Monday, March 29, 2010

Trumping the law

This is my column today.

I have a suggestion. Let’s scrap Congress. Let’s save ourselves the time and the money in getting people elected into becoming lawmakers. Let’s get rid of senators and congressmen. What’s the point having them anyway when according to the Commission on Elections, the various political parties, the candidates running for various public office, and the many other people who have suddenly found reasons to pick on our laws as justification for their various transgressions, the reason why we are such in a mess today is because we have bad laws.

So forget about the chest thumping, the drum beating, and the efforts at self-promotion of our various senators and congressmen. Forget about the much-ballyhooed accomplishments—volumes of books about them—of the various sessions of Congress that have been convened. As the cliché goes, the fruit of the pudding is in the eating: We are now being told that our laws are poorly conceived, broad, confusing. In short, we have badly-crafted laws.

There are many examples from recent events that illustrate this seeming collective realization, but for purposes of this column let’s just focus on two: The Party-list law and the Fair Elections Act. If we are to go by the pronouncements of various individuals and groups who have run out of excuses and justifications for either their ineptness in implementing or their rampant and wanton violations of these laws, their actions are warranted because they can’t make heads of tails of these two laws.

I know. It’s enough to make one want to tear out one’s hair out and run around screaming like a banshee. We all know it’s really a cop-out because to begin with, they know and we know and they know that we know that there is no such thing as a perfect law. There cannot be a law that is able to address all possible situations and circumstances—all the possible minutiae that people can think of.

If this is the paradigm that we all embrace, Congress will never be able to pass any law at all—not that such as thing hasn’t happened yet since we all know certain measures have been rotting in Congress for years now such as the Reproductive Health Bill. Crafting a perfect law is not possible simply because despite the delusions of many of our lawmakers, no one is omniscient enough to be able to tell future events. Which is not to say, of course, that we settle for poorly crafted and mediocre laws.

All I am saying is that those responsible for ensuring the enforcement of certain laws should stop using the supposed gaps or weaknesses in these laws as justification for their inability to mete out penalties or punishments for those who wantonly violate these laws. As most Filipinos are wont to say, kung gusto may paraan (roughly, if there’s a will there’s a way).

This is the reason why I am aghast at the pronouncements of the Comelec commissioners around the supposed inadequacies in the party-list law. They cite defects in the law as bases for the fact that the whole system is spiraling out of control.

Comelec chairman Jose Melo even had the cheek to actually whine on public television that the law is not clear about what comprises a “marginalized” sector. It’s a classic symptom of denial. Recall that Melo cast the crucial decision declaring Ang Ladlad—the party-list of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people ineligible to run as party-list group because of well, his inability to see beyond his own bigotry. I don’t think there is a law that would be able to enlightenment Melo enough on what comprises marginalization.

The Comelec also cited defects in the law as the reason why they cannot do anything about the fact that certain people are shamelessly using the party-list system as backdoor to Congress. Unbelievable! They cannot disqualify party-list nominees who are clearly not members of the group they seek to represent? I know that we are in a democracy and that there are certain processes that must be followed—but surely there is something the Comelec can do to at least initiate the process of disqualification instead of just throwing its hands up in the air in hapless surrender.

As a lawyer friend of mine likes to say: “There’s always a law somewhere that can be used to nail someone down.”

If the party-list law is allegedly shot with more holes than a sinking ship, the Fair Elections Act seem even in far worst shape if we are to believe the Comelec, the political parties and even candidates running for public office.

Senators Benigno Aquino III and Manuel Villar, supposedly the top two contenders for the highest post in the land, have already exceeded the limits in terms of number of minutes of advertisement they can place in one television network. Candidates for national posts are only allowed 120 minutes of advertisements per television network. Both have already clocked in more than 120 minutes in ads paid for by their own funds (in the case of Aquino) or by their political parties (in the case of Villar). I know. This matter of allocating expenses to personal funds and to party funds is already anomalous as it is because we all know the juggling act can be done just as easily by anyone else.

Aquino’s and Villar’s camps won’t run out of justifications, of course. Or of creative ways to trump the law, that’s for sure. Repeat all together now: There’s always a way! In fact, both have already come out with ads that purportedly endorse a particular candidate so the time allocation can be charged to that candidate. Aquino’s ad endorsing Risa Hontiveros, for instance; or Villar’s ads endorsing his senatorial line-up. These ads are charged to the senatorial candidates even if it is very clear that Aquino and Villar are given prominence in these ads.

Many more candidates are using various real, inferred, and invented loopholes in the law to justify various transgressions. Many have started campaigning even before the official start of the campaign period claiming they were just “introducing” themselves to the electorate. This delineation is utter nonsense.

Most candidates are violating election laws on the size and location of campaign posters and streamers. The sad fact is that the law actually is quite specific on this and leaves no room for misinterpretation. Section 4, article 4.1 of the Fair Elections Act, which provides for the appropriate size of any printed materials specifically stipulates that printed materials whether framed or posted should not exceed two by three feet unless during and at the site of campaign rallies where streamers/posters or any printed material for that matter should not exceed three by eight feet. Still, candidates are coming out with justifications about how their campaign materials are posted by their supporters on private properties, etc.

The sad thing is that all these candidates are putting themselves out there as the best candidate for the post they are aspiring for. They are all running for the privilege of being able to take that sacred oath of office that basically binds them to protect and uphold the laws of this republic. They haven’t won yet and they are already shamelessly violating laws of the republic. When we come to think about it, they are already desecrating the very laws they aim to protect.


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