The rule of law

12:05 AM February 20, 2017

“Rule of law” is a character of an ideal, civilized society. It guarantees the essence of man’s freedom. Without the rule of law, man is in danger of losing his liberty. Without liberty and free will, man will exist like a beast, dependent on his fitness to survive. Indeed, the law of the jungle is the flip side of the rule of law.

In 1215, a group of barons — powerful noblemen who supported King John of England in exchange for land possessions demanded that he sign a charter recognizing their rights and thus the Magna Carta (or Great Charter) was born. Article 39 of the Magna Carta provided: “No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.”


The article was written to ensure that neither life, liberty nor property of the free subjects of the king would be arbitrarily taken away even by the king himself. The lawful judgment of the subject’s peers or the law of the land had to be followed. Article 39 was the earliest articulation of the rule of law concept, which upholds the principle that not even the king should be held above the law.

The concept is described or called many ways: due process of law; a government of laws, not of men; a rule that hears before it condemns. It is exemplified in the notion that “One cannot be accuser, judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one.” It is synonymous to justice, fair play and fairness.


Rule of law is a close relative of public accountability. Without it, there can be no public accountability. Without public accountability, there can be no good governance regardless of how public functionaries swear to high heavens and strain their voices to proclaim that they will serve only the interest of the public or the country. No one can build a country of freemen without the rule of law. But anybody can easily destroy a free country by trashing the rule of law.

Law and order is essential to economic development; wise leaders or statesmen profess it, and legitimate businessmen yearn for it. There can be no public order without the rule of law.

Law and order ensures transparency in business transactions. It allows market forces to interact freely and aboveboard. It levels the playing field for market players and ensures predictability of outcomes.
It promotes a business climate conducive to investments that are necessary to
generate more job opportunities sorely needed by the people.

For law and order to prevail, an independent judiciary is indispensable. Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore, knew this, and he ensured that law and order would prevail in Singapore. The rest is history.

As US Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter said in US vs United Mine Workers (1947), “There can be no free society without law administered through an independent judiciary. If one man can be allowed to determine for himself what is law, every man can. That means first chaos, then tyranny.”

For law and order to improve, our legislators would do well to take a hard look into the plight of the judiciary in the country. Let the rule of law prevail; let the judiciary flourish. Listen to Justice Frankfurter. Free the judiciary from the bondage of a miserly budget.

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Frank E. Lobrigo practiced law for 20 years. He is a law lecturer and JSD student at San Beda College Graduate School of Law in Manila.

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TAGS: civilized society, Commentary, Frank E. Lobrigo, freedom, Inquirer Opinion, law and order, public accountability, rule of law
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