In extremis
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - June 20, 2020 - 12:00am

The government’s response to the pandemic and to the threat of terrorist action are the most vivid illustrations of the Faustian bargains they face in the effort to contain threats to our overall safety and national security.

Throw the baby out with the bath water; use a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The community quarantines and the Anti-Terror Bill have been depicted as draconian, brutal, excessive interventions. Well, COVID-19 and the scourge of terrorist action do require more than just governance 101. No nation was prepared for the scale of pharmaceutical pushbacks that the health emergency necessitated. Until this happened, you simply did not foresee a virus that could overrun an entire nation. As for the latest Anti-Terror legislation, it is itself a response to recurrent threats that our “normal” mechanisms can’t handle.

No price too high? There will never be an unobstructed path to negotiating that delicate equilibrium between governmental power and constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. We will always see scenarios where urgent, expansive action is warranted in order to do right by the greater number.

The Bayanihan emergency powers, for example, enhanced the Executive power to better deal with the COVID-19 crisis. This came with the virtually unanimous Legislative imprimatur. There had to be crackdowns on, among others, freedom of expression,  freedom of travel and even on the prerogatives of local governments as constitutionally recognized autonomous units.

While the great majority has swallowed the bitter pill, there continues to be pockets of resistance to the wisdom of the government’s health and economic measures. The strongest contra argument is the tragic inability to keep the virus at bay.

Prevention, not cure. Regarding the counter terrorism campaign, the previous statutory framework consisted merely of punishment after the fact. A more severe regime is called for to help deter violations before they happen.

Hence, the Anti-Terror Bill. When heightened need calls for immediate action, based on information available only to the executive and his security advisers, the interest of the many will inevitably be prioritized. Wide nets will be cast. This is what is unacceptable to defenders of minority rights. When legislation is preventive, arrests are speculative. The calculated sacrifice of liberties for the sake of national security is too steep a price in this context.

Counterterrorism efforts and respect for human rights are meant to be complementary. They are not mutually exclusive. And neither one is absolute. There has to be a middle ground.

Different lens. The usual separation of powers analysis in justifying the Bill is ineffectual when checks and balances have been utterly enfeebled. No scrutiny will happen when both the Legislative and Executive departments are dominated by the same political coalition. With the political branches abdicating their countervailing powers, it falls upon the Judiciary to help us navigate through the constitutional thicket.

It is tempting to imagine that things could be done better. It is critic’s luxury to second guess for they do not know “the great enthusiasms, the great devotions” of Theodore Roosevelt’s man in the arena. In times of crisis, the people look to leaders for deliverance. Leaders will not always have the correct answers. But we are not expecting perfection. It is enough to see a good faith effort to tick off all the boxes of the varied interests they represent. You don’t just lazily throw out the bath water or pick up the sledgehammer for being the easiest options.

Times they are a-changin. As we debate on what happens next, we have accepted that the conventional frameworks of governance have become irrelevant. Nobel laureates, Peace Prize recipients, scientists and celebrities, among others, have called for a “Don’t go back to normal.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s depression era inaugural address resonates now as it did 90 years back: “The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit. Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit.”

This is not to say that we yield all impulse of capitalism and surrender our economic fates to State direction. For market fundamentalists, this is the nightmare scenario. There is consensus that we should gravitate toward a recalibrated capitalism, one that doesn’t further widen the gulf of inequality. We all win when the poor don’t get poorer.

Speaking of nets. Today, we wish for spending habits to be revived all around. But consumption will necessarily be deemphasized in keeping with a culture of austerity. Philippine consumer spending supports 66 percent of GDP. Once it goes down, the economy contracts leading to a menu of consequences. The better version of capitalism is one  which spends more on safety nets. In times of crisis, the surest path to growth is to survive.

Messrs. Dominguez, Go, Salceda, Recto, Drilon, et. al. and even Mr. Roque, in his personal capacity, are all doing what they can to ensure the soonest implementation of the largest safety net, the Universal Health Care (UHC) law.  Quo Vadis Philippine Health Insurance Corp. Chair Ricardo Morales who bizarrely asks to defer the UHC for lack of funds?

Senator Bong Go: “if it needs to be funded by the government, then it will be provided. That’s really the central feature of Universal Health Care Law. It’s not ordinary medical insurance.”

The Boss. We extend our deepest condolences to the family of Ambassador Eduardo M. Cojuangco Jr. A giant in business, industry, politics and sports, his irrefutable contribution to nation building is etched in history.

Manong. Today marks the fourth death anniversary of Ambassador and Senate President Ernesto M. Maceda. Our family thanks all who shared their commemoration. We welcome prayers from those who remember him.

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