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A law each day

I think you’ll agree that the Philippines has more than enough laws. What we need is enforcement. It’s the executive branch that has to act, not Congress.

There are far too many laws we don’t need, or don’t use—so why have them? I suggest the President ask the Department of Justice, or whoever, to make an inventory of all laws as to which ones should be integrated (the one on fiscal incentives rationalization comes to mind as it consolidates various laws providing incentives to investors), need amendment, or should just be cancelled as no longer relevant.

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The world is being overwhelmed with laws. We keep talking about the need to legislate this or that with little thought, it seems, as to whether they are really necessary. Many things should just be left to a human’s innate intelligence or the natural laws of nature. Accidents do happen.

Go to a Western country some time; you’ll find you can’t do almost anything these days. Laws just pile on laws. We are (worldwide to one degree or another) becoming too litigious in our societies. You can sue for everything.

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The absurd is well-known: A woman who spills hot coffee on her lap while driving sues the fast-food chain—and wins. A woman who breaks a leg falling over a toddler running amok in a supermarket sues the supermarket. She wins. But it’s her child!

The intolerant, for insufficient reason, is also there. You can’t take a dog almost anywhere now in Australia, despite his being man’s best friend. Pick up his poo, by all means. He bites someone, put him down, or put him (or the owner?) under house arrest. But a total ban?

But where it really hurts a country—and the Philippines is a prime example—is in governance. The government can’t take any action or make any decision without someone suing. No one loses a project to a better bid—they were cheated, or the government distorted the process, or whatever. What that does is add an average of three to five years, excluding the period for appeal, to many projects, or even put some on hold for almost ever. The other thing it does is make bureaucrats excessively cautious. They delay making a decision until every possible legal opposition is addressed, no matter how trivial or foolish. Or they don’t make a decision at all.

This is no way to get an economy moving. It is time the Supreme Court under its reformist Chief Justice issued strict, precise guidelines on what can be accepted in the courts of law.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court justices must be reminded that their role is to ensure that the Constitution is upheld and laws obeyed in a way that is best for society. It is not to rule on judgments of other entities. If Congress, which solely has the right to create laws, decides in its judgment that family planning clinics are desirable and that the Reproductive Health Law must be implemented, the Supreme Court has no right to decide otherwise. It can only disagree with Congress if a law from Congress clearly, and not by judgment, violates the Constitution.

This, to my mind, must mean that the justices must rule unanimously. It must be a clear violation. If it is a split decision, then the court is usurping its judgment over the lawmakers.

Congress has decided that the people have a right to assistance in their family planning—if they want it, there is no coercion. The executive branch agrees, they requested it. The coequal third branch must take cognizance of this, and only overrule it if there is (I’ll use the word again) glaring violation of the Constitution. Otherwise, it must defer to the judgment of its coequal partners.

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What it must also do is not change its mind. I am astounded that it would even consider, let alone accept, a petition to reconsider the Mining Act of 1995—a law it judged WITH FINALITY as constitutional nine years ago.

So mining projects are now all at risk. Does the Supreme Court have some other definition of “with finality” that I am, or my dictionary, not aware of? It’s no wonder the Philippines gets such a measly level of foreign direct investment. The rules can change too whimsically; even the laws can be changed on spurious grounds.

And, as I’ve argued before, the Supreme Court should not be the final court of appeal—there is a Court of Appeals—the only exception being if the issue questions the Constitution, or will set a precedent. As to issuing temporary restraining orders, that’s like a corporate CEO acting as office doorman.

The role of the courts, at all levels, should be to seek the truth. Lawyers should want to do that, too, but maybe I’m asking for the moon there. To achieve that, judges should dismiss technicalities as irrelevant. It’s now 42 months since the worst peacetime massacre in Philippine history and the case has gotten nowhere. Of the 196 accused, only around 80 have been arraigned so far. Fifty-eight people were slaughtered in Maguindanao. Don’t the courts want justice?

I will say it for the umpteenth time: Law is the servant of society. Law was introduced to help attain a just, peaceful society. It was not, and is not, an entity unto itself. It must think first of what is best for society, and decide for that best.

We need laws, but we need them to be sensible, and the fewest possible to meet society’s needs.

A law each day keeps progress at bay.

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TAGS: congress, Department of Justice, Natural Laws, Philippine Congress, Supreme Court
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