CRITICS argue that the Supreme Court took the legalistic and technical route to settle the issue of the Marcos burial, and failed to take the moral high ground.
They also accuse the President of taking the same route.
These people forget that the state is not a moral entity, but a legal one. If there is any standard that the state would deploy, it is on the basis of ethics and not on morality.
To be ethical is to act within the principles that are commonly understood to be a more universalstandard of behavior and are based on individual or legal norms. Legal standards become a source for making ethical judgments where the law becomes a norm.
A judgment based on morality is one that is made based on social and cultural norms that may differ across and even within societies. Moral standards are usually expressed in the form of general rules and statements but are not easily universalized since it is very much taken to be defined in particular cultural and social contexts.
Thus, any appeal to moralityis often operationalized in the context of ethical violations. We only judge public officials on the basis of their ethical conduct. We ask for a certificate of good moral character from offices and organizations, but this is issued on the basis of how we have obeyed their norms and rules, and not on our inner goodness or evil.
A person cannot be denied a certificate of good moral character just because she has an affair with her driver-bodyguard. Such immoral act must be translated into a legal judgment where the official is brought to court, undergo due process, and is found guilty. In the end, the immoral conduct is transformed into an ethical violation of legal and technical parameters set by law. In short, moral standards find themselves expressed in moral laws that are laws nevertheless, and are in the form of a system of guidelines for proper ethical conduct.
The only domain where moral edicts are enforced is in religion. But here, the moral standards applyonly to those who practice the faith, and these are never seen as universal. The moral basis of monogamy in Christianity is institutionalized in marriage. Yet the same institution allows Muslim men to have four wives, which is perfectly moral under the construct of Islam. This is because in a modern secular society, there is recognition that people are free to choose their own moral grounding relative to their own faith, or even not to choose any at all. Atheism is a legal option in a constitutional democracy, even if not believing in God isimmoral to a devout Christian or Muslim. Prostitution is generally seen as immoral, but could be legal; so are abortion, same sex marriages, and the death penalty.
It is in this doctrinal foundation of a modern, secular state that any appeal to moral high ground for public conduct is unenforceable. More so, if such is made in relation to an action that just upheld the technicalities of the law, as in the case of the Marcos burial.
The issue was indeed morally divisive, considering that people have different moral perspectives. And in situations where there is conflict, the final arbiter to determine the rightness of an act are not the moral doctrines based on faith; or the moral scruples defined bysocialization, social class and education; or the moral demands emanating from those who seek justice as retribution for the pain and suffering felt. The adjudicator is the law, and its ethical basis is on legal principles and norms.
And this is exactly what the Supreme Court has rendered.
It ruled that there is no law that prevents the burial.
It is not a moral judgment, for the Court is not an arbiter of morality. The Court is not like the Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus for being a heretic and violating Jewish morality. It is not like the religious courts that condemned women to be burned for allegedly offending Christian morality by practicing witchcraft. It is not even like the secular courts that oversaw the Salem witchcraft trials where even the state was a bearer of religious morality.
We are a secular state. We are a government of secular laws. The state is barred from enshrining into law a particular rubric for morality. It can only tell us what is legally right according to the ethical standards set by law.
The people who expect the Court and the President to have used the moral high ground as basis for judgment are miserably out of tune with the doctrine of a secular, modern state.
Some of them are also miserably confused, if not inauthentic.
They are advocates of the moral high ground, yet they also have no qualms about demanding the desecration of the dead, which is patently immoral under any kind of religion, and more so if judged according to our own social and cultural norms.