We the Dutertards, You the Dilawan
The way many Filipinos today think about politics undermines the basic belief that makes democracies stable: that the citizenry is united by a set of first principles and institutions — i.e., a constitutional ethos. Thus, the words “We the People,” or some version of the phrase, launches almost every democratic constitution in the world today. The first five words of our Constitution, for example, are “We, the sovereign Filipino people.”
In reality, Filipinos seldom think of the political “We” in terms of “the sovereign Filipino people.” The interests that divide us persistently trump the ethos that should unite us. Filipinos think that the political “We” refers to “our padrino faction,” “our extended family,” “our political party,” etc. We the Filipino People becomes relevant only in relation to foreigners — e.g., when Manny Pacquiao fights or Gilas Pilipinas plays.
Today, many believe that “We the Dutertards” are the ones in power, so “You the Dilawan” should stop complaining. After all, isn’t that how You the Dilawan also conducted Your politics recently? How dare You criticize Our President’s attacks against Your Chief Justice and Ombudsman; didn’t You also support Your President’s attacks against the previous Chief Justice and Ombudsman? Doesn’t that prove that Your present invocations of constitutional principles are simply veiled advocacies of Your partisan politics?
This way of thinking is the cancer that afflicts our democracy. It is the premise that makes our politics so primitive. To borrow Judge Raul Pangalangan’s words, it is why Filipinos are “liberals in law, tribal in life.”
Modern political thought begins with Thomas Hobbes’ observation that citizens afford “justice and charity” to fellow citizens, but act with “deceit and violence” against others. The reason for the difference, he says, is that citizens have agreed among themselves to respect some higher authority to govern their relations to each other. In a republic, as Hannah Arendt says, that higher authority is not some person or group, but rather “the rule of law, resting on the power of the people.”
This means that citizens of the Republic of the Philippines will afford justice and charity to each other only if we respect the higher authority of the Constitution that We as a People have enacted to govern our affairs. We, unfortunately, seldom think that way. When it comes to domestic politics, our attachment is not to the People, but to our smaller groups. That is usually fine in a pluralist democracy, unless the ultimate authority we respect is no longer the Constitution, but our own padrinos, clan heads, party leaders, etc. If so, then we would have justice and charity only within our factions, and deceit and violence against most others.
We must thus all strive to enlarge each other’s political We. Our loyalty must be to We the People, and not to, e.g., We the Dutertards or We the Dilawan. But this suggested solution begs the question that all populists like Rodrigo Duterte raise: Does the present system truly reflect the will of the People? Or is it merely the product of a smaller We? As a Dutertard might say, is not our Constitution simply a Dilawan document? And if so, is not Mr. Duterte’s sustained popularity — despite his open disrespect of our constitutional ethos — a more authentic expression of the voice of We the People?
Answering this requires more than invoking first principles (e.g., separation of powers, due process). The politics of authenticity is never resolved by a purely rational debate. Authenticity is rather more felt than understood. If constitutionalism is to withstand the siege of any populist, citizens must believe that they all partake in a single, collective We who respects the Constitution. They must also be able to place their hopes and dreams in the Constitution’s principles and institutions. Only when enough Filipinos make that leap of faith in our Constitution will its ethos become an integral part of our national identity: of who the Filipino People are, whence we came, whither we must go, and why respecting the law is the best way to get there.
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Bryan Dennis Gabito Tiojanco is a JSD candidate at Yale Law School. He graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines College of Law.
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