THE LEGAL FRONT
By J. ART D. BRION (RET.)
In a democracy, “rule of law” and “respect for the law” are related terms that many times are used loosely and interchangeably. They are in fact not the same and should not be confused with one another.
Rule of law refers to the authority of law in a society, which draws its force and predominance from the principle that “all people and institutions, including the government. its lawgivers, and all those implementing the law, are subject to and accountable under the law in a fair system of application.” A companion concept is “due process” which requires that all laws and regulations be reasonable in their objectives and in the process of application.
Respect for the law, while referring to the same law, focuses more on people’s attitude towards, or their deference, esteem, and even awe for, the law. As an inner driving force in every individual, it goes beyond compliance which arises more from the obligatory effect of laws.
Respect for the law is manifested in the self-willed compliance that some citizens undertake. They obey the law, not because they should, but because they feel that to obey is the right thing to do after Congress and the President have spoken.
Unfortunately, not everyone shares this attitude.
There are those who only obey because they will be penalized if they fail to. At least, these people obey the law. In another category are those who would rather suffer the penalties than obey the law because of deeply held convictions. Despite their deeply held views, they are still law violators.
A far different category are those who are apathetic to the law – those who do not care what happens to the law. They either don’t comply because they know that due to their power, position or influence, nobody would dare enforce the law against them. Or, they don’t bother at all as they see violations all over society, particularly on the part of the law enforcers, and do not see why they themselves should comply.
I will not discuss the principled violators who belong to an altogether different category and will confine myself to the latter categories whose examples are easily recognizable in our society.
A primary example for me are members of the police whom I see at their station near my place in Pandacan; every resident groans at their ways because of their traffic and parking behavior.
For some reason, some of their members park their vehicles at street corners or at places where these vehicles obstruct the passing traffic or serve as traffic hazards. Other members double park their motorcycles in our narrow street, leaving barely enough room for passing vehicles and pedestrians.
Sights like these could perhaps be one reason pedestrians themselves act with impunity when they cross streets; they cross at the place of their own choosing, seemingly mindless of the crisscrossing traffic. Though there are traffic lights as well as clearly demarcated pedestrian lanes, they cross at will at any place and time, simply signaling the vehicles to stop as they cross.
Many motorists, particularly motorcyclists, likewise often disregard traffic rules, at great risk to themselves and to other motorists. Some motorcylists simply disregard traffic flow and ignore one-way traffic signs. The same can be said for motorcar drivers who, in heavy traffic situations, would observe the “survival of the fittest” rule and proceed in a counter-flow that at some point would obstruct the on-coming traffic from the opposite direction, resulting in monumental traffic jams.
These brazen acts clearly demonstrate not only lack of respect for the law but lack of discipline and respect for others. The violators simply do not care. They only care for themselves and their interests. To hell with what may happen to others. This selfish attitude leads me to ask: can we last as a society with these as the prevalent thinking and as the examples that our children can see?
I raise the issue of respect and ask my questions because of my belief that unless we can inculcate respect for the law and for the rights of others, or at the least, obedience to the law, our society may sooner or later break at the seams and descend into chaos, with only a fig leaf of order and civility serving as cover.
Under such looming possibility, should not the first order of the day for the government (in particular, our policymakers and implementors of the law) and for those who are recognized as leaders in our society (such as priests, teachers and other society leaders) be to act as models of how the law should be obeyed and respected, and how we should respect one another?
The priest, obviously, cannot preach from the pulpit about sins and the 10 Commandments when the mistress he keeps is an open secret in the parish or when the young boys he victimized reveal their sordid stories. The rich parishes can hardly justify the contributions they ask for the poor when their pockets are filled to overflowing with bank deposits, stocks, bonds, and investments.
Who would believe in the integrity of the judiciary when the lawyers themselves tell their tales of (and bill their clients based on) bribes and unfair dealings, while citizens witness the triumph of otherwise unwinnable cases?
The President himself cannot speak from a moral high ground when, although in jest in unguarded moments, he tells his audience of his own disrespect for the law in the past.
At the level of the citizen and going back to our traffic example, who would obey traffic rules that are practically inexistent for lack of consistent enforcement? Who would obey laws when those implementing the law, by their own guilt, have lost the moral authority to compel compliance?
Can we still rightly claim to be under the rule of law if we lack respect for the law and for others in our society?