[OPINION] Should rule of law be an election issue?

This is a #PHVote newsletter sent to subscribers on May 10, 2019.

Hello, I am Lian Buan, Rappler’s justice reporter. I cover the lawyers of Otso Diretso and the progressive candidates of Labor Win for the midterm elections.

In a recent episode of Newsbreak Chats, our investigative head Chay Hofileña asked me: should the rule of law be an election issue?

Absolutely.

Every little bit of our lives and how our actions and the actions of others affect us have something to do with the law.

Our daily annoyances – like people cutting lines, traffic violations, and even not throwing our trash properly – are manifestations not of our disregard of rules, but of our loss of faith in them.

And it’s very understandable. There is the rule on continuous trial, which supposedly requires a case to be resolved within 60 days, yet that rarely happens, if at all.

A high school graduate is arrested without a warrant and held in custody without a lawyer, yet most move on without blinking an eye. Pressed why agents were allowed to let the required period for bringing for inquest, a person arrested without a warrant lapse, public prosecutors answered, “There’s no issue about that.”

But what are rules for if there “are no issues about that?”

Filipinos have lost faith in the rule of law being fair. 

And it’s not just this existential issue of whether there is truly justice. It’s the hard realities of expensive docket fees, the cost of having to appear in court several times – especially if you’re from a different province – and the exorbitant costs of photocopying documents for your case.

In some situations, it’s even about being turned away by the guards in the court house because you can’t afford a pair of decent shoes, thereby violating the building dress code.

These are little frustrations that have become deep-seated, and which form a collective disappointment about the justice system in the Philippines – a country we love, but has let us down.

So to answer the question again: yes, the rule of law is absolutely an election issue; in fact, it may be the only election issue there is.

In another Rappler Talk interview, my colleague Paterno Esmaquel II asked: should God be an election issue? They said yes.

But not everybody believes in the same God, or in a god at all. Not everybody believes in a religion or the concept of it.

But everybody should believe in the rule of law. Because when you do, morality follows, ethics follows, and equity follows. 

This is not just on us voters, but on our legislators most especially, too. Because when they believe in the rule of law, everything they do in the august halls of the Senate will be about justice. 

They will not lie, they will not cheat, they will not steal, and they will have at all times the interests of Filipinos at heart because, as the 1987 Constitution says, “The prime duty of the Government is to serve and protect the people.” 

So when you go to the voting precincts on Monday, May 13, ask yourself: Who will fight for the rule of law? Who will serve and protect me? – Rappler.com 

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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