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Commentary

Why follow rules?

During rush hour, the unassertive commuter silently chastises the inconsiderate commuter who cuts in line to cram into the next brimming jeepney. The nerve of disregarding a simple rule as waiting in line. But he never knows, or considers, that the other commuter might have had to care for a sick child before leaving home, or  with a stern boss on the verge of firing him while he badly needs the job to pay for his child’s tuition — factors that make cutting preferable to waiting.

Rules are little more than systems of payoffs and disincentives that influence rather than command individual action. Depending on his calculus of perceived risks, projected benefits and constrained resources, one is just as likely to wait or cut in line. Rules, although articulated in abstract syntax, operate in constantly changing contexts.

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Waiting in line is a soft rule — a hardly binding social practice packaged as “good manners.” What of rules elevated to the status of law? A product of consensus, backed by sanctions and enforceable before courts — would obedience to such be made more compelling?

Constitutional law establishes legislative inquiry powers as coercive, limited only by tenets of due process. Yet, Solicitor General Jose Calida believes he can deflect a Senate inquiry with Malacañang connections, resort to an enfeebled Court, and diversionary tactics on Sen. Antonio Trillanes’ amnesty. To Calida, law is but an element in a cost-benefit formula.

One must simply amass enough money, power and influence to dilute the efficacy of legal commands. In economic parlance, one would be easing budget constraints or minimizing risks, ultimately increasing the chances to obtain the desired payoffs. But the rule-breaker’s actions pose negative externalities—social costs like the welfare of an aggrieved party, the weakening of the legal system, and mixed signals as to the importance of the law.

Consider the allure of the chief justice post, with a concomitant improvement in retirement benefits, as against the costs of undermining judicial independence, earning public ire, and overturning judicial precedent on impeachment proceedings. For all their mystique, magistrates — writes Judge Richard Posner — are no more than workers in a labor market responding to different incentives.

We must discard the notion that law — purportedly crafted to serve higher collective purposes — can, in and of itself, command its own obedience. Adherence is an individual matter, and, unfortunately, the difficulty arises when the individual’s set of payoffs and incentives is incongruent to the common good.

Law is cheapened when no less than the President, constitutionally mandated to “faithfully execute the laws,” disregards an arbitral ruling that secured to the Philippines its sovereign rights over maritime resources—sending out the clarion message that laws are mere instruments that can easily be shelved.

Depreciation is caused by a presidential spokesperson who, in press statements, affirms the SolGen’s mangling of legal doctrine to justify an amnesty as “void ab initio.” Such pronouncements disrupt the legal system, distorting the law’s substance, especially in the minds of the legally untrained. Stability and predictability are key to following the law.

Most tragic is, while the political and economic elite possess purchasing power to parry the law’s heavy hand, the marginalized are smothered under its iron fist. For the unnamed whose blood has seeped into the streets, obtaining resources is not even about going around the law—it’s as simple as obtaining redress.

Far from being a profound issue, following or disobeying the law is reduced to the unsavory question of: Who can afford to do so?

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Why follow rules? The only hope for adherence is when individual incentives align with the law’s avowed purposes. But until we learn to dissolve “dilaw”/“Dutertard” dichotomies, or quell social media’s polarizing chaos, individual interest remains detached from the law’s collective importance.

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Jose Maria L. Marella, a summa cum laude graduate from the UP School of Economics, is a senior in the UP College of Law.

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TAGS: amnesty revocation, Antonio Trillanes IV, following rules, Inquirer Commentary, Jose Calida, Jose Maria L. Marella, revocation of amnesty, rule of law
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