He staged a big funk about being sworn in by then Chief Justice Renato Corona (and substituted then associate justice Conchita Carpio-Morales for the ceremonial task), so we all presume that when Benigno Aquino 3rd finally took his oath as the 15th president of the Republic of the Philippines, he understood and meant every word he uttered and swore to on June 30, 2010. He intoned then in his baritone:
“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfill my duties as president of the Philippines, preserve and defend its constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate myself to the service of the nation, so help me God.”
The oath demands exegesis because of our experience with No.15, and the way words, concepts and meanings have mutated under his erratic governance.
What the President’s oath means
“Faithfully” means loyally and reliably. It should not be confused with the idiom “in good faith,” which became fashionable in our recent public discourse because of the Supreme Court’s decision on the DAP.
“In good faith” has nothing to do with loyalty, and could probably denote its opposite.
Good faith means only a sincere intent to deal fairly with others.
It derives from the translation of the Latin term bona fide.
Courts use the two terms interchangeably.
“Conscientiously” means “painstaking, taking great care.”
It is a world away from the phenomenon/habit of “noynoying,” which became fashionable under the Aquino presidency. “Noynoying” connotes laziness and obliviousness.
“Preserve and defend its constitution” means that the President is duty-bound to preserve and defend the Philippine Constitution. The oath of the US president says “preserve, protect and defend the constitution”; our charter-framers saw some virtue in economy of language.
This is fundamental to presidential duties, because the Constitution is the law of the land. It creates the nation’s governing institutions, including the presidency, and the rules prescribing a political process that these institutions must follow to reach and enforce collective agreement.
Constitutional commission member and author Jose N. Nolledo, in his textbook The Constitution Explained, explains the other elements of the oath as follows:
“Execute its laws” embodies the basic duty of the president, that he is bound to execute the laws of the nation, without fear or favor. No man, no matter how high or mighty he may be, is above the law.
“Do justice to every man” means that the president must execute the law and judicial decisions with fairness and equal treatment to all. Regardless of their status in life.
“Consecrate himself to the service of the nation” means this: The president holds the highest position within the gift of his people, the latter trusting that in offering his candidacy, he is offering himself to the service of the whole nation, not to the service of himself or those close to him.
“The word ‘consecrate’ means ‘dedicate to a sacred purpose or service,’ and sacred means holy and inviolable. In no case must the president violate the sacred duties of being the head of state and government. His service belongs to the people.”
Nolledo concludes his explanation with some pregnant words. “He holds the highest and exalted position of the land as a trust. For if he becomes unworthy of that trust, he must resign because he becomes a disgrace to the presidency.”
Defending the Constitution vs. Aquino
There is a very sound and practical reason why Filipino presidents, judges, legislators, and soldiers must swear to preserve and defend the Constitution.
We are a free and democratic republic because of this charter of our national life. It is what makes us a country of laws, rather than one ruled by mobs or dictators.
If we stray away from the Constitution, we court national peril and decline.
Today, perhaps more than ever, since its ratification in 1987, there is need to defend the Constitution against those who seek to dilute its provisions, skirt its commands, and twist its meaning.
In issue after issue, the Supreme Court has been asked and is being asked by petitioners to interpret the Constitution on the given issue and render its judgment.
We speak grandly about the Congress wielding “the power of the Purse” and about the Executive wielding “the power of the Sword.”
Against these mighty powers, what the Supreme Court and the judiciary gives us and wields is “the power of judgment.”When it speaks, the whole nation must listen.
There is urgency for the defense of the Constitution because the need of the hour is to protect it. Today, we must also protect it from the one person who should be the main protector of our charter and who takes an oath to “preserve and defend the Constitution” the president of the Philippines.
It is the President who has been found by the High Court to have committed unconstitutional acts detrimental to the nation.
As more facts are found in the inquiry into the Disbursement Acceleration Program, there is emerging a pattern of serial immorality and illegality in the highest posts of government.
The more facts are found, the more President Aquino becomes defensive and adamant that the DAP was good for our people and must continue.
He who never studied a single course in law, and was found to be at most a mediocre student, insists on portraying himself as the equal of our justices in analyzing the issues and judging the constitutionality or legality of the DAP.
He insists on the authority of his government to continue implementing and amassing funds for the DAP.
He whines against the curtailment of his powers by the Constitution, as though the charter is itself to blame.
This is very serious, indeed. And it requires the strongest response of our judicial and legislative processes so things can be set to right.
A president, not an emperor
To bring things down to basics, when we elected Aquino president of our republic in May 2010, we did not elect him emperor. We elected him only as the designated head of the executive branch of our government.
Our political system follows the sound principle of limited government—meaning, a government whose powers are defined and limited by a constitution, which includes a Bill of Rights that places limits on the government’s power over citizens.
The best safeguard against abuse in this system is the separation of powers among the three branches of government, and the Constitution‘s internal checks and controls.
It is these checks and controls that the DAP has fundamentally violated. And it is because of these violations that P150-billion of the people’s money has been put at hazard, and could be lost to graft and foolish spending.
When power or authority is used in an unjust and arbitrary way, government becomes tyranny.
When a few individuals in positions of authority use their positions to gain more power over the people and the treasury, you have an aristocracy, not a democracy.
What is at stake in this great issue in our public life today is nothing less than the nation’s “vital interests.”
What are those vital interests? The great Walter Lippmann said, “They are those interests which the people of the nation are agreed they must defend at the risk of their lives.”
The Constitution and the national treasury are among those vital interests. This we all know now.