First of two parts
As we begin a new year, prepare to welcome a Pope of mercy, and contemplate the nation’s future in the run-up to next year’s polls, one question may be timely: What’s the root of our ills as a nation?
My vote goes to the unbridled, unaccountable exercise of power. Since colonial encomenderos were granted every whim over all they surveyed, until our era of pork barrel and political elites, those who rule sans restraint and responsibility have bled, beaten and burdened our people.
For the nation to progress faster, rulers must be rightly and justly circumscribed in their exercise of power. Otherwise, we have peasant slavery, colonial subjugation, martial law, awesome wealth amid appalling want, corruption and crony capitalism and the relentless, ruthless battle for power unbridled.
Moreover, if the elites govern and act in defiance of law and order, the ruled also try to get ahead and away with cutting corners, defying do’s and don’ts, and otherwise being unruly. So we get traffic jams, bureaucratic sleaze and the same irresponsible, exploitative ways replicated all the way down the food chain.
Rule-breaking rulers — Enemy No. 1
This lawbreaking pastime must stop. Rulers must be made to heed rules. Including this government which has time and again bent statutes to its purposes. Elites yielding to no law shackled our people in ages past; they would do so again unless limits are set on them. Starting now.
Indeed, of the grave excesses committed by and under President Benigno Aquino 3rd, the undermining of law and republican democracy is the bane feeding other scourges.
Thus, pork barrel trebled to over P20 billion a year even in this new budget (yes, there’s still pork). Crime more than doubled since 2010, as corrected police data attest. Smuggling leapt fivefold to $19 billion a year, going by global trade figures. Even in prison, where law’s long arm is supposed to finally collar criminals, privileged rule-breaking rules.
And it all starts with rulers and their kith, kin and cronies breaking laws and getting away with it.
We must fight and finish this vile legacy of colonialism and elitism. And the first blows must be struck by the Judiciary, the branch of government duty-bound to decide if statutes are broken and power is abused. And the first institution struck by the Palace-Congress assault on our legal system and republican democracy.
One respected former Chief Justice was teary-eyed lamenting this erosion of law and institutions. Yet this enormity escapes most Filipinos, being largely intangible, unquantifiable, and abstract for madla and media to comprehend or care.
Only when the Supreme Court strikes them down do people begin to see the egregious assaults on our republic. So the magistrates must expeditiously act whenever elite excesses are elevated to them.
Don’t postpone or pass cases to other bodies, as some justices reportedly are contemplating with the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), allowing increased US force deployment and use of military bases in the Philippines.
To repeat: the Supreme Court must expeditiously do its duty to interpret statutes and set limits on state actions, not only to defend the rule of law and democracy, but to rein in abusive, law-breaking rulers, whose abuses have been the main root of national suffering and ills for centuries.
So please, Your Honors, do your duty, protect our statutes and our Republic, and restrain those who fancy themselves above the law.
First, assert the Judiciary’s authority
For starters, the Judiciary must show who’s boss in matters judicial. If judgments are to be respected and followed, magistrates must sanction officials failing to act on their rulings, or worse, blatantly breaking them.
Thus, the High Court should take to task the Securities and Exchange Commission for SEC’s memorandum contradicting the justices’ explicit instruction to count only voting common shares in enforcing constitutional limits on foreign ownership. The violation is plain from the memo’s language, so the court should enforce its ruling now, not wait for a petition against the illegal issuance.
Did it wait for a case to be filed before calling Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to account for her open defiance of the November 2011 decision voiding her travel ban on the former First Couple? In clear contraventions of its decision, the tribunal must penalize erring officials as soon as violations emerge. Otherwise, it encourages lawbreakers.
This indispensable action to enforce judicial rulings may also be needed if and when the newly enacted 2015 budget is hauled before the bench for allegedly incorporating disguised pork barrel.
To be sure, such a case would not be as straightforward as the SEC memo, and would take much longer to resolve. But the court must be willing to issue a temporary restraining order on disbursing suspect outlays.
Not only will this indefinite TRO avoid the problem of having to allow illegal but initiated programs and projects to continue. It is also warranted by the grave offense of Palace and Congress willfully and deceptively defying the Constitution if contested appropriations do indeed contravene the separation of powers.
So is there pork in the 2015 budget? We’ll let the lawyers answer that one. But even now, the court must show it is serious about any affront by top leaders against judicial authority and the law — by freezing suspect outlays.
In sum, centuries of the powerful flouting law and institutions have undermined our society. In this administration the executive and the legislative have also run roughshod over laws and institutions. Let the last pillar of democracy unequivocally stand up against this age-old scourge.
The final part covers three other cases in which major components of our republican constitutional democracy face huge risk: EDCA, the Bangsamoro Agreements and Basic Law and election automation.
A belated Joyous New Year to all! See you Thursday.
(The last part runs on Thursday.)