OF SUBSTANCE AND SPIRIT
This column is not meant to be a legal or political treatise. Through it, we join the discussion in the use of Scripture as basis to defend government action. We also subscribe to constitutional guarantees of democracy.
Romans 13:1-2 admonishes: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”
Invoking this verse, many well-meaning individuals have dismissed any form of criticism and mass action against the Anti-Terror Law.
One cannot fully appreciate a Biblical passage by cherry-picking isolated verses.
The entire context of a passage must be examined. Exegesis will be useful.
If we limit ourselves to the first two verses cited, it would be easy to conclude that UP students who demonstrated against the Anti-Terror Bill; and individuals and groups like law offices, human rights groups, academic communities, former public executives and jurists are simply rebellious. They are guilty of resisting authorities and should be dealt with.
In citing the two verses in a vacuum, reasoning becomes vacuous especially since, in the same chapter, the next verse clearly continues:
“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval…”
This verse is often omitted by those defending the controversial Anti-Terror Law.
In the original Greek, the Apostle Paul made an important distinction between submission and obedience. In instructing the Romans on the appropriate attitude towards governing authorities, Paul used the Greek word, “hupo-tasso.” This means “submit.” The same word is consistently used in Scripture to urge submission to the heavenly order.
It is noteworthy that in this instance, Paul did not use the Greek word, “hupo-kouo” or “obey,” which characterizes a demeaning master-slave relationship.
In making such a distinction, the Apostle Paul was also differentiating between a heavenly or Godly state of affairs as promoted by the government and one which is not: a state of human governance that violates, rather than upholds, Biblical and moral standards.
While submission and obedience appear to be synonymous, they are not. In a master-slave relationship, one has no choice but to comply with orders, commands, or instructions. A slave may obey mechanically, without any feeling of respect for his master. On the other hand, submission requires a respectful yielding to authority. In such a case, a sincere desire to follow instructions exists. Should government be righteous – “ a terror to bad conduct,”as the Apostle Paul describes, a reverent fear for such authority will ensue. In fact, as the apostle argues, in such a case, citizens would also want such a benevolent government’s approval!
Does Scripture then require blind obedience to all government actions? It does not.
During the Roman Empire, the saints themselves were persecuted for refusing Nero’s decree for everyone to worship Roman gods. Disobedience was costly. Christians were threatened, jailed, tortured, and executed.
While this may seem as an extreme example, the principles against blind and unquestioning obedience are the same. Nowhere in the Bible can one find citations that all human governments are infallible.
Does the mere questioning of the constitutionality of a law amount to disobedience? Is it an act of rebellion or defiance for constituents to raise the issue of “democratic deficit”? Should citizens be prevented from inquiring whether laws and policies truly represent their will, and if not, demand correction? More importantly, in a democracy, does exercising one’s right to free speech and expression, for purposes of holding authorities accountable, constitute an act of resistance?
One can argue that by voicing out concerns, members of society would actually like the government to do right with its authority and power and that policies and laws remain constitutional, meritorious and driven to be enacted and implemented in good faith.
Given Paul’s distinction between submission and obedience, can people be accused of resistance when they seek correction of problematic policies?
Today, there is a gathering backlash against the Anti-Terror Law, mostly as its actual implementation is prone to abuse. For instance, identification or branding of suspected terrorists would depend on an executive body. This is being questioned on constitutional ground, something that is common to the petitions filed before the Supreme Court.
Lest we forget Paul’s admonition, those who challenge the Anti-Terror Law do so within the country’s legal framework. The petitioners have followed legal procedure by asking the high court to issue a temporary restraining order against the law’s effectivity while the merits of the case are being considered.
This is the essence of a healthy democracy. It is the very purpose of having three co-equal branches of government. Instead of expressing disdain, governing authorities should be pleased at the courage and confidence of civil society in the functional integrity of the country’s due process and justice system.
A final note.
In a democracy, true sovereignty resides in the people and not in the elected or appointed. The latter are their representatives and are in power not for their own interests, but for promoting the common good. For this reason, there are legal ways and channels through which, the people, as the ultimate repository of power and authority, can effect change.
First, this channel is by virtue of the electoral process — the people can choose their national and local representatives in government. Second, the Constitution provides mechanisms for those elected by the people to be disciplined and even, removed. As principal, the people can rightfully discipline their “agents” through complaints, recall elections, impeachment, and quo warranto proceedings. Finally, change can be effected through speech and political lobbying, the free exercise of which is promised broad protection by the Constitution itself.
Let the law and policies be subject to stress and strain. To be sure, they are only tenable if they hold.