[OPINION | NEWSPOINT] Power trumps rights

Vergel O. Santos
[OPINION | NEWSPOINT] Power trumps rights
What are the rest of us only too quick to profess righteous resistance actually lending to this moral fight?

A “political analyst” – that’s the title bestowed on just about anyone willing to talk politics on the air – has been heard to comment on television that Senator Antonio Trillanes IV has only himself to blame for the trouble he’s in: he has “abused his political rights.”

That’s a most dangerous notion to propagate at this time, when power is used so heavy-handedly rights have been reduced to an even weaker counterforce to it than they already are by nature. It is power, not rights, that is open to abuse. The definitive nuance is illustrated even in linguistic usage: power is wielded, that is, used as a weapon, thus lending itself easily to misuse and, yes, abuse. That’s why power is coveted, fought over, grabbed.

Rights, on the other hand, are simply exercised, put into effect in the casual course of civic life, and that’s why they tend to be taken for granted. In fact, rights can become so weakened – thanks to whom else but the insidious wielders of power – they need to be asserted, reasserted, and, as called for these desperate days, fought for.

I don’t myself think it so objectionable for rights, mismatched as they are against power, to be exercised purposefully or not exercised by deliberate default in support of a fellow rights holder, a fellow underdog. But to do that in the service of power amounts to collaborationism. And that might just be the case with our “political analyst,” whom I don’t name here, not only because I did not hear the commentary firsthand – I was merely told about it – but also because personalizing the issue might only detract from the impersonal point I’m trying to make.

Anyway, our “political analyst” wished seemingly to give the impression that a certain timidity in the exercise of one’s rights in fact marks the normal or sober or otherwise proper exercise of those rights, and that the way Trillanes has done it is the wrong way – the abusive way. That viewpoint seems to me to reflect a reckless leave-taking of one’s sense of proportion and other basic rationalities.

Trillanes belongs to a Senate minority too thin to be an effective voting watchdog. Surely, making up for that lack with a bold voice and a dogged sense of inquiry into corruption and other official wrongdoing does not constitute abuse of anything, let alone rights, no matter what discomfort Trillanes’ findings may have caused President Duterte. If anyone is guilty of abuse here it’s Duterte. In fact, abuse is too mild a word to describe the way he perverts power.

Once Trillanes is done for, is there any doubt Vice President Leni Robredo, the constitutional successor to the presidency, will be the next target? 

To Trillanes, he does it with obvious concoctions. He wants voided the amnesty granted him 7 years ago for a coup he led against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He quibbles that, by getting his amnesty without applying for it, Trillanes failed to meet a procedural requirement. 

Just a curious thought: You’d think the coup should have been canceled out by the crime Arroyo herself had confessed to, and been forgiven for, by national default, which allowed her to assume the presidency on a rigged vote. But, now Speaker of the House and a principal Duterte partner, Arroyo shares in the same power being brought down on Trillanes in conspiratorial fashion – us against them.

Apart from Trillanes, “them” has so far included Senator Leila de Lima and former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno – once Trillanes is done for, is there any doubt Vice President Leni Robredo, the constitutional successor to the presidency, will be the next target? 

De Lima came in Duterte’s crosshairs for hounding him for death-squad kills  when he was mayor of Davao City; she has been in jail for two years now, denied bail, while on trial in a case cooked up from the testimonies of convicts serving life terms for the same crime – dealing in illegal drugs. As for Sereno, she got it for fending Duterte off her turf; she was ousted by her own Supreme Court, whose majority he has coopted, on the same pretext as in Trillanes’ case – an unmet (actually waived) requirement for her nomination for chief justice. The two continue to take on the Duterte regime with what’s left of their severely suppressed rights – De Lima through “communications” smuggled from prison, Sereno through pronouncements at civic forums.

Trillanes himself has no illusions. He knows Duterte wants him, like De Lima, locked up even before he is tried and found guilty. Up against a mad man indulged in his authoritarian presidency by a coterie of cronies, a subservient police force and a passive military, and a mass following of fools, he may have, if anything, grown fatalistic, but he is one tested enough to not go down without a fight. 

But what are the rest of us only too quick to profess righteous resistance actually lending to this moral fight? – Rappler.com

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