THE LEGAL FRONT
By JUSTICE ART D. BRION (RET.)
Politics relates to activities associated with governance. It is national politics when governance involves the entire country. Politics is partisan when it involves groups contending with each other in their quest for the authority to govern.
By nature, politics is part of the exercise of democracy, and is supported in this exercise by the rights and freedoms defined in the Constitution.
Foremost among these are the freedoms of speech, of the press and of assembly.
Like the freedoms it relies upon, the right to engage in politics, particularly partisan politics, is not unlimited. Even common street sense tells us that an excess of politics can subvert the objectives of democracy.
In my view (and many may perhaps dispute this), our exercise of politics, especially the partisan kind, has been excessive and has not positively contributed to our progress; in fact, for most of recent history, it has been the bane of our country.
As their legacy, the Americans left us their model of politics and democracy.
But their successful model cannot simply be transplanted to our shores as an exact copy of the original. Our culture, traits and peculiarities as a people and even our history and geography, among others, have to be factored in. The result is the noisy, contentious (at times, corrosive) exercise of governance we enjoy today – Philippine-style democracy and politics.
Politics Philippine-style, it seems, has less to do with governance than with the quest for power and dominance. Governance, in the usual sense, is exercised for the good of the country and its people. As our politics developed, governance appears to have assumed a role secondary to the quest for power and dominance. Indicative perhaps of our focus on power is the statement of one past prominent politician who famously said – What are we in power for?
Many instances in the past illustrate this kind of divisive thinking. Unfortunately, this thinking is still with us.
The current Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) is a good example. From the news media, it appears that the preparation for the Games has been less than exemplary. This situation, unfortunately, appeared to have worsened when partisan politics reared its ugly head: public discussions and debates focused on the deficiencies, on faultfinding and finger pointing, rather than on efforts to supply what the SEAG needs and requires.
Fortunately, some from the private sector positively reacted by providing assistance. The government itself acted, this time with fuller focus. The country, however, even if only temporarily, suffered a black eye before participating Southeast Asian nations.
Another recent prominent example is the case of our vice president whose public statements have been very predictable because she simply opposes the administration’s positions.
At one time, she even appeared before a media-covered gathering in a foreign country to denounce the President for “extrajudicial killings” in the war against illegal drugs. She seemed to have forgotten that she wears two hats – she is the titular head of the opposition party and, at the same time, the vice-president of our country. In this latter role, her primary look out should be the interests of the country, not of her political party. An international gathering in a foreign country is neither the time nor the place for national partisan politics.
In an out-of-the-box move dictated perhaps by exasperation and by the lack of decisive results in his drug war, the President went out of his way and made a surprise move: he welcomed the vice president’s participation in the campaign against illegal drugs by appointing her, despite her patently critical opposition views, to be the co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-illegal Drugs.
The gesture, right from the start, raised a lot of questions. I will not dwell on the pros and cons about the affair, except to say that the vice president, instead of acting in an objectively neutral manner, made no effort at all to remove partisan political color from her actions as co-chair.
In a tit-for-tat move, the President simply removed her from her post. The country therefore lost the perspectives that the vice president could have contributed in fighting the drug war. It was a patently partisan political game on both sides, if you ask me.
I really wonder if the time will ever come when our politicians will clearly distinguish between governance and partisan politics and, faced with a problem besetting the nation, will act as leaders of the people and not as leaders and members of their political parties.
The sad thing to note is that this country is plagued with deep problems that are national in nature, scope, and importance, and that require collaborative action from all parties. I have outlined them in my previous column and I will not bother to recite them again.
The proliferation of Illegal drugs indeed poses a problem for the country but it is not the only problem we have. There are many more and we cannot resolve them unless we – irrespective of party affiliation – join hands and put our heads together. Our politicians in particular must engage in collaborative efforts and attend more to governance than to the ego-boosting and vote-getting entertainment that partisan politics provides.
More than these, our politicians should ask themselves: Are we really in effective control of the right to govern that preoccupies us?
If they carefully take stock, they may see that they are not governing alone; monopolistic combinations exist within our midst and they practically control the economy and the nation. With unseen hands, they effectively make the bigger and more critical decisions in this country.
Unlike our politicians, this group has no need to provide political entertainment; their interest is in the ownership of the entertainment media that the people patronize. As people laugh, clap and applaud, this group counts its profits.
Let us wake up and act as one for our country and people. The ongoing SEAG is a golden opportunity for us to rally behind our government in its efforts to rehabilitate the country’s initially tarnished reputation.