How woke culture helps weaponize law
Joey Ayala sang the most beautiful interpretation of our national anthem I have ever heard, at TEDx Diliman 2013.
He argued that its meter is alien to our culture, changing this from march to gentler kundiman. He relaxed the staccato cadence, softening how each word is sung. He protested the final line (“ang mamatay nang dahil sa ’yo”), changing “die” to “love” (magmahal).
He received a standing ovation—and over 1.7 million YouTube views.
But why do we readily accept that this famous folk singer and JCI Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World awardee could be jailed?
The Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines threatens a year in jail for deviating from its prescribed lyrics and musical arrangement.
This is, of course, blatantly unconstitutional.
Yet Justice Marvic Leonen joked onstage that Ayala probably committed an illegal act. Ayala himself made the same joke before singing.
In 2009, then Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. threatened to prosecute Martin Nievera for singing our anthem in a different tempo at the legendary Pacquiao-Hatton fight. Harry Roque protested that our laws cannot be enforced in Las Vegas.
Why do we so uncritically accept what cannot possibly be legal, like that running joke the Heraldic Code?
Many lament that law was “weaponized” in voiding Sen. Antonio Trillanes’ amnesty, the quo warranto case and
conspiracy to sell drugs charges against Sen. Leila de Lima.
To put what I call “legal vigilantism” in perspective, one also recalls De Lima defying a Supreme Court order to let former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo leave the country, and the Disbursement Acceleration Program.
And Arroyo’s Proclamation No. 1017 declaring a “state of national emergency” criticized as virtual martial law.
We see two typical reactions: uncritical apathy or hyperpartisan agreement or disagreement.
We never see any defense of legal principles as a value in itself, independent of politics. One rationalizes that one’s like or dislike of Trillanes transcends documentary evidence, just as one’s like or dislike of Arroyo transcends obeying courts.
Influencers from Mocha Uson Blog to Pinoy Ako Blog might champion “legal experts” based on matching politics, not credible doctrine. Everything is a conspiracy theory; pundits analyze who appointed a justice, not legal theories cited.
We treat law as inherently malleable and negotiable. Shortcuts, loopholes and pakiusap are virtues.
In this context, “woke” culture allows law to be weaponized. Taken to superficial extremes, it demands that law uphold one’s politics, even if law is warped beyond recognition.
Wokeness advocates that the Infinity Gems must never be used together and The One Ring must be destroyed, yet at the same time claims an exception for one’s side, just this once.
For example, some argue it is not valid to argue that no law prohibits the Marcos burial, Torre de Manila, or Reproductive Health Act, not when personal morality demands that these be blocked by any means.
Institutions neutral by design—courts, Commission on Human Rights, Commission on Audit—are alien to discourse unless cast as for or against a political side. No one gets woke over the Heraldic Code and Ayala’s right to sing.
Finally, there is no penalty for pushing extreme interpretations of law. The disinterested warily ignore calls for rule of law as yet more politics. Uncritical nondefense of neutral principles creates perverse incentives to float ever more extreme interpretations.
We see law as continuation of politics by other means. We brush aside rules when we have the political strength. We demand respect for law when we do not.
To end perceived weaponization, we must resolve to stand by legal principles on all issues, consistently, and inculcate this from childhood.
If not, we should simply admit we happily politicize law.
But we should not complain that no one plays by the rules when political winds shift and someone with a higher approval rating wrests the Infinity Gauntlet and snaps his fingers.
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React: email@example.com, Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan. This column does not represent the opinion of organizations with which the author is affiliated.
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