Ennoble, ignoble

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

We shifted our gaze upward last Wednesday in time to catch William Shatner & Co. catapulted at light speed into space. The Blue Origin sub-orbital capsule of Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos was hardly the USS Enterprise of Star Trek fame. It was far less sophisticated. But such is the gap between fantasy and real life.

And as with the ship, so with the crew. Astronauts have to be perfect physical specimens; with PhDs in Engineering or Science or a medical degree; otherwise, they could be pilots. Not even in science fiction would we conceive of a 90-year-old everyman ... becoming the man. More a space tourist than an astronaut, it was Shatner, the actor, and not Kirk, his fictional Starfleet captain, who was weightless in a rocket ship in outer space.

Having our eyes, minds and hearts opened to this profound and ennobling experience on what is proverbially “larger than ourselves” was a reprieve from the ignoble mania that’s been making us cringe these past weeks.

Candidates (for both president and vice president) disavowing the bona fide intention to run; candidates becoming the last to know that they would be candidates; candidates immediately denigrating each other with dueling measures of acrimony. With all the talk of the official colors of each camp, not even 50 shades could hide the true colors escaping from their own unguarded statements.

No pride of place. The most combustible in this litany has been the issue of acting as a placeholder for late filers. More than one are admittedly prepared to step aside in favor of more winnable coalitions.

The withdrawal of candidacy is a prerogative of every applicant for office. Like any race, only the determined get to the finish line. But Mayor Isko Moreno expresses a sentiment universally shared – the sense of betrayal; the disillusionment because of the brazenness of it all. He uses more colorful language. In essence, he says we are being taken for a ride.

We felt it immediately after seeing Senator Bato de la Rosa file his COC instead of Mayor Sara Duterte. Sen. Bato is viable as a candidate for any position but he is fooling no one by his filing, not even himself. He couldn’t even articulate his journey towards seeking the highest office. Neither could he deny that what animated him was not a sincere desire to serve.

The fact that the law allows withdrawal and substitution makes the argument against it futile. The legislative intention is good. But that does not insulate it from being used to countenance mockeries. The law also contains a provision on nuisance candidates.

“Any candidate for any elective office who filed his certificate of candidacy to put the election process in mockery or disrepute ... who by other acts or circumstances is clearly demonstrated to have no bona fide intention to run.”

Is this not a textbook definition of what we are seeing? Yes, we are seeing firsthand how good intentions can pave the way to perdition.

Delicate equilibriums. At showdowns between the great departments of government, invariably we are visited by the ghost of Old Hickory himself, US President Andrew Jackson. This American Lion is credited with having dared Chief Justice John Marshall to try and enforce a decision of the Court which ran contrary to the official position taken by the President. The famous throw down goes like this: “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!”

Jackson, whose portrait hung in former US President Donald Trump’s Oval Office, was remembered for his dare at each and every verbal assault by President Trump on federal judges stonewalling against his policies, especially on the constitutionality of his immigration bans. Where administrations record an average win rate of 70 percent of suits filed against them, President Trump prevailed in only 16 percent of the decided cases. It so roiled him that he would refer to the men of the Courts as disgraceful and as politicians in robes.

Trump’s unprecedented personal diatribes against the pillars of a co-equal branch is finding parallels in the latest Malacañang polemics vs the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, the one that has descended to ad hominem. Interbranch friction is inevitable in the context of highly charged power plays. Historically, however, debates would take the high road. The battles were always institutional.

Even Jackson’s beef with his adversary Marshall was a constitutional and not a personal disagreement. If he truly said those words at all, they were said privately. Publicly, the president kept his peace. Defiance was never on the agenda.

What rule of law? Respecting congressional power, if not the legislators themselves, is not subject to choice nor whim. Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, writing for the Court in Senate vs Ermita, referenced the appearance of department heads before Congress as mandatory. The US Supreme Court supplies the guidance on how we are to understand the congressional role: “It is unquestionably the duty of all citizens to cooperate with the Congress in its efforts to obtain the facts needed for intelligent legislative action. It is their unremitting obligation to respond to subpoenas, to respect the dignity of the Congress and its committees and to testify fully with respect to matters within the province of proper investigation.” (Watkins vs US).

The transposition of these principles to our shores has not been without incident. We are seeing a memorandum from the Palace deliberately preventing the bureaucracy from cooperating with the Legislature in the exercise of the latter’s constitutional duty. Those unnerved by the potential collapse of the delicate balance between branches have reason to be so.

The courts, in the end, are open to the questioning of congressional abuse or executive department folly in the exercise of its judicial review. If there is a justifiable reason for the Executive memo, the Court is in the best position to say. But this will first depend on the action taken by the Senate, on whether it will continue to ignobly forbear any action against executive contumacy or wake up from its slumber and ennoble itself to become the giant we know it can be.

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