[EDITORIAL] #AnimatED: Rule of law in a compromised democracy

If you believe in the rule of law, the recent controversy in the Office of the Ombudsman involving the suspension of a deputy ombudsman is more than enough to agitate and enrage you. It is a blatant disregard and violation of the law.

No less than the Supreme Court ruled that the power previously granted to the president to discipline deputy ombudsmen is unconstitutional because it impinges on the independence of a constitutional body. Promulgated on January 28, 2014, the High Court’s ruling became final and executory 4 months later, on May 7, 2014.

But Malacañang ignored this completely and went ahead like a bully and a bulldozer, and ordered the suspension of Overall Deputy Ombudsman Arthur Carandang for allegedly disclosing “unauthenticated” documents about bank transactions of President Rodrigo Duterte and members of his family.

The law doesn’t matter to supposed lawyers in this administration – the President himself, who is supposed to abide by and protect the Constitution, the Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, the Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, the Solicitor General Jose Calida, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, and even the Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque.

What the President wants, the President gets.

Who cares about the rule of law?

But, wait, isn’t the rule of law one of the defining characteristics of a democracy, which the Philippines claims to be? In free democracies, the law is supreme and is equally applied to everyone. Government officials, including the president and others who wield power, are accountable under the law. Individual fundamental rights are guaranteed and everyone – even the most powerful leader of the land – recognizes that the law is paramount. (READ: PH ranking in global rule of law index sinks under Duterte)

In defiance of the Palace order, which is a shameless and brazen malfeasance, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales declared: “In a society founded on the rule of law, the arbitrary disregard of a clearly worded jurisprudence coupled with a confident stance that it will be changed should never be countenanced.”

In no uncertain terms, she said that the Ombudsman cannot “seriously place at risk the independence of the very Office which she has pledged to protect on the strength of the constitutional guarantees which the High Court has upheld.”

Unlike the men in the Palace, she is saying, stop, this is illegal! She put it well when she said the act of the Office of the President is a “clear affront to the Supreme Court and an impairment of the constitutionally enshrined independence of the Office of the Ombudsman.”

What are the men of the Office of the President thinking? That because they are in power they can do as they please? Have we turned into a monarchy overnight where the king’s wishes must be fulfilled, no matter what?

The perils to democracy are often insidious. Lines are repeatedly crossed by people allowed to get away with it – they jail enemies without due process; kill drug users on the basis of suspicion rather than hard evidence; intimidate and harass critics to muffle, if not silence, dissent. Before we know it, what is abominable is acceptable, and what is wrong is suddenly right, because those in power say so. This is thug rule.

When thugs rule, everything is arbitrary, depending on dominant interests that need to be protected. Yesterday, corruption was a sin; today, it’s all right because it will benefit many who are loyal and pliant. A compromised democracy results from laws arbitrarily interpreted according to the ruling thugs’ standards of what is right and just.

Despite a Supreme Court ruling, Mr Panelo insisted: “Every official act is accorded the presumption of regularity. Until a competent court declares that such official act is in violation of the law and the Constitution, President Rodrigo Duterte’s order of preventive suspension is presumed to be valid and legal.”

Assuming this case is brought to the Supreme Court and the esteemed justices change their minds, the presumption of regularity in the President’s act cannot precede the change in the law. Or can it now, because anything goes under a compromised democracy?

This gradual and sustained erosion of democratic values can only be stopped by a critical mass of citizens who are determined to resist it. Lawyers, constitutionalists, law-abiding citizens, those who believe in the rule of law: where are you? – Rappler.com