‘Vox populi vox Dei, au revoir’!
This political principle saw its heyday in olden times when democracy was largely an ideal, taking form and shape in the exhortations of leaders and demagogues who capitalized on popular causes to rouse the people into rebellion and put to death those who stood in their way.
But what is the concept all about?
The discussion of the voice-of-the-people dictum by then associate justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez in her concurring opinion in the 2006 case of Lambino vs Comelec is instructive: “Vox populi vox Dei—the voice of the people is the voice of God. Caution should be exercised in choosing one’s battle cry, lest it does more harm than good to one’s cause. In its original context, the complete version of this Latin phrase means exactly the opposite of what it is frequently taken to mean. It originated from a holy man, the monk Alcuin, who advised Charlemagne, ‘nec audiendi qui solent dicere, vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit,’ meaning, And those people should not be listened to who keep on saying, ‘The voice of the people is the voice of God,’ since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.”
The folly of the voice-of-the-people dictum is loud enough to be missed out. For one, Philippine society is founded on the principle of republicanism which is also the underpinning of the dictum. In a representative democracy, sovereignty resides in the people who choose their leaders under the rule of majority or plurality in multiparty electoral processes. One of the manifestations of republicanism is the notion that ours is a government of laws and not of men. Fundamental to these rules is the Constitution which sets the qualifications of those who would be minded to offer themselves as leaders of the people.
The terse yet forceful disquisition in the 2013 case of Maquiling vs Comelec cannot be a more apt and compelling argument against the voice-of-the-people dictum. Thus: “The ballot cannot override the constitutional and statutory requirements for qualifications and disqualifications of candidates. When the law requires certain qualifications to be possessed or that certain disqualifications be not possessed by persons desiring to serve as elective public officials, those must be met before one even becomes a candidate. When a person who is not qualified is voted for and eventually garners the highest number of votes, even the will of the electorate expressed through the ballot cannot cure that defect. To rule otherwise is to trample upon and rent asunder the very law that sets forth the qualifications and disqualifications of candidates. We might as well write off our election laws if the voice of the electorate is the sole determinant of who should be proclaimed worthy to occupy elective positions in our republic.”
It must indeed be “vox populi vox dehins.”
—VICENTE M. JOYAS, former president and currently general counsel, Integrated Bar of the Philippines
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