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Opinion

And the first shall be the last

SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. - The Philippine Star

The cornerstone personal liberties of United States citizens were not an original feature of their Federal Constitution. Freedoms of speech, exercise of religion, to assemble and petition government for redress do not appear in a Constitutional “Bill of Rights” the way they do in the Philippines. In the US, they came on board later, by way of constitutional amendments. 

There were two reasons for this initial exclusion: the guarantees were sufficiently protected, anyway, under the individual State constitutions. Second, the drafters were unsure of their competence to properly compose such an inventory of freedoms. What if important rights were inadvertently left out in their listing?

The absence of a bill of rights proved to be a sore point for several delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Hence, in the first ever session of the US Congress, they became the subject of the first amendments passed to the US Constitution. Since then, these popular freedoms have been referenced as the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. Ask any American what the 1st amendment stands for and he would quickly answer that it guarantees his right to express himself and his freedom to dissent.

The 6th amendment. The balance of his basic rights as a citizen are contained in the 2nd to the 10th amendments, basically corresponding to those appearing in our own bill of rights. Ask any American what the 6th amendment means and he will rattle off the bundle of rights guaranteed to defendants in criminal prosecutions: the right to a speedy trial; to be notified of the nature and cause of accusation; to confront witnesses; to have a lawyer.

Ask any Filipino what the 6th amendment to the Philippine Constitution stands for and you would likely draw a blank. If you call it Amendment No. 6, however, the older ones would know. This was, of course, the notorious means by which the 1973 Constitution vested Legislative power in the Executive. It was the provision by which the authoritarian government of President Ferdinand Marcos was given a constitutional anchor, the legal basis keeping it afloat even on turbulent waters of illegitimacy.

What’s the charge? President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is already regarded as an authoritarian leader. He is flattered by the label. His latest diktat reinforces this impression. He professes one day a disdain for loiterers, unleashing a scathing indictment of their motives. Within a week, thousands would be  rounded up by law enforcement officials. As we’ve seen, at least one of the luckless will never, ever loiter again.

Déjà vu. As of 2012, Congress had repealed the law penalizing loitering. This old, antiquated anti-vagrancy provision of our Revised Penal Code was decriminalized as it disproportionately targeted the poor. Corrective legislative action became necessary because a previous attempt to challenge the law – for violating a citizen’s freedom of movement – failed before our Supreme Court. Ok, fine.

Preemption. There are local ordinances that still criminalize loitering. But, with the national policy which repealed the same, there is a foundational challenge on the continuing validity of these issuances. The legislative power delegated to local government units (LGUs) is subordinate to the exercise of that same power by Congress itself. A repeal of a national policy is as much a legislation as is the establishment of the same policy at the beginning. Arguably, the congressional decision to decriminalize loitering means it is legal to loiter. And no LGU can tell you otherwise.

 Under the circumstances, therefore, the PRRD diatribe against ne’er do wells should have been treated by Albayalde and Co. as a mere opinion. There is no law to execute. But, as these impetuous devotees could not contain their fervor, we are now confronted with the specter of an executive department seemingly wielding the nostalgic Amendment No. 6 power, enforcing laws that no one has written.  

To some, a President overreaching into parochial concerns may not deserve the space given it in a national discourse. But the implications of these seeming innocuous actions on the great core principle of separation of powers is damaging, specially at this time when the Legislature is not the only department with which the Executive has tense relations. More so when there is a manifest proclivity to marginalize entitlement to these basic rights.  This is not something to be taken lightly.

Araw ng Maynila. Tomorrow, Manila observes its 447th foundation day. Manilenos have celebrated all week, honoring the City’s storied past and exalting its bright future under the leadership of President Mayor Joseph E. Estrada. Never before has the Country’s capital been this ready to recapture its place as talisman of progress and leadership. Manila has consistently topped the competitiveness rankings these past few years under the aegis of its Mayor.

Yet, all these positives were not enough to deter former Congressman Roan Libarios from suggesting that Manila is not automatically to be retained as Capital under a federal government.

There are intricate considerations weighed in selecting a Nation’s seat of government.  It is where the President lives and is the venue of most government offices. History is big. Manila as ancient city existed long before Lopez de Legaspi arrived on June 24, 1571 and claimed it on behalf of Mexico. For serving more than 500 years as the Nation’s capital, Manila has become synonymous with the Philippines.

Ayaw sa Maynila. Any move at this point to re-establish another capital must be supported by persuasive arguments. To develop a target area; to decongest Manila, etc. It is not enough reason, as Sec. Harry Roque implies, that the incumbent President is from Davao. It was never reason enough when the incumbent was from Bohol, Zambales, Pampanga, Cebu, Ilocos, Cavite, Pangasinan, Tarlac or the City of San Juan. 

Congress tried out Quezon City for a short 28 years. But it didn’t feel right. It never will if any other place were selected as the City is in our DNA. As the song goes: I keep coming back to Manila.

BILL OF RIGHTS

CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION

FEDERAL CONSTITUTION

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