Amid the public outrage and speculation about what happens next after the bombing of Davao City, I hold to this thought that President Duterte will respond with cool and sobriety to the assault on his home city and citadel.
Truly, terrorists and political opponents could not have launched the attack at a more sensitive spot for the President than Davao, which bids to become the new imperial capital vice Manila. This is as “in-your face” as you can get with DU30. So many expect retaliation of some kind.
I expect, however, that the President’s response will be measured, prudent and constitutional.
I say this, because after reviewing at length the public statements and addresses of President Duterte, since his accession to office, I have not found a single quote or instance, where he has trampled on or thrashed the principle of the rule of law in our system of government.
Makes every norm stand on its head
This is astonishing, since he has made each of many norms for democratic governance on its head.
He trampled on the principle of due process when he scoffed that there was no due process in his mouth, and that, he said, was for the courts to dispense.
He thrashed the very idea of human rights when he scoffed at the authority and efficacy of the United Nations, and the effrontery of its rapporteurs to criticize the war on drugs.
He has berated Pope Francis, and lashed out at the many sins of the Catholic Church, particularly the sexual abuse of children.
He has scorned the very idea of press freedom, when he declared that Filipino journalists who have been murdered were corrupt.
He disrespected womanhood when he said of an Australian rape victim that he, as mayor, should have been given the first chance with her.
He scored a triple-hit when he disrespected a woman journalist by wolf-whistling her in the middle of a press conference.
He absolutely has no qualms about disrespecting the ambassadors of other countries, even that of the mighty United States, whom he called a pansy and a son of a whore.
He has issued threats of pulling the Philippines out of the UN and severing diplomatic relations with countries who displease him.
What rule of law means
Yet, despite this litany of negativity, he has kept intact his adherence to the rule of law, guarding it with a kind of chastity belt.
When his talk gets out of control, he reminds people and himself that he is a lawyer.
When critics express fears that he may be laying the grounds for authoritarian rule, he quickly assures them that he has no plans of becoming a dictator.
Albert Venn Dicey, British jurist and constitutional theorist, and author of Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (1885), is credited with popularizing the phrase “rule of law,” although usage dates back to the 17th century.
In Dicey’s definition, “the rule of law in England meant that ordinary courts determined every man’s legal rights and liabilities, and that government officials could be brought to court for wrongs done even under the cloak of official authority.”
In his Political Dictionary, William Safire describes “the rule of law” as “the rubric used to attack the assumption of extralegal authority or “inherent power” by the Executive; it is the assertion that a nation‘s leaders must abide by a written Constitution or unwritten common law.”
In the US, “rule of law” is mirrored by the axiom first articulated by John Adams at the dawn of American independence – that American government is “a government of laws and not of men” – which meant that public conduct is regulated by principles of law that by general agreement ought to be enforced.
Essential elements of democratic govt
In his book, Comparative Politics, A Global Introduction (McGraw Hill, 2004),
Michael Sodaro lists down the minimal elements and fundamental principles that are absolutely essential for a system of government to be considered democratic.
These principles are:
1. Rule of law – “the principle that the power of the state must be limited by law and that no one is above the law”
2. Inclusion – “democratic rights and freedoms are ubiquitous and are for everyone; they cannot be denied to specifically targeted elements of the population, such as women or minority groups.”
3. Equality – “democratic rights and freedoms are accorded to everyone on an equal basis. No group in society should have fewer democratic privileges than other groups.”
When Obama meets Duterte
When President Obama meets with President Duterte today in Vientiane, it is widely expected that the US president will raise the issue of human rights with regard to the war on drugs in the Philippines. He may ask why Philippine police blame the dead drug suspects for their own deaths.
It is less likely that Obama will take up with Duterte the subject of the rule of law, because on this issue, the roles could be reversed. At home, Obama stands accused by critics and political opponents of having sytematically violated the US Constitution and the rule of law.
In contrast, President Duterte can confidently say that he has scrupulously adhered to the rule of law as embodied in our Constitution. Filipinos live in a constitutional republic.
The recent proclamation of “a state of lawlessness” or lawless violence in the country asserts the primacy of law in the Philippines.