Weaponizing the law
It is not the law that reigns supreme in our land, but those who can choose when to invoke it, how to interpret it, and for (or against) whom. “Dura lex, sed lex” — the law is hard, but it is the law—but this dictum seemingly applies only if the powers that be see you as an enemy. The law, in this case, is an unforgiving sword, sanctioned by those who uncritically accept its a priori righteousness. Meanwhile, enabled by the same blind faith in its letter, others use the law as a shield.
This sad reality is as old as our political history. Andres Bonifacio himself was executed upon the orders of a military court, whose members — and even his own prosecutor — were under the influence of the president at the time, Emilio Aguinaldo. It was, as far as the revolutionary government was concerned, a lawful act — even though historians now recognize it as a grave injustice.
Ferdinand Marcos, a lawyer, likewise saw the need to legalize his authoritarian ways. The 1973 Constitution which legalized his dictatorship was sanctioned by the Supreme Court, affirmed by justices whose names we must always remember: Querube Makalintal, Fred Ruiz Castro, Antonio Barredo, Felix Makasiar, Felix Antonio and Salavador Esguerra.
After Edsa, there was some hope that things would be different, but a truly independent judiciary has remained a pipe dream. President Duterte promised change, but under his administration, we have seen a further weaponization of the law, ironically, alongside its wanton disregard: Young people like Kian delos Santos and Joshua Laxamana are mercilessly killed, while the policemen implicated in their killings demand “due process.” People and places alike are baselessly linked to drugs, while Polong Duterte, asked simply to his show (or disprove) the drug triad tattoo on his back, invokes his “right to privacy.”
With only the unreliable, uncorroborated testimony of convicts, antidrug laws are invoked against Sen. Leila de Lima. With only the most liberal interpretation of “political activities,” immigration laws are mobilized against Sister Patricia Fox. Suddenly, an obscure provision of the law is used against Rappler — and such a technicality is suddenly more important than the principle of press freedom.
Then we have the ouster of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno by quo warranto, on the flimsy basis of some allegedly missing documents. The clarity of the Constitution itself notwithstanding, eight Supreme Court justices found a way to justify the removal of one of their colleagues. Once more, the law—or a twisted interpretation thereof—has been used to legitimize what will doubtless be remembered as a “legal abomination.”
Most recently, we have the attempted revocation of Sen. Antonio Trillanes’ amnesty. Despite the fact that, in former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay’s words, President Duterte “has no unilateral constitutional authority to nullify an amnesty,” he brazenly tests the limits of the law, confident that the PNP, AFP and the courts will do his bidding. Despite extensive documentation of the fact that Trillanes actually admitted guilt (a precondition of amnesty), he is accused of not doing so; despite the fact that the amnesty covered many others—including Danilo Lim and Nicanor Faeldon—Trillanes is inexplicably singled out.
Faced with all these travesties of justice, the challenge for all concerned Filipinos is to find and fight for our common ground, which is democracy and rule of law. Sadly, many people are refusing to rally behind De Lima or Trillanes because of their respective pasts, even when they are clearly victims of present injustice.
Until we recognize that the fight against tyranny is bigger than all of us, we will always be divided and conquered.
As for our public officials, I ask: Can you stomach the abuse of power that’s happening before your eyes? And to our uniformed personnel: Will you really keep allowing yourselves to be instruments of greed and vindictiveness? When the day of reckoning comes, you will be held to account for your actions—or inaction. Silence is not a option in the face of a regime that pretends to follow the rule of law, when it is actually fomenting one-man rule.
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