From Under This Hat: “Law should matter”, and be practiced to ensure democracy


(We give give this week’s column space to Benedict Solang, an Environmental Planner, on the discourse “The Democratic Space as Imagined in the Constitution”, given by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, at the University of Baguio, on September 10, 2015.)

The incisive discourse of Associate Justice Marvic Leonen at the University of Baguio (NORDIS, September 13, 2015, p.8); challenged the audience of lawyers and law students to “ have the passion and the courage to do right by our people.” The challenge is most appropriate in our Philippine context wherein “what is stated in law is not what is always practiced”. And this is because of the entrenched and reality of Philippine society where “the dominant social standpoint comes from the landlords and bourgeoisie compradors of the ruling class”.

Justice Leonen traced such ruling class control of Philippine society to as early as the revolutionary Malolos Congress that was dominated by the landed elites led by Emilio Aguinaldo, and where poor peasants and workers who composed majority of the Katipunan were marginalized. Even the appointment of Apolinario Mabini, as Chief Justice of the Malolos Republic was rejected by the illustrado controlled Malolos congress. Mabini championed democracy and he questioned land lord class domination of the Malolos congress as undemocratic, whereas majority of Filipinos are peasants and workers, and so with membership in the Katipunan that waged the Philippine revolution to end Spanish colonial rule. Apolinario Mabini did right during his time.

Because Philippine society has remained unchanged in being ruling class controlled – on economy, on politics, and even on justice; the challenge now by Justice Leonen for those in the practice of law to “do right by our people”, is ever more relevant and rings loud and urgent. Justice Leonen further asserts , “democracy is a dynamic project…and the product of continuous collective struggle for our rights and our autonomies”. He asks for “passion and courage to do right by our people”. And – “All this are necessary because of the poverty, oppression, and helplessness that many experience in our society”.

By our collective efforts of doing right, Article 2 Section 1 of the Constitution should not just be “imagined” but should have reality . This constitutional provision states that – “The state is a democratic and republican state. Sovereignty resides in the people and all authority emanates from them”. In practice, ruling class domination and control should be rendered inutile and democracy for the majority of our people should be given reality. Thank you Justice Marvic Leonen for your courage, for making a difference, and the challenge for others to do likewise. May your tribe increase.

This discourse from the establishment, an Associate justice no less, is a refreshing and wholesome engagement on progressive social change to truly benefit the majority constituents of Philippine society. Indeed until today, the revolutionary aspiration for democracy, sovereignty and social justice fought for by the First Philippine national democratic revolution in 1896, still remains an aspiration; even after more than fifty years of the Second Philippine national democratic revolution since the 1960’s that seek to pursue the unfinished national democratic Philippine revolution – to end all forms of foreign and elite ruling class control of Philippine society. As espoused for decades by the sustained national democratic movement; the Philippines is a pyramid society controlled at the top by an elite ruling class of landlords and comprador bourgeoisie, an unstable middle class of professionals/small business, and a base with the majority of workers-peasants-urban poor/un employed. The ruling class is in partnership with foreign capitalist monopolies in their plunder of the Philippine economy and resources, control and dominance of politics and culture.

It is a reality that until today, ruling class domination and control of Philippine society, cited as early as the Malolos congress, remains essentially unchanged. Thus laws for the democratic interest of peasants like agrarian reform, or for workers like contractual labor, and for indigenous peoples like the Indigenous People’s Rights Act; actually end up subverting democratic interests as these actually end up serving the interest of landlords, big business/corporate interests, and the State which is servile to these ruling class interests. The trapo and corrupt state is tolerated because it allows the interest of the ruling class and their foreign masters, to prevail over the assertion of rights of the democratic classes. While bureaucrat corruption would not be viable in a genuinely sovereign and democratic society, it flourishes in societies with bogus sovereignty and democracy; where social justice is also just rhetoric for those in power to perpetuate themselves. The challenge to “do right by our people” is a clarion call to stand by the interest of the democratic classes and sectors – peasants, workers, urban poor, women, youth, teachers, government workers, small business, indigenous peoples/national minorities, and others.

Another reality, as consequence of the pyramid structure and deep divide or class contradictions in Philippine society, is the on going civil war now for over forty years. It even flourished during the Marcos Martial law regime. Repeated OPLANS and targets by succeeding regimes to eliminate the New People’s Army have failed, apparently even including the present OPLAN Bayanihan of the Benigno Aquino regime. The war has inflicted human rights violations of extra judicial killings like the recent killing of Lumads in Lianga, Surigao ; and also the Ligiw and Bugati EJKs in the Cordillera in the recent past. There is also the continuing dislocation and havoc in communities as a consequence of military – para military operations, or encounters between the AFP and the NPA. Towards ending the civil war, the government (GPH ) and the revolutionary forces (NDFP) should pursue the Peace Talks by addressing the basic issues of Philippine society- sovereignty, democracy, social justice and people’s welfare.

Substantial articulation of core issues and challenge for action was initiated by Justice Leonen at his discourse on “The Democratic Space Imagined in the Constitution “, at University of Baguio last September 10, 2015*. This is a welcome engagement, and there should be more, as we all contribute towards genuine social change for a better Philippines. #


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