THE LEGAL FRONT
By JUSTICE ART D. BRION (RET.)
Today, I share with our readers the thoughts that ran through my mind the day before the President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA). I had hoped, despite daunting odds, that his SONA would lift up our hopes for a better tomorrow for our country.
The SONA, through the years, has been a political speech – the address of a political executive to his constituents to secure approval and support for his programs and acts of governance.
It is not an academic report that deeply analyzes the malaise that afflicts the nation and that recommends remedies. It is simply an overview of the nation’s problems and the President’s intended solutions, based mostly on practicality rather on long and detailed studies.
The address will not say that our people lack a sense of unity and nationhood – the trait that hinders our capability to solve problems as a nation. This kind of statement chastises people and will not win support for the President and his party.
It will not say outright that our problems are due to people’s lack of discipline – a demeaning trait that people might not readily accept.
It will not declare that our understanding or implementation of the rule of law is flawed. This statement may be an admission against interest that the political opposition will hail and the self-righteous in the international community will condemn.
The SONA, delivered by a politician, will not likewise say that we are a nation fixated on and swayed by partisan politics; if at all, politicians will say that they commonly act to govern with the welfare of the people in mind.
Lastly, the SONA might leave all of the above traits unsaid if only to avoid dwelling on other harsher realities.
Whether we admit it or not, we are still prisoners of our regionalism – we identify ourselves as Visayans, Tagalogs, Ilongos, Ilocanos or Moros before we say that we are Filipinos. Our subconscious still operates on the island mentality that characterized our forefather’s thinking before we became a country.
Years ago when I lived in California, I learned that there were 60 Filipino associations in the state, all based on their regional/local roots, compared to the 3 that existed among Koreans. Thus, even overseas, our partiality to regionalism remains with us.
Our horrendous traffic in Metro Manila is rooted, among others, on our lack of discipline and our shallow respect for the law. These traits are evident from street scenes in our everyday lives.
It is not unusual for motorists to disregard traffic rules when traffic enforcers are not around. Jeepney drivers do not only unload passengers outside unloading zones; many simply unload in the middle of the streets without thought of the obstruction they create.
Even the police forget that they are traffic enforcers who violate their own traffic rules when they park illegally, to the prejudice of motorists, pedestrians and homeowners whose garage entrances they block.
Manilans enjoy the benefit of big and readily accessible dumping pits – our creeks and esteros. I once took a second look in disbelief when I saw a sofa and a small refrigerator dumped in the estero.
Corruption is rampant because people’s priority is on their individual interests, and hardly consider our collective interests or the rule of law.
Fixers still abound in government regulatory offices despite bans against their presence. They offer assistance for a fee which they presumably share with the bureaucrats they fix.
The take is more “juicy” in offices like the Bureau of Customs where, despite changes in leadership, big time smuggling still subsists. Though largely unacknowledged, smuggling could be the silent partner of the illegal drugs we loudly complain about.
A source of wonder is the people’s willingness to shell out hard earned cash to the wrong hands for speedier delivery of public service. They likewise turn a blind eye to the illegalities that happen in their midst, lest they be involved and be inconvenienced in their daily lives.
This shortsighted preference for advantage and convenience, laid on top of handsome dividends and reasonably acceptable risks, lay us open to rampant corruption.
In Congress, the lobbyist fronting for interest groups used to be the source of windfalls for pliant lawmakers. This situation worsened into outright illegalities when the DAP and PDAP funds came and brought to light a novel way of milking the national treasury.
Many lawmakers, particularly the careless ones who coursed their illegal PDAF dealings through their complicit subordinates, were caught and were charged. Some, though, only had to share their loot with similarly corrupt lawyers, prosecutors and magistrates, to walk away free.
With corruption, the rule of law flies out of the window. The rule requires compliance with the law, and implies that all persons, including those who are in the position of power – the executive, the lawmakers, and the magistrates – are all equally subject to the law.
The disregard for the rule of law, through unequal application of the law, obscenely stands out when prosecution becomes selective.
In the DAP cases, for example, no less than the Supreme Court pointed to former President Aquino and Budget Secretary Butch Abad as the originators of the DAP practices and the illegal transfer of funds from the budget of the executive branch to other branches of government.
Wonder of wonders, they have not been appropriately charged up to the present time while erring lowly public servants seldom escape the clutches of the law.
All these happen partly because our politics, in general, is not based on ideologies or principled political belief but on personal interests and political convenience. In blunter terms, our governance is rife with political opportunism.
I cannot help but think that all these perverse traits – one way or the other, singly or in combination – are the major contributors to the national malaise bedeviling us. Widespread poverty; unstable peace and order situation and the proliferation of illegal drugs; lack of coherent governance; and lagging economic development, all happen because we caused them.
These traits built up over time and cannot be reversed during the term of one President. I continue to hope though that President Duterte – during his term and using his unorthodox ways – can at least start the moves that, given time and carried across to his successors, will effectively eradicate or at least render our negative traits less pervasive.
Not until this transformation shall we truly become one vibrant nation.