Rule of men corrupted by law?
As was the protocol in La Salle, the high school principal called into his office every member of the graduating class for counseling. When I told him I was planning to take up law, he advised me against it, saying the legal profession was crowded (even then in 1955). But if I were bent on pursuing a career in law, he advised me strongly to take it up in a Catholic college or university (La Salle not having a law school). The assumption was that Christian values were infused in the teaching of law in a Catholic institution.
That may have been a gratuitous assumption of my high school principal if we are to judge by the deeds and decisions of certain graduates of Ateneo Law and San Beda Law. Take the case of President Duterte, a graduate of San Beda Law. He repeatedly vowed during his campaign for the presidency that if elected, he would mobilize soldiers and policemen in the fight against illegal drugs. I will give the order that a suspect be killed if he resists, Mr. Duterte said. It appears that he has made good on his campaign promise.
He has justified the killing of mere criminal suspects by asking if criminals are human. That is the same stand taken by his law classmate, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II. But to prosecute Sen. Leila de Lima of involvement in the drug trade in the national penitentiary, Aguirre used the testimonies of criminals convicted of heinous crimes such as murder and kidnapping. Rep. Reynaldo Umali, chair of the House committee on justice and another San Beda Law graduate, was the ardent promoter of Aguirre’s charade.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, a graduate of Ateneo Law, said he had no problem with vigilante killings and that he would even prefer a shoot-to-kill order on criminals. Solicitor General Jose Calida, also of Ateneo Law, asserted in a press conference the legality of the police killings and encouraged more deaths of people suspected of involvement in the drug trade. And to think Calida is a born-again Christian.
But as Leon Jaworski, the special prosecutor in the Watergate case against US President Richard Nixon, said: “When dictators and tyrants seek to destroy the freedom of men, their first target is the legal profession and through it the rule of law.”
Another example of the contrived application of the rule of law by superior legal minds involves Mr. Duterte’s order allowing the interment of Ferdinand Marcos’ remains in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Political activists and martial law victims asked the Supreme Court to declare the order illegal, saying it went against the spirit of the 1987 Constitution, denied the abuses of the Marcos regime, and violated the agreement between then President Fidel Ramos and the Marcos family.
Nine justices ruled that Mr. Duterte’s order was in order because: 1) There is no law that prohibits Marcos’ burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani; 2) Mr. Duterte has power over the use of public land, which the cemetery is; 3) Marcos was a former commander in chief, World War II soldier, and defense secretary; 4) dishonorable discharge applies only to the military; and 5) Marcos had not been convicted of moral turpitude.
The nine justices acknowledged Marcos’ rank as commander in chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, but did not consider him as having been in the military when he was dishonorably discharged by a great majority of the officer corps, including the general staff, on Feb. 25, 1986. Also, the nine justices completely ignored the numerous decisions of various courts convicting Marcos of human rights abuses and plunder, acts of moral turpitude. Among these obsequious justices were Ateneans Brion, Del Castillo, and Perlas-Bernabe, and Bedan Mendoza.
Dale Carpenter, who writes and teaches in the area of constitutional law, wrote: “If citizens cannot trust that laws will be enforced in an evenhanded and honest fashion, they cannot be said to live under the rule of law. Instead, they live under the rule of men corrupted by law.”
The day after Filipinos freed themselves from the rule of men corrupted by law, they vowed: “Never again!” I didn’t know it meant never again will they fight the good fight.
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Oscar P. Lagman Jr. is a political activist and long-time observer of Philippine politics.
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