To understand why supposedly discerning senators are staking their careers on the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), I urge the reader to bear with me as I walk you through two logical fallacies that probably tripped the ladies and gentlemen of the Senate. These are:
1.The fallacy of the loaded question or false assumption, which is traditionally exemplified by the question, “When did you stop beating your wife?” Or what is the most effective treatment for homosexuality?
2. The fallacy of the false dilemma, which is exemplified by an either-or situation or choice whose premises are invalid. Example: You are either for us, or against us. Either close the library or raise tuition.
Fallacies, say the logicians and professors of critical thinking, victimize people who do not think very much or have little aptitude for analysis.
A fallacy is the use of invalid or faulty reasoning in the construction of an argument. A fallacious argument may be deceptive by appearing to be better than it really is. A fallacy leads to an unsound or invalid conclusion.
When did you stop beating your wife?
Whether you answer yes or no to this question, you appear to be admitting that at one time you did beat your wife. How do you answer without agreeing with the assumption?
A loaded question is a question that contains a controversial or unjustified assumption (e.g., a presumption of guilt).
A common way out of this argument is not to answer the question, but to challenge the assumption behind the question. A good response to the question is: “I have never beaten my wife.”
This removes the ambiguity of the expected response, therefore nullifying the tactic.
Albright falls victim
It seems easy to deflect, but in fact some sophisticated and important people have fallen victim to a loaded question.
Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State and Ambassador to the UN, fell into the trap of answering a loaded question on “60 Minutes” (on CBS) on May 12, 1996. Broadcaster Lesley Stahl asked her, regarding the effects of UN sanctions against Iraq, “We have heard that half million children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”
Madeleine Albright answered: “I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.”
Later, Albright wrote of this response: “I must have been crazy; I should have answered the question by reframing it and pointing out the inherent flaws in the premise behind it…. As soon as I had spoken, I wished for the power to freeze time and take back those words. My reply had been a terrible mistake, hasty, clumsy, and wrong…. I had fallen into a trap and said something that I simply did not mean. That is no one’s fault but my own.”
Loaded questions are common in our everyday life. When they escape detection, they insidiously control thought. Failure to recognize the false assumption will fix or control the discussion.
Loaded question on human rights
In the CHR budget row, Filipinos are being backed into the same kind of trap that befell Madeleine Albright and the innocent husband. We are being asked by CHR advocates and lawyers this loaded question:
“Why are you against human rights? Why will you deprive human rights victims of perhaps their only chance to get justice? If you believe in human rights, you will support the CHR and its budget.”
Presented with this variation on the wife-beating question, many are outraged by the budget-cutting actions of the House of Representatives. Significantly, the Senate, posing as the more responsible house, is caving en masse to the CHR counter-offensive.
Instead of reflecting on the issue and pondering the arguments on either side of the question, our senators have rushed to put themselves on record as batting for human rights, even when doing so makes them blind to the grave implications for congressional authority.
Senators have glossed over the important question of whether there is really an enabling law behind the claimed creation of the human rights commission. If they really believe this, I urge them to show me how an executive order mutated into a republic act.
False dilemma fallacy
The trap that has victimized the Senate most is the fallacy of a false dilemma.
A false dilemma is a fallacy in which something is falsely claimed to be an “either/or” situation, when in fact there is at least one additional option.
A false dilemma can arise intentionally, when a fallacy is used in an attempt to force a choice or outcome.
There is a false dilemma in the CHR budget debate in the way the public and lawmakers are being maneuvered to choose between either human rights or the CHR.
The choice is false. The premises are not true. There are other choices than human rights and the CHR. CHR is not the repository of our people’s human rights. Congress can choose to fund another program, other than the CHR, like free education, as has been suggested.
Congress can support human rights, but not necessarily through the human rights commission. This is manifest, because human rights, as defined by the conventions that the republic has signed, cover not only civil and political rights, but also social, economic and cultural rights. There are many other official activities connected to the support of these rights.
The either-or proposition is a trick of a false dilemma. It tries to leave the lawmaker only the option of passing the CHR budget.
This either-or choice is not a valid argument, because it requires little imagination to realize that there are other possibilities for supporting human rights in the country, besides just putting money in a CHR budget.
Instead of pretending that human rights begin and end with it, CHR would do better to devote its time now to proving the legitimacy of its creation by executive order. It should recount and prove how it has functioned as a true protector and promoter of human rights in the country.
It must convince the nation that it was right to bring into the country at substantial public expense, UN rapporteur Agnes Callamard, who wound up propagandizing against our government. CHR must explain why it has become the chief information source of international human rights organizations regarding alleged human rights violations in the country.
For all their sanctimony, the senators who have pledged to restore the CHR budget must show whether they really know what they are supporting. They should start studying the field of human rights and its complications. They should understand why some statesmen today talk about “human wrongs.” Of course, this idea is not for lazy minds.
Charter provision not self-executing
A cloud remains over the statutory basis of the CHR. That is because the constitutional provision for the CHR is not self- executing; It can only be given life by legislation.
It is now being argued by CHR advocates that President Aquino had the authority to establish the CHR.
Their basis is a sneaky and obscure provision that was smuggled into the Charter at the last hour. In Article XVIII, “Transitory Provisions,” Section 6,the Charter reads: “The incumbent President shall continue to exercise legislative powers until the first Congress is convened.”
It was in exercise of this transitory power that Aquino issued Executive Order 163, on May 5, 1987, which declared that the CHR is “now in existence.” This happened two months before the Eighth Congress opened its regular session on July 27, 1987.
If you had known on February 2,1987, that Cory Aquino would be empowered by the Charter to serve as a dictator before the new Congress was convened, would you have voted to ratify the 1987 Constitution?