By TONYO CRUZ
Come on over. Remember what they taught us in “Araling Panlipunan” classes? That we supposedly have systems of checks and balance, and of powers allocated among three separate branches of government? That we have a Bill of Rights allegedly to protect us principally from abusive government and so we could freely do what we want to do with our lives? That we have political parties and leaders ready to perform their functions either as administration and opposition?
Heck, we were even told that we have a partylist system to give underrepresented and marginalized sectors a stab at representation in Congress!
There are many other provisions of the Constitution and the laws that — again, we were repeatedly taught and made to believe — like urban and rural land reform, prohibition of monopolies and political dynasties. Foreign military forces are not allowed, except under a treaty duly ratified by our country and the other contracting party. Sovereignty is of paramount importance too.
Beautiful concepts, if you ask me. And these pretty concepts have been used by well-meaning believers of the system to dissuade people from advocating radical or revolutionary changes.
Tragically, these concepts have slowly broken down in the past three decades, and especially the last two sad years. In fact, the current administration wants to mutilate these concepts through Charter Change and some odd form of federalism which proponents cannot fully agree on.
I’m trying to make us remember these concepts because these form the foundation of our education as citizens. These pertain to our relations among other citizens, with government, and with foreign governments.
This week’s outrage — the arrest of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa on the basis of a legally dubious cyberlibel complaint — illustrates this breakdown in law and order, and the rule of law. The Integrated Bar of the Philippines points out that the Justice Department should have dismissed the complaint, after the NBI resubmitted it. Why? Because laws cannot be applied retroactively, and that the filing period for complaints has long lapsed.
But never mind what the law says. Never mind if the alleged cyberlibel was committed before cyberlibel became part of the law. That is unimportant, it seems, to the NBI and the DOJ. What’s important is to follow the lead of the president who has wildly and vociferously spoken against Rappler. The same could be said of the judge who issued the warrant of arrest, or maybe the magistrate remembered what happened to the chief magistrate when she resisted the whims of the president.
Former Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares went to the heart of the issue, in his reaction to Ressa’s arrest at past 5 p.m. when she had to vainly chase night courts in order to file an application for bail. He said that the arrest and the multiple cases would not have been pursued had Ressa and Rappler been lavishing Duterte with positive coverage. In other words, Ressa and Rappler are being punished for their coverage deemed critical and damaging to the regime. Which explains why a number of agencies of government have been mobilized to stop Ressa and Rappler.
The House is largely quiet about Ressa’s arrest, despite its constitutional duty as a check on the executive. Why? Because, arguably, it has been turned into a rubberstamp of the president, thanks to the president’s daughter who deposed the past speaker and to a former president who has seized the post of speaker. Even if we have prima facie or strong evidence to impeach and indict the president, this constitutional method to attain accountability would be beyond our reach. Because of the “numbers game,” the same game that blunted the power and duty of impeachment since the time the current speaker was still president.
Through political patronage, as evidenced by the billions in pork barrel funds that have returned with a vengeance, the president has effectively thwarted the system of checks and balances, and the separation of powers.
Enter the political opposition. They have only managed to produce a slate of only eight candidates for 12 Senate seats. That means, they have already surrendered four seats to the administration. There’s no call to elect more than enough representatives to maybe give impeachment a chance, or at the very least strengthen the voice of opposition in the Lower House. Not a few supporters promote the view that voters should “correct” the mistake of electing the president in 2016, and that all that’s needed to be said is that the people only had to be told of the past president’s “untold” achievements.
The administration claims a full mandate for whatever it stands for. The opposition claims the people made a mistake.
This, in abbreviated form, is what is happening or has happened to the beautiful system our teachers taught, and what apologists of the status quo would want us to trust. We, who bear the burdens of having a tyrannical administration and an arrogant opposition, only see a formula for widespread cynicism. They unite in embracing neoliberal economics — and in blaming us for the problems they spawn or make worse, if you care to take a good look at the core of their statements. They fan the flames of perpetual division based on partisan (read: traditional political) division. DDS vs Dilawan. Black vs. white. But aren’t we more than that, as a nation of 100 people?
I have said it before, and I say it again. The mess we suffer from is not about stupidity or the lack of intelligence. It is about power, the naked abuse and misuse of power to serve the elite few, the grabbing of powers by the president, and the power of political narratives that hijack change. It is about the system of parties, personalities, narratives, structures, and institutions that fail, exploit, humiliate, divide, and ultimately blame us.
Yes, come on over and take a look. Let’s give this system a proper post-mortem.