Even the Holy Bible counsels it and sings its virtues.
At a time when our president seeks to erase every wall of separation between the three branches of government, and make the executive indisputably supreme; when Congress doesn’t appear to mind being raped by the president; and when only the Supreme Court is keen on standing in his way, it is fitting that we trace the trinity of powers to its origins, in order to grasp its wisdom and to guard against its derogation in our society.
I got the biblical reference from the neurologist-author Benjamin Carson, who recently wrote in the Washington Times, that the concept of separation of powers did not begin with the Founding Fathers of the American Republic.
Carson opines that the concept seems to have emanated from the Book of Isaiah, 33:22, which states, “The Lord is our judge (judicial branch), the Lord is our lawgiver (legislative branch), the Lord is our King (executive branch).”
But it was Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755), who carried the idea forward in his writings on political theories, and bequeathed it as a legacy to the modern state. In his best-known work, The Spirit of Laws, he argues eloquently for the separation of powers.
The Baron is acknowledged as the great promulgator of this doctrine, which teaches that the assurance of law is to be found in the separate embodiment of the various functions connected with the law.
In his own simple terms, “from the very nature of things power should be a check to power, if liberty—or law itself —is to endure.”
Montesquieu went much farther than Aristotle. The trinity of powers, as conceived by him —legislative, executive and judicial—ought to be separately embodied and exercised by different men or groups.
In Dr. Carson’s retelling, “when Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in 1831 to perform an in-depth analysis of American democracy, he was impressed with its well-structured divided government and its separation of powers…
“Certainly this system of government has worked well for us in the past, helping to establish the United States as the most powerful nation the world has ever known within a relatively short period of time.
“In order for a divided government to work, each branch must respect the other two branches. There always have been and always will be squabbles between the branches, but the big problem in the US today [under Obama]is that the executive branch has decided to ignore anyone with whom it disagrees, including Congress.”
In much the same way that President Aquino seeks to redefine the meaning of “savings” and ‘judicial review” in the Philippines, Obama has redefined the word “recess” in order to appoint individuals who might have a difficult time obtaining congressional approval.
Carson comments: “The Obama administration seems to have a penchant for redefining words to make them conform to its ideology. Obviously, if an individual can redefine anything anytime he wants to, he can manipulate virtually any situation into a favorable position for himself. If he is clever and no one notices, he can fundamentally change the foundational fabric of a society.”
The difference between the American and Filipino experience, is that here in Manila the president is complaining of “judicial overreach,” whereas it is Aquino who is really encroaching on the powers of the legislature and the judiciary. Americans see only Obama’s usurpation of the powers of Congress.
Congress raped with consent
What is alarming in our case, to quote Joker Arroyo, is that the Philippine Congress is being raped with consent by Aquino. And congressmen and senators are asking for more.
So great is the people’s outrage over this state of affairs, that public protest has lately mutated from the impeachment of Aquino to the abolition of Congress.
The general assumption is that it is the rapist who must change his ways. But now most Filipinos believe the rape victim should at least say “NO.”
Congress, under Drilon and Belmonte, has taken our democracy to the edge. According to R.M. McGiver in his classic, the Modern State (OxFord, 1966), “It is characteristic of oligarchy that the executive authority dominates the legislative, just as the contrary relationship is a principle of democracy.”
We have wandered away from democracy to oligarchy in just four years of Aquino. And he was not even elected with a majority in either the House or the Senate. Senators and congressmen just lined up to be violated.
Separation of powers is explicitly stated in the US constitution. It was also proclaimed as part of the very meaning of the state by the French revolutionary assembly, when it laid down the dogma that “every society in which the separation of powers is not determined has no constitution.”