arresting officer will be shot and killed. The arresting officers will not engage in foot races because someone might be waiting for them when they reach the other side of the road and they might end up getting shot or killed.
      Rule 2. If there are any doubts on PDU30 policy in arresting drug personality, just refer to Rule 1.

    3. Ok ka judge. Telling it as it is. It might be hard-but we should strive to overcome seemingly impossible goal. The human spirit has made humanity do the impossible. So let us give each other a chance in our country

    4. Mariano Patalinjug on

      Yonkers, New York
      14 September 2016

      How I wish Der Fuhrer Rodrigo Roa Duterte is able to read and absorb this disquisition by Judge Rowena Nieves A. Tan on the critical subject of “RULE OF LAW.”

      Sad to say, however, President Duterte, being a lawyer himself, and at one time a Prosecutor, does not need to be lectured on the Rule of Law. He may actually resent any suggestion that he read up on the subject of “Rule of Law”–and will very likely savage the one who suggests that by his usual expletive–PUTANG INA MO!–coming usually out of his garbage- and excreta -laden mouth.

      Let us remind him, however, that when he took his Oath of Office as President on June 30th, he vowed to honor, respect and obey the Constitution with its Bill of Rights, the Rule of Law, the Rules of Court and inferentially also the UN Declarration of Human Rights–all of these long-established SAFEGUARDS against abuse by Authority, starting with the Magna Carta which the English barons exacted from King Alfred way back in the 13th Century.

      Sadly, with his megalomanic genocidal WARRANTLESS EXTRAJUDICIAL killing of all those who are SUSPECTED of being involved one way or the other in the illegal narco problem,he has had no problem trampling on and violating the Constitution with its Bill of Rights as well as the other safeguards against TYRANNY.

      Under Der Fuhrer Duterte, I say that the Philippines is now entering a scary “Dark Age!”


      • After years of misgoverment, in order to clean up, surely there must be fear, only than rule of law can be apply