Is the president showing dictatorial tendencies?
OFF TANGENT - Aven Piramide (The Freeman) - August 11, 2016 - 12:00am

"I will order everybody in the executive department not to honor you."These were the words I heard from a dawn newscast yesterday. The declaration was apparently made less than 12 hours earlier. Standing alone, the statement sounded heavy. But as I tried my very best to digest quite dispassionately the rest of the pronouncement, I was roused, very rudely, from my bed. I could not believe that no less than the president of the republic made such language that could have come only from street toughie. 

President Rodrigo R. Duterte spoke before the elements of the Philippine Armed Forces. He was on a visit to the camp. In his address to the military people, he reacted to a stand made by the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, upholding the profundity of the doctrine of separation of powers, as all lawyers understand it.

It looked like the lady magistrate was disturbed by the so-called list of drug protectors in the hands of the president. President Duterte, read the names of men and women, who are cahoots with the drug lords. Many of those alleged coddlers are in the police and military service. There are elected officials as well as those no longer in position included in the list.

What took the goat of the Chief Justice was the revelation made by the president of judges. In our system of government, the Supreme Court has administrative jurisdiction over the personnel of the courts like judges. It alone, to the exclusion of other branches of government, has the power to discipline judges. Congress has no say on how to sanction. Neither has the president.

When President Duterte read the names of alleged drug protectors, he asked the policemen in his list to surrender to the head of the Philippine National Police. The operative word used was surrender. In more or less similar language, he directed those elected officials in his record to appear before the DILG. But, with respect to the judges, he asked them to report to the Supreme Court.

We like to believe that when the president ordered the surrender of policemen, he meant those suspected scalawags to submit themselves to the custody of the Director General. The word surrender has a specific term in law. It is for a person who has just committed a crime or against whom a warrant of arrest has been issued to bring himself to the custody of the law enforcers. In the very way the president said it, the legal concept of the term surrender had to be applied. There was a force of law that supposedly predicated the surrender order or otherwise, the ultimatum of 24 hours had no meaning at all.

The president, who is also a lawyer, knows that the judges, whose names are in his list, have not been subjected to any form of criminal investigation that resulted in the issuance of warrants of arrest. In other words, there was no compelling reason for them to surrender to anybody, including the Supreme Court. They were free not to see the Chief Justice. The 24-hour deadline mentioned by the president had no basis. It was as if it did not exist at all, never mind if it came from the president himself.

The chief justice had to uphold our fundamental law. It was, as it still is, her duty to make sure that our constitution is followed. Any transgression of our legal process falls within the purview of the powers of the Supreme Court. Is it not that no one is so high that he is above the law? Even the president, no matter how well intentioned he is, cannot just cut disregard the due process that is deeply inscribed in our charter. Chief Justice Sereno, when she issued statement like "No Warrant, No Surrender" was only doing her bounden duty.

I thought that the president only forgot his Constitutional Law and mistook the motivations of the chief justice immensely. But when he ranted against her, ex cathedra, with a veiled threat of declaring martial law, I began to conjure that he knew the constitutional blunder he committed, but did not relish being told of his monumental error. He wanted that the people would disregard the full impact of the Sereno caveat not only by pontificating at her but by threatening her with the massive power of the executive.

I am saddened to say that the president is beginning to show his dictatorial tendencies. His disregard of the spirit of the law only demonstrates that his priorities are not solidly anchored on the collective aspirations of our people as they are written in our constitution. How sad!

aa.piramide@gmail.com.

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