But what makes stealing unlawful? Or killing? Or rape? These are not ‘unlawful’ just because. The rules by which we abide are moral judgments. It is morally wrong to steal, kill and rape. Why? Because those who have drafted these laws and the community which protects and/or abide by them have put value on one being able to keep one’s possessions and one not being killed or raped by any random person. These values, in turn, are also underlined by a chain of other values – the sanctity of private property, the sanctity of life, the sanctity of dignity. And so on.
The second way to look at a country’s legal system then is a voluminous and interlocking set of values which delineate what is ‘just’, i.e. what aggrieves no one, and what is ‘right’, i.e. what one ought to do. The legal system – the laws, those who practice law, those who enforce and interpret it – is one giant reflection of what a society values and what a society deems right.
Recently I tweeted a link to a news item entitled “Gibo defends Mikey's party-list bid,” to which I appended a little side-comment. A Gibo supporter @noypi_bai and an old friend @RyanSumo thought my side-comment misrepresented the news article.
Ryan is right, there is a difference between what Gibo actually said “Is it legal or not? It's legal. Wala tayong magagawa" versus my side-comment "there's nothing wrong with it."
I tweeted back that they’re right, my comment perhaps was misleading. But then I argue that Gibo, being a lawyer, is following the letter of the law and not its spirit. What could be more ridiculous than Mikey Arroyo, son of the incumbent president, running under the Party-List System to represent security guards and transport drivers?
The Party-List System Act says:
The State shall promote proportional representation in the election of representatives to the House of Representatives through a party-list system of registered national, regional and sectoral parties or organizations or coalitions thereof, which will enable Filipino citizens belonging to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties, and who lack well-defined political constituencies but who could contribute to the formulation and enactment of appropriate legislation that will benefit the nation as a whole, to become members of the House of Representatives.
The spirit which animates this law clearly values giving voice to the weak and the marginalized. In print, it says our society is one which would set aside seats in corridors of power to hear what the powerless have to say. It is lawful, it is just, it is right to give representation to those who would otherwise have no avenue to meaningfully participate in the country’s political process. So what does this say about those who, in their assiduous and tireless defense of its letter, pervert the spirit of the law? What does this say about Gibo Teodoro who says we can do nothing about Mikey Arroyo running under the Party-List system because it is not “illegal”? But does that make it “just”, “desirable” or “right?”
This government has been hiding behind an orgy of legal perversions. In fact it gleefully derives legitimacy from it. The ghouls of the Arroyo regime have had a fantastical time dispiriting not only our rules but ultimately our values. And amidst it all, here we sit arguing over the fine print.