October's light in a penumbra
By Rudy Arizala
At this stage in our history, when we are confronted with multifarious problems of economic, social and political &endash; 60% of our people are on poverty level; declining standard of educational system; alleged failure to hold clean, honest and peaceful elections; and constant "tug-of-war" between the executive and legislative - and when most people seem to be at a loss or confused on what to do, the question foremost in the minds of our people is: "What happened to Philippine Democracy?" And what are we supposed to do?
According to one columnist, "They want to remove Ms. Arroyo because she did not win the election, only to replace her with a group of people who did not win the election who will govern indefinitely." ("What happened to democracy?" by Conrado de Quiros, PDI, 06 October 2005). The question to most people, is: "Who do we put in her place?"
Another writer columnist pointed out that the ills of our country could be traced to "elite democracy which has held sway in the Philippines for nearly 100 years." And added it culminated "in the century-old struggle for power among the factions of the elite, which helps to explain the poor´s lack of passion or concern regarding the controversy." According to him elite democracy was responsible for "the concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a few." His suggested solution is to put an end to elite democracy "by organizing discussions and action groups at the local level. Every school, church or chapel, parents-teachers´association, cooperatives and credit union, labor or peasant organization could become a venue for discussing local issues." From such local discussion groups the movement could develop into national level. ("Life from the dead," by John J. Carroll, S.J., PDI, 06 October 2005).
A third columnist speak of the need of a viable "vision" from the seat of power -- Malacañan Palace -- which is the "pulpit and stage" for the exercise of presidential power. He observed that each President since we became a nation had their respective visions from "Independence", to "Social Justice," "Man of the Masses," culminating to "People Power," "Philippine 2000," and finally, "Strong Republic." He noted, however, that the "Fear Factor" is showing its ugly head. According to him: "But then comes a back-to-back performance of the Philippine National Police -- trying to imitate the legions of Rome or the phalanxes of ancient Greece -- running after hardheaded but unarmed socialists, and the result is, well, the ´brutality´ vision thing. Which is never inspiring." ("The ´vision thing´", by Manuel L. Quezon lll, PDI, 06 October 2005).
II. Best Form of Government
What then is the best form of government? The late Dr. Jose P. Laurel used to tell his class in Constitutional Law that the best from of government is a "monarchy with an angel on the throne." But because it is impossible to find an angel to govern us, democracy where the leaders are chosen by freewill or vote of the people, despite its defects, is the best alternative. Democracy, according to him is a system of government where the doctrine of separation of powers among the three branches of government -- legislative, executive and judicial -- is observed thus, having "checks and balances". What is the doctrine of "separation of powers" and principle of "checks and balances" which is the very essence of Constitutionalism?
Elaborating on the doctrine of "separation of powers," Justice Holmes of the United States said: "The great ordinances of the Constitution do not establish and divide fields of black and white. Even the more specific of them are found to terminate in penumbra shading gradually from one extreme to another."
With respect to "checks and balances", the great French political scientist Montesquieu had this to say:
"When the legislative and executive are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty; because apprehension may arise lest the same monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws, and execute them in a tyrannical manner. Again there is no liberty if the judicial power be not separated from the legislative and executive. Were it joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control; for the judge would then be legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might behave with violence and oppression. There would be an end of everything, were the same man or the same body. . to execute those three powers, that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and of trying the causes of individuals."
In short, "separation of powers" and principle of "checks and balances" enable any of the three branches of government to protect its independence by preventing encroachments on its jurisdiction and to ensure proper respect for the rule of law by correcting mistakes or abuses committed by the other departments in excess of their lawful authority.
In the light of all the foregoing and that in a democracy there should be separation of powers to ensure "checks and balances," perhaps it is worthwhile to recall the light of a "Penumbra" bestowed to the Filipino people more than half a century ago. On 14 October 1943, during those dark years of the second world war, Dr. Jose P. Laurel assumed the Presidency of the Republic and said:
". . the dream and aspiration of Filipino heroes and patriots have always been complete and absolute political freedom for the Philippines and that all true Filipinos are pledged to the realization of that ideal. I therefore stood for a Government of the Filipinos, by the Filipinos and for the Filipinos exclusively and alone without the interference of, or injunction, or dictation from a foreign power. I announced that my moral philosophy -- the deeper foundation of my administration was that of righteousness which is divine and is common to all religions worthy of the name; that man lives in the triple world, physical, intellectual and moral; that physical and mental vigor (mens sana in corpore sano) is not enough, but that man´s life must be dominated by moral principles. . ." ("Days of Courage, The Legacy of Dr. Jose P. Laurel," by Rose Laurel Avanceña / Ileana Maramag, 1980, p. 109).
There is, indeed, a need for a government and leadership based on righteousness and moral principles. But good government like good vintage wine should not be poured into the old container or bottle for it may also become stale. We need to have a new container where to keep that good priceless vintage wine.
Posted Oct. 16, 2005