West Philippine Sea

[OPINION] Presidential treason

John Molo

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[OPINION] Presidential treason
There being no 'war,' what can we do with allegations that 'secret deals' were made over the West Philippine Sea?

Treason. A word that has come to color the national conversation. According to the Revised Penal Code, this crime punishes “[a]ny Filipino citizen who levies war against the Philippines or adheres to her enemies, giving them aid or comfort within the Philippines or elsewhere.” However, the Supreme Court has interpreted the text of Article 114 such that a person can only be found guilty of treason if there is a “war.” 

This being the case, what do we do with allegations that “secret deals” were made over the West Philippine Sea (WPS)? What can be done when individuals with questionable citizenship or ties to a foreign power bypass safeguards and acquire political office? There being no “war,” can leaders who willfully compromise the nation’s interests ever be held liable?

If not treason then, there must be another answer.

Adverse state-owned entities have been allowed to acquire significant, if not controlling, interests in sensitive areas like power and telcos. At one point, they were even permitted to build within our military bases. Large swathes of fishing grounds in our EEZ have been decimated. Our rivers and beaches have been scoured by foreign dredgers. And as their activities disrupt rural ecosystems, the harvested sand is used to bury another national treasure – Manila Bay.  

Saan nanggaling ito?” exclaimed a puzzled President Marcos Jr when asked about the curious case of the mayor. He seemed genuinely bewildered about the supposed “secret deals” – as the rest of us are. Still, when it comes to the primary catalyst of the country’s present predicament, there shouldn’t be any confusion.

Loving China

This began with a president who publicly declared, “I just simply love Xi Jinping.” It gained momentum with his expressed desire to turn the nation into “a province of China”. Presidents set policy. And for six years, former president Rodrigo Duterte’s unabashed preference for Chinese interests trickled down to the entire bureaucracy. 

The tone set by Duterte served as a green light for those serving under him. How else do we explain the discovery that for years we’ve been sending several military officers for “training” and “education” by the same country that’s been bullying our ships? It used to be unthinkable for our elite forces to acts as “bodyguards” for businessmen. Now we have news that some of them have been doing so – for POGO operators. 

Must Read

[The Slingshot] Rodrigo Duterte created the POGO crimes and Alice Guo

[The Slingshot] Rodrigo Duterte created the POGO crimes and Alice Guo

Not every use of the word “treason” refers to the crime.

By common definition, treason is a breach of allegiance to the country by a person who owes allegiance to it. We should keep this in mind and remember that, as it diminished the rights of countless Filipinos, the Duterte administration opened the door to adverse foreign interests. While it unleashed an Anti-Terror Law upon students, nuns, and journalists for being “threats to national security,” it had no qualms giving access to our nation’s resources and critical infrastructure. 

When it started, Duterte’s pivot to Chinese interests may have seemed esoteric. The WPS seemed so far away. Not a few cheered Duterte on, several businessmen even raked it in. But now, the consequences have arrived at our own doorsteps. As POGOs swooped in to acquire properties in bulk, real estate prices surged to the point where even Filipino professionals (not just workers) struggle to find affordable housing. With each police raid, we learned how far the negative externalities of large-scale gambling operations have afflicted our communities. Even posh subdivision residents have been surprised to find police teams in their neighborhood who have managed to confiscate high-powered firearms and explosives. 

Must Read

Tracing the evidence: The gov’t raid that exposed Mayor Alice Guo’s link to POGOs

Tracing the evidence: The gov’t raid that exposed Mayor Alice Guo’s link to POGOs

If not treason, then how do we make right the damage the nation has suffered? To call this “graft” or “corruption” feels grossly inadequate. Not even “plunder” gives it the right character. And yet by law, none of these acts qualify as treason. We must give an answer. 

 “You have a beautiful country but your leaders are cheap,” whispered one person I met on the sidelines of a lecture delivered by retired senior Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio in Stanford University to defend the WPS. I parried the comment but recognized his point. Since the time of the Spanish, we’ve had leaders eager to bargain away our nation and freedoms for a few pieces of silver. This weakness is no secret to those who seek to exploit or invade. A million dollars, or even ten, is measly to international powers but, in this country, it produces miracles. 

Treason. No president, or other modern leader has been convicted of this crime.

But, if not treason, then there must be something else. We have too many Digongs, when what we need are more Carpios. With our sluggish legal system, the incentives for betrayal outweigh the imperatives of patriotism. This country has lost too much as it is. If we don’t learn our lesson by holding those responsible to account, then the same people who compromised this nation might end up in power once again. – Rappler.com

John Molo teaches Constitutional Law. He chairs the political law cluster of UP Law, is the Editor-in-Chief of the IBP Journal and is a Trustee of the Philippine Bar Association. He is a past president of the Harvard Law School Alumni Association of the Philippines.  

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!