Monday, February 20, 2012

Part 3 – The Sad State of Filipino Morality

A Question of Semantics

The stand of the pro-TRO senators is slowly revealing the obvious, notable being the statements of senators Trillanes and Guingona.

For Trillanes, would he still have time to regret “breaking an unlawful order” when the ramifications of his disobedience are far greater than the “unlawfulness” he wants to quash? And for Guingona, (to be blunt, his is truly laughable) his Ciceronian rhetoric is a classic trademark of traditional politicians: an appeal to pure emotions – stirring, yet sadly lacking in substance.

It makes one think of how elected Filipino officials truly are an apt reflection of society at large: the former, a mirror of the common citizens made artificially ignorant by the status quo to become ideal sheep (fit for slaughter); the latter, a reflection of the status quo unfairly perpetuating that very ignorance for personal ends. Nevertheless, serious matters loom ahead…

The turn of events regarding Ms. Tingson’s cross-examination and the disputed documents puts a question in the minds of all: can a thuggish act justify the motive for righteousness? Put simply, can one justify an error with another? If yes, where then is the so-touted “fairness of the law”, that not only should cater to the aggrieved but to the accused and convicted as well?

Dura Lex, Sed Lex?

No human society can exist without laws – more so with the institutions that enforce them. From the code of Kalantiaw to the Islamic Shari’ah, pre-Hispanic Philippine societies acknowledge the necessity of peace and order in the rudimentary laws they promulgated. Without them, their continued existence would be difficult if not impossible. And so it is with the Ten Commandments bestowed by God through Moses – not so much to enforce obedience to guarantee an afterlife in Heaven, but to protect man from himself. For the ancient Romans, the written law is a shield – to protect individuals against one another and against the awesome power of the state (Reid). One can academically discuss at length the necessity and indispensability of the law. Human history has shown its contribution to a number of known civilizations (except China, which shall be mentioned later). There can probably be only one gripe with it – its rigidness. Half a world away from ancient Rome, another civilization chose to do away with laws. Being an inflexible apparatus of the state, opponents claim it is unable to address countless exceptions in human relationships. A solid dependence on written laws can only give rise to misunderstandings – the contradictions or legal double-standards that plagued ancient Rome and other societies within in cultural ambit ever since. These opponents, the Chinese Confucians, ran their empire by putting their full trust in the innate goodness of its citizens – and that thought has persisted even today (which owes much to the cultural clashes in modern Chinese society). It is those contradictions – the exceptions of the law – that has brought many a dilemma in Philippine courts. As such, in the event of disputes, interpretations from both sides are relied upon then judged which is of greater merit. It is unfortunate that any human creation – even laws – has seriously exploitable flaws. As one can see, there is no perfect human law.

The Prosecution’s Gambit

From there, it’s the contradiction in the laws where the prosecution draws their premise: though the evidence was illegally obtained, but it turned out that very evidence was instrumental in proving an offense to be true, the ends justify the means.

But, can justice achieved through acts of overt vengeance be laudable? Must the world be seen – no, dictated – in black and white for due process to be utterly disregarded? To reiterate that previous question: can one error be justified by another?

Even if one sways public opinion and the courts to laud and give merit to such an act, does it still have merit when that very act has imperiled greater matters – like legally permitting violations of civil liberties and harming the national economy?

There is a popular folktale in Japan entitled, “The Forty-Seven Ronin”. But, before proceeding it pays to introduce the readers to some Japanese terms. Ronin are samurai (bodyguards, roughly speaking) deprived of a master or overlord (daimyo in Japanese) to serve for or caused to be withdrawn from a daimyo’s employ - the oft-heard “shogun” is the ruling military dictator of Japan then. In the tale, the ronin took vengeance against a daimyo who caused their master to be unjustly subjected to ritual suicide. In those days, ritual suicide – or formally referred to by Japanese as seppuku – is the mode of punishment for men of high standing in Japanese society. The murder committed by those ronin to cleanse their master’s shame put the Shogun in a dilemma – should these men be put to death for avenging an injustice committed against their master?

Under the principle of Hagakure, truly loyal samurai shall uphold the honor of their master even in his death. This principle, which the Shogun is also aware, befuddled his choice of verdict for quite some time. In the end though, the laws of the land took precedence. As it was to custom, the ronin – down to the last man – took their own lives and were buried near their master’s grave.

Who has the superior power now?

It is with the personal, biased interpretations of the laws that many get their misguided moral principles. Case in point are the biased interpretations of some people who are personally against Philippine laws permitting cousin marriages, as well as of US officials with religious leanings against the laws permitting stem cell research. In the former, misguided morals hamper the right of free will of others who choose partners that (though socially taboo) are permissible under the sound and verified logic of the law and medical science.* For the latter, prudish and ill-informed decisions based on murky, religious doctrines has put the lives of seriously-ill patients who stand to benefit from the fruits of such life-saving research.

As for Banal’s antics, it is obvious enough he acted out of vanity. Deluding himself to be doing the right thing, his myopia has seriously put his motherland’s economy on the brink of collapse. Being a public official genuinely guarding the public’s welfare it also means ensuring economic stability – assuring the people’s livelihoods or their employment maintains the integrity of the social fabric. Furthermore, he has permitted a dangerous precedent by satisfying personal political objectives at the expense of liberty.

It should have been in his best interests to permit free reign to the courts and not complicate their job.

And what of the equal footing between the Senate and the Supreme Court? Though many admit the Constitution is not that perfect, logic dictates that EVERY convicted citizen be given the right to appeal .

Even if the Senate get their way of being above the Supreme Court, that alone has precipitated a constitutional crisis itself – that of denying the right of appeal of a convicted citizen, a human right duly mandated in the Constitution.

Of Right or Might

Eventually, the prosecution will force into the minds of all the righteousness of the circumstances in gaining Corona’s bank documents. The exhortation to sway opinion in their favor borders on demagoguery, and not an appeal to democracy. The prosecution’s righteous stance has begun to alienate and disgust the masses. It is the most lethal of errors to employ the stand of righteousness when the public has been made aware it’s merely used to finish an ugly personal vendetta. Nothing can be more revolting than to use the noblest of social values to gain personal ends. Think of it as using open generosity with strings attached or to twist religious principles for sexual favors (as what Padre Damaso did to Maria Clara’s mother in, “Noli Me Tangere”). It is sheer irresponsibility to blindly work up emotions and bear them on the zeal of misguided principles.

At so it is that even the most altruistic of intentions where catastrophes arise. People with misguided principles are often the easiest victims of swindlers, or are those who can lead a nation into ruin – as Mao Zedong did with his “Great Leap Forward”. The crash program that was meant to jumpstart his nation into almost overnight industrial status has ended up causing hardship and starvation to his people. The Dot Com bust was also the result of wrong assumptions and misconceptions – and left many companies broken and ruined in its wake.

The moral of the story: well-informed decisions and temperance always pays.

*the website,, is a good introduction to the legal merits and scientific backing of cousing marriages and cousin romances

T.R. Reid, “The Power and Glory of the Roman Empire” ,National Geographic, July 1997
Dennis Bloodworth, “The Chinese Machiavelli”
Jonathan Fenby, “The Dragon Throne”
Stephen Turnbull, “Samurai Warriors”
Prof. Teodoro A. Agoncillo, “The History of the Filipino People – 5th edition”

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