THE rule of law is a phrase that is often invoked by the President in times of crisis.
Following the walkout of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, Brigadier General Danilo Lim, and other Magdalo soldiers from their court hearing, Malacañang said that it was on top of the situation. Both Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye and Vice President Noli de Castro reiterated the trite appeal to uphold the rule of law.
Presidential deputy spokesperson Anthony Golez even said that the government-imposed curfew from 12 midnight tonight to 5 a.m. tomorrow was covered by the rule of law.
But what exactly is the rule of law? It consists of “Constitutional laws, laws enacted by Congress, and jurisprudence,” says former Commission on Elections chief and One Voice chairperson Christian Monsod. He interprets the President’s repeated use of the phrase ” upholding the rule of law” as a warning to her opponents not to resort to extra-constitutional means (i.e. her ouster).
Yet didn’t Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo become President due to an extra-constitutional process? That is a matter of “personal judgment,” says Monsod.
In a July 2006 statement posted on the Sundalo Tagapagtanggol ng Pilipino website, Lim accused the President of destroying the rule of law.
“The economy, the rule of law and the moral order lie in ruins…We cannot stand idly by while the rule of law, the moral order, the integrity of our institutions, the very future of our country and the people, and our own professional careers are destroyed by this bogus President.”
Read Lim’s 2006 statement.
This pronouncement was made during the alleged destabilization attempt last February, but lawyer and Counsels for the Defense of Liberties co-convenor Neri Colmenares says that the President herself has been breaking the rule of law she has called on others to uphold.
Colmenares cites the Latin adage dura lex sed lex, which means “The law is harsh, but it is the law.” But in the President’s case, “If you are anti (Arroyo) the law is harsh. If you are pro or allied, the law is soft on you.”
Monsod concedes that there are many different interpretations of the phrase “the rule of law.” Colmenares adds that the government’s proposed definition of the rule of law encapsulates a different perspective for her opponents.
Meanwhile, the President and her allies “flout the law,” according to Colmenares. The Supreme Court declared the government’s policy of calibrated preemptive response unconstitutional, rendered Macapagal-Arroyo’s Executive Order 464 partially void, along with Presidential Proclamation 1017. During the 2005 impeachment hearings, the PCIJ noted that the rule of majority had prevailed over the rule of law when administration congressmen voted 46-1 to throw away a weak impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Oliver Lozano.
In a 2001 acceptance speech for a rule of law award given by the Claudio Teehankee Foundation, the President quoted the former chief justice Teehankee as saying, “The rule of law is the basis of any civilized society — and it is here — a law that upholds human dignity and freedom and protects human rights.” Then, Macapagal-Arroyo said, “Nobody is above the law, including those who imagine themselves to walk the corridors of power.”
Arroyo’s critics say that her actions belie her words.
“GMA mangled our constitution and our laws to evade accountability and accused the Magdalo soldiers of violating the rule of law. Yet the stand-off was a product of the administration violating the rule of law – it resorted to pay-offs to escape allegations of fraud and corruption and it condoned extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances to stifle opposition,” Akbayan party-list Chair Emeritus Etta Rosales said.
Adds Colmenares. “The President has no moral authority to use the rule of law.”