Politics distorting justice, democracy and the rule of law

Politics distorting justice, democracy and the rule of law Featured

Last of 3 parts

The three high-profile crimes involving former president Duterte, Pastor Quiboloy and former congressman Arnulf Teves, Jr. discussed in the first and second parts of this series form the backdrop for this third part. This concluding column examines the hypothesis that such cases, particularly as they involve powerful people and many similar ones, perfunctorily go through the wringer of our justice system impelled by political considerations, producing undesirable results inimical to the libertarian concepts we hold dear.

Drawing heavily from our Centrist Democracy (CD) literature (www.cdpi.asia), politics, in its classic but simplified definition, is a set of undertakings directed toward gaining power and authority in government for the purpose of influencing governance for the common good.
This column postulates how the practice of politics, good or bad, impacts concepts of justice, democracy and the rule of law. Simply put, our political practices distort all these.

But we will not go academically exploring in detail the classic thinkers and philosophers who gave life to these ideals: Plato in his work "The Republic"; Thomas Aquinas on the importance of natural law and the moral basis of legal authority; John Locke's social contract theory; Immanuel Kant's emphasis on the importance of rationality and universal principles in determining ethical behavior, influencing concepts of justice and the rule of law; and John Stuart Mill on the protection of individual liberties and the need for laws to promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number. These topics are best dealt with in-depth in some future columns. These original thinking titans, however, laid the groundwork for our understanding of justice and the rule of law, shaping the principles that underpin modern legal systems and ethical frameworks.

Desirable political practices

To put things in proper perspective and central to the practice of good politics, a menu of desirable ingredients should be included in our system of governance for those who seek political power through elective and appointive means. If a lawyer must pass the bar exams or dentist, doctor, engineer, chiropractor, or massage therapist needs to go through rigorous licensure processes to practice their professions, this should similarly be imposed for politicians vying for power in government — in addition to the ultimate consent of the governed through elections.

Prior to the choice of political leadership, clear mechanisms should be put in place to weed out those who seek political power solely for their own and their families' interests. ("The Olipolidyn impact on governance," TMT, April 3, 2024.) This necessitates in our system of governance the need for real ideologically differentiated political parties vying for legitimate political power to begin with ("Political parties — what we need are real ones," TMT, July 21, 2021), and these structural corrections must all be embedded in laws ("Amendments to the Philippine Constitution," TMT, Aug. 11, 18 and 25, 2016).

All these structural adjustments are necessary preconditions for what could induce good political practices, which should include, among others, transparency in government processes impelling proper comportment of officials. Mechanisms for oversight and monitoring compel public accountability for their performance — and transgressions of the same promptly penalized. This type of scrutiny minimizes conflicts of interest, holding them to high ethical standards and acting in the best interest of the public rather than for their personal gain. Fairness plays a major part in the promulgation of policies, with decisions made with consideration for the needs and rights of all citizens, regardless of their background or circumstances, promoting equality of opportunity, protecting minority rights, and ensuring that the benefits and burdens of governance are distributed fairly.

Good practices of politics gleaned from other advanced countries are both the causes and results of democratic processes where leaders are elected through free and fair elections, and where checks and balances are in place preventing abuse of power. More important is the establishment of strong institutions, a free press, and a vibrant civil society that holds leaders accountable for their acts.

PH political practices

A conundrum arose in Philippine politics during the decades of self-governance after our American colonialists bequeathed us a legacy of democracy and republicanism, which, to some extent, may not have even worked or been similarly distorted in America. Why, then, are our practices so dysfunctional? The subsidiary questions are all-pervasive: Where did we really learn our political practices? Was it endemic to Philippine culture? Was it simply adapted, or was it imposed? Or was it self-taught? Many have suggested a myriad of elements. Our political practices in the Philippines have definitely been influenced by a combination of factors, including indigenous traditions, colonial history, and external influences. The Philippines has a long history of indigenous political systems — the barangay and the datu-sultanate — which were forms of local governance before the arrival of the Spanish colonizers. During the 300 years of Spanish colonial rule, the Philippines was governed under a centralized system with power concentrated in the hands of the Spanish authorities. This colonial experience left a lasting impact on the political structures and practices in the country. The Philippines also experienced nearly 50 years of American colonial rule, during which time the country was introduced to Western democratic principles and institutions — superimposed over that of the Spanish/datu/sultanate tutelage evolving into political patronage ("The olipolidyn-polpat genesis," TMT, April 10, 2024). The American colonial period's significant influence on the development of the Philippines' political system includes the establishment of a bicameral legislature, a system of free elections, and a strong emphasis on individual rights and freedoms — all alien to the Filipino original system of governance.

In our more recent history, the Philippines has faced periods of authoritarian rule, most notably during the martial law era under Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. This period of dictatorship had a lasting impact on the country's political culture and institutions, reverberating to the present regime — the dictator's son. Overall, the political practices in the Philippines are a complex mixture of indigenous traditions, colonial legacy, and external influences. While some aspects of the political system may have been adapted or imposed from outside, there are also elements that are endemic to Philippine culture and history. The country's political practices have evolved over time through a combination of internal and external influences.

Resolutions to the conundrum

In a series of columns in 2023, starting with the Philippines' grasp of Western concepts of justice, democracy and the rule of law, we contrasted these with alternative systems, e.g., China's totalitarianism and various permutations of benevolent and autocratic regimes of Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea — to extract the best non-contradictory practices from these countries and adapt to Philippine conditions. The analysis was more than academic as concepts and practices in these countries have also evolved influenced by their own historicities — resulting in workable and successful governments.

Our conclusion was that the distortions in our brand of politics, justice, democracy and the rule of law can best be corrected by espousing one model that best suits the temperament, culture and the evolution of three other successful Asian countries: Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore ("Autocratic pragmatism — one final act," TMT, Oct.11, 2023).

It's high time our governance metamorphoses into autocratic pragmatism!

 

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