Safeguarding Liberty and Nurturing Prosperity under the Rule of Law

By: Rexlyn Anne M. Evora

Polytechnic University of the Philippines, College of Law

When it comes to a question of power — trust no man, bind him down from mischief, by the strong chains of the Constitution.[1]


          With the dawn of the new administration, unprecedented radical changes flabbergasted not only the Philippines but also the international community. The feat for the long-awaited change has not been smooth sailing and has been facing criticisms and opposition.

          Since the current president waged his war on drugs, the number of drug-related deaths reached 1,916, out of which 756 people were reportedly killed for resisting arrests during police operations. Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairperson Jose Luis Gascon said that the scale or magnitude of the summary killings may be eclipsed by the human rights violations and atrocities during the martial law regime under former President Marcos.[2]

          While the citizenry focuses their attention to the war against drugs, bombing at a night market occurred in Davao City on the 2nd of September 2016, causing at least 14 deaths and 70 injuries. Militant Islamic group Abu Sayyaf reportedly claimed responsibility for the bombing but later denied responsibility, claiming that their allies, the Daulat Ul-Islamiya, were responsible for the incident as a show of sympathy to the group. Disgruntled vendors are also being considered as possible perpetrators.[3]

          The incidents, among others, sow fear among the Filipinos. It may be gleaned that once again, political instability, lawlessness, and egotistic schemes of various factions of our society are threatening our enjoyment of the gifts of democracy. Aside from threats against freedom is the interminable poverty of citizens in the marginalized sectors of the society. If there exists insufficient food and sustenance to the life of these people, the whole society remains in the state of unrest and economic crisis. True individual freedom then cannot exist without economic security and independence.

            As a Filipino citizen and a student of law, I am with the present administration in its fight against criminality and corruption. However, it is also high time that we exercise vigilance and proactivity in ensuring that the rule of law is being upheld.

Twin Principle of Liberty and Prosperity


          Liberty is indivisible and indefeasible and therefore, an attack in the liberty of one is an attack in the liberty of all. Prosperity is likewise a universal value. Hence, the poverty of some should pain the prosperity in us.[4]

          Philosophers from ancient times have supported the philosophy of liberty. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius defined liberty as “a polity in which there is the same law for all, a polity administered with regard to equal rights and equal freedom of speech, and the idea of a kingly government which respects most of all the freedom of the governed.” Thomas Hobbes noted that “a free man is he that in those things which by his strength and wit he is able to do is not hindered to do what he hath the will to do” [5]

          John Locke, a renowned radical libertarian, said that, “In political society, liberty consists of being under no other lawmaking power except that established by consent in the commonwealth. People are free from the dominion of any will or legal restraint apart from that enacted by their own constituted lawmaking power according to the trust put in it. Persons have a right or liberty to (1) follow their own will in all things that the law has not prohibited and (2) not be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, and arbitrary wills of others.”[6]

          On the other hand, John Stuart Mill, in his work On Liberty, was the first to recognize the difference between liberty as the freedom to act and liberty as the absence of coercion. In his book Two Concepts of Liberty, Isaiah Berlin formally framed the differences between these two perspectives as the distinction between two opposite concepts of liberty: positive liberty and negative liberty. The latter designates a negative condition in which an individual is protected from tyranny and the arbitrary exercise of authority, while the former refers to the liberty that comes from self-mastery, the freedom from inner compulsions such as weakness and fear.[7]

            In common parlance, the word prosperity is ambivalent. On one hand, prosperity signifies a happy state and refers therefore to notions of well-being, happiness, felicity and even beatitude. Such a definition evokes a state of being, an accomplishment rooted in the present. Prosperity also means an increase in wealth, the path towards abundance, opulence or success, and refers then to economic activity, its expansion, its progress. This second interpretation relates to the turmoil associated with material possession and its growth. [8]

          These two concepts, liberty and prosperity, are the gifts of democracy which must be safeguarded.

Safeguarding Liberty and Nurturing Prosperity


             The concept of liberty has resounded in a catena of decisions of the Philippine Supreme Court.  In Rubi vs. Provincial Board of Mindoro[9], liberty has been defined as the freedom from restraint under the conditions essential to the equal enjoyment of the same right by others. Moreover, in People vs Poyos[10], “Liberty” as understood in democracies, is not a license; it is “Liberty regulated by law.” Implied in the term is restraint by law for the good of the individual and for the greater good of the peace and order of society and the general well-being. No man can do exactly as he pleases. Every man must renounce unbridled license. The right of the individual is necessarily subject to reasonable restraint by general law for the common good. Whenever and wherever the natural rights of citizen would, if exercises without restraint, deprive other citizens of rights which are also and equally natural, such assumed rights must yield to the regulation of law. The Liberty of the citizens may be restrained in the interest of the public health, or of the public order and safety, or otherwise within the proper scope of the police power. [11]

          The balance between the exercise of liberty and police power is safeguarded by the fundamental law, our Constitution. Indeed, no one is above the law. All persons regardless of status, wealth, creed, political persuasion, and color of skin are entitled to the due process of law.

          It should be noted however, that the regulation of liberty is consistent with the upholding of the rule of law as the same acts as a shield and armor against the outrage to his rights[12]. It is not meant to put man in shackles but rather to prevent abuses of exercise of freedom not only by private individuals but more on the arbitrariness on the part of the government.

          The fight for liberty has been a lengthy and never-ending struggle in the Philippines. During this battle, Filipinos are proud to have won several small victories. We were freed from the powers of the colonizers including the Spain, United States of America, and Japan. We are credited to have established the first democracy in Asia and the Malolos Constitution is one of the landmarks of liberty in the continent. We have mothered people power revolutions to topple down an authoritarian government yet the fight for human rights is one story without a final chapter.[13]

          The endless struggle in safeguarding liberty and nurturing prosperity, indeed aside from being timeless, is timely. Long before the present administration, the reality of the violation of the civil and political rights remains unsettling and appalling. The continuous cases of desaparecidos and extralegal killing are only but a portion of the deafening outcry for justice in this so called democratic country.

          A desaparecido in its literal meaning is one who has disappeared, a person who has been secretly imprisoned or killed during a government’s program of political suppression.[14] “Enforced disappearances,” according to Section 3 (g) of Republic Act No. 9851, otherwise known as the “Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity,” “means the arrest, detention, or abduction of persons by, or with the authorization, support or acquiescence of, a State or a political organization followed by a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of freedom or to give information on the fate or whereabouts of those persons, with the intention of removing from the protection of the law for a prolonged period of time.”  “Extrajudicial killings,” as ascertained in a case law, are generally characterized as “killings committed without due process of law. [15]

          While victims of enforced disappearances and extralegal killings are separated from the rest of the world behind secret walls, they are not separated from the constitutional protection of their basic rights. The constitution is an overarching sky that covers all in its protection.[16]

            Aside from the political issue on liberty, poverty and inequality in the Philippines remain as challenges. In the past four decades, the rate of households living below the official poverty line has declined slowly and unevenly. Poverty reduction has been close to a standstill. Relatively, economic growth has gone through boom and bust cycles, and recent episodes of moderate economic expansion have had limited impact on the poor. Noticeable inequality across income brackets, regions and sectors, as well as unmanaged population growth, are considered some of the key factors constraining poverty reduction efforts.[17]

            In all these glaring and gloomy realities, the law profession has paved way to serve the people, to secure their liberty and to nurture the prosperity in our country. The judiciary, one of the major branches of the government, is quick to respond to the needs of the changing time. Laws and judicial doctrines safeguarding liberty are continuously tested to the limits. In addition, members of the Bar have become vanguards of the people through the use of legal arsenals and principled practice of law.


Writ of Amparo and Writ of Habeas Data


            In the Philippinesamparo and habeas data are prerogative writs to supplement the inefficacy of the writ of habeas corpus . Where Amparo means ‘protection,’ habeas data is access to information. Both writs were conceived to solve the extensive extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances since 1999.[18] On August 25, 2007, former Chief Justice Reynato Puno declared the legal conception of Amparo’s twin, the supplemental Philippine Habeas Data. Puno, by judicial fiat, proclaimed the legal birth of these twin peremptory writs on October, 2007, as his legacy to the Filipino nation. Puno admitted the inefficacy of Habeas Corpus, under Rule 102, Rules of Court, since government officers repeatedly failed to produce the body upon mere submission of the defense of alibi. By invoking the truth, Habeas Data will not only compel military and government agents to release information about the desaparecidos but will also require access to military and police files. Reynato Puno’s Writ of AmparoSpanish for ‘protection’—will bar military officers in judicial proceedings to issue denial answers regarding petitions on disappearances or extrajudicial executions, which were legally permitted in Habeas Corpus proceedings.[19]

Social Justice

          On the issue on poverty, our present Constitution has gone further in guaranteeing vital social and economic rights to marginalized groups of society, including labor. Under the policy of social justice, the law bends over backward to accommodate the interests of the working class on the humane justification that those with less privilege in life should have more in law. Social justice calls for the humanization of laws and the equalization of social and economic forces by the State so that justice in its rational and objectively secular conception may at least be approximated.[20]

             Those who practice the legal profession have become the protectors of the right of the people, especially those who are placed in an unfavorable situation, unable as they are to fully take care of themselves, at least, they have the political community to look after their welfare.

          Indeed, the strength of democracy lies not in the rights it guarantees but on the courage of the people to invoke them whenever they are ignored or violated. Rights are but weapons on the wall if, like expensive tapestry, all they do is embellish and impress. Rights, as weapons, must be a promise of protection. They become truly meaningful, and they fulfill the role assigned to them in the free society, if they are kept bright and sharp with use by those who are not afraid to assert them.[21] It is but a moral duty for every lawyer to be the grindstone of such weapon.

          As a student of law in Polytechnic University of the Philippines, I have been exposed in the community extension programs of the College as well as the Office of the Legal Aid. As an Apprentice, I have experienced speaking with clients from all walks of life, especially those who are underprivileged and marginalized members of the society. As my adviser in apprenticeship has shared with us, there is now a need for developmental lawyers. These are the lawyers who will not only solve disputes before the courts but rather help prevent such disputes. Aside from free legal counseling, educating the laymen, giving legal seminars to different agencies such as the barangay officials, women and youth organization on the laws which are pertinent to their sector has been a practice in the office of the Legal Aid. These include, among others, seminars on Barangay Conciliation, Juvenile Justice Welfare Act, Child Abuse Law, Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children’s Act. These measures may help disseminate information and promote awareness of the law and reduce unnecessary litigations before the courts.

          As a future member of the Bar, I have envisioned myself as a public servant. I dream of becoming part of the prosecution arm and helping in the administration of justice. Aside from this, I commit to impart every knowledge and experience I am to obtain to the future breed of lawyers by being an educator. I have been an educator for several years and it has always been my advocacy to be a catalyst for change, one student at a time.

          There is no exact end to these struggles. We, Filipinos, will continue to exude courage as we fight for our liberty. As an aspiring member of the Bar, I shall not remain a stagnant vessel. I shall keep this fire, this dream of becoming a vanguard of justice. Admittedly, my life may just be a speck or a fraction of all the valiant deeds of our past heroes and libertarians. It may just be a silent portion of history but I will do the best I can with this life, to be of use. The fight is against the most powerful enemy, apathy and exhaustion.



[1] The Government of the Philippine Islands vs. Milton E. Spinger,, G.r. no. l-26979 April 1, 1927

[2] Philippine Daily Inquirer,, retrieved September 12, 2016

[3]“Davao blast suspect identified, Bato says”. Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved 8 September 2016.Victims: 40 died and 70 injured.

[4] Puno, R.M. 2010. Supreme Court Printing Service.From Complacency to Contemplation to Commitment to Action. pp 458- 459

[5] Mill, J.S. (1869)., “Chapter I: Introductory”, On Liberty


[7] Westbrooks, Logan Hart (2008) “Personal Freedom

[8] Isabelle Cassiers. et alii (2011), Redéfinir la prospérité. Jalons pour un débat public, Ed. Del’Aube, 281p.

[9] Rubi vs. Provincial Board of Mindoro 39Phil704

[10] People vs Poyos, 143SCRA542

[13] Puno, R.M. 2010. Supreme Court Printing Service. From Complacency to Contemplation to Commitment to Action. pp. 457-472.


[15] Spouses Rozelle Raymond Martin and Claudine Margaret Santiago vs. Raffy Tulfo, Ben Tulfo, and Erwin Tulfo, G.r. no. 205039, October 21, 2015

[16] Secretary of National Defense vs Manalo, October 7, 2008. G.R. No. 180906

[17] 978-971-561-857-1

[18], National Consultative Summit on Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances Summary of Recommendations

[19], SC drafting writ of habeas data invoking right to truth

[20] Serrano vs Gallant Maritime Services, March 24, 2009, G.R. No. 167614

[21] Ynot vs IAC 148SCRA659