Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Spirit of the Law and the Ghouls of Arroyo

There are two ways of looking at a country’s legal system. One is that it embodies a set of rules that regulate actions of those bound by the law – legal personalities who inhabit the country in question. It is ‘unlawful’ or ‘illegal’ to steal from your neighbor. The capacity to say that it is wrong to commit such an act shapes the behavior of those who commit themselves, as citizens, to the legal community (i.e. country). To add teeth to the law, there are also all sorts of punishments levied upon those who transgress what is lawful or legal. You pay a fine, you do community service, your liberty is taken away. Seen this way, laws are a set of rules designed to regulate or harmonize a community. They assure order and a measure of peace so that citizens might go about their daily lives with as little hassle as possible.

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.


Ryan said...

"The Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard-bearer said that what the next administration and the next set of lawmakers can do is to revise the party-list law to fix the "flawed" system."

In short, he admits that it is flawed and can be fixed but knows that at this time he bound by the rule of law.

What should he do now? Rail against the Arroyos? Condemn them? Step out of his bounds as a presidential candidate and twist the laws in order to prevent this from happening? How is that any better than Trillanes and his two coups? It's the same messianic attitude that leads to authoritarians and dictators. It's the same attitude that drives fundamentalists.

More on this in a mammoth blog post I'm currently writing. :P

sparks said...

It is entirely in the purview of someone aspiring to be chief executive to say "Hey, this is wrong."

To say "wala tayong magagawa" in this issue, if taken out of context, implies a defeatist and complacent attitude vis-a-vis a crucial institition in our democracy.

Taken into context, that is, Gibo being the standard bearer of the administration, then of course he won't say anything against the shenanigans of the incumbent Comelec. It would be spitting in the face of his principals.

Ryan said...

I understand that this statement can be misunderstood if the basis of the reader's knowledge on Gibo is taken entirely from this article and snippets in broadsheets or even gossip. But taken in the context of his past speeches, it reflects an attitude of letting the institutions of government play their roles, instead of rallying the people to raise their pitchforks at the slightest provocation. It is a recurring theme, and one that I believe (because really, no one has any basis to prove it either way) comes from a principle building strong institutions and not relying on populist sentiment to run the country.

Ryan said...


>>It is entirely in the purview of someone aspiring to be chief executive to say "Hey, this is wrong."

He said,

what the next administration and the next set of lawmakers can do is to revise the party-list law to fix the "flawed" system."

That to me is a nuanced indictment of the party-list law. Call me cold-blooded, but I much prefer statements like these as opposed to the sound and fury signifying nothing that usually comes out of political candidates' mouths.

sparks said...

The choice isn't either or. Either you follow rules or raise pitchforks. Rules, embodied by laws, aren't as rigid as one might think. There is room for lee-way and interpretation - which is why most countries' constitutions aren't all that detailed. If you take the example of the controversial Supreme Court ruling on GMA's midnight appointments - then you see how 'malleable' rules are.

Now we have to be critical about "institutions" which we choose to defend. I am all for strengthening institutions if this means assuring their impartiality or "blindness." In the case of institutions being used to legitimize those who possess might (not right), then surely we must question them?

Legitimacy of public institutions, in this case the Comelec - is something that we as a people give. Legitimacy is also in our power to withdraw.

On Gibo,

I like him very much. If he were not the PaLaKa standard-bearer I'd give him a chance too. I am always impressed by him in forums. He definitely has the answers to questions. He's brilliant, sure. Is he compromised by his party? Yes. Each time he is asked about the possibility of him prosectuing Arroyo - his answers are deliberatly fuzzy.

Does he hesitate to criticize the plethora of Arroyo party-list groups? Yes. Why? Because he'd rather fix the party-list system AFTER? Go figure.

As for sound and fury - its all PR dude. It makes good press. But just because these politicos say something to the media does not mean they're not working in the background. Believe me - the sound and fury is just the tip of the iceberg. These people - especially those who are legit partylists - they lobby HARD.