RULE OF LAW: The Way & The Light

By: Julienne Therese V. Salvacion

San Beda University – Manila


          The sun has risen. The coffee is brewing. It is a brand new day and the newspaper is waiting. Flipping through the pages, catching the headlines, reading the columns and wondering: what is happening? Several sunrises ahead, the newspapers now are contained in the four corners of technological device where pages are no longer flipped but instead, scrolled up and down. Little taps here and there and the news would instantly pop out. Technology is indeed spectacular. It is amazing how what used to be imaginations are turned into reality.

          Today, the news of the world is literally within the reach of our fingertips. It is so convenient that you can read it anywhere. However, a consequence of this progress is that it can be made by anyone too. Sadly, the gift of technology has its corresponding dangers. Due to its lenient accessibility, anyone of any age with a computer and Internet can write the news themselves, without any assurance of its credibility. News articles spread like a virus. With just a single click, any article may be accessed by thousands of people. Here lies the source of the so-called “Fake News.”

          The Constitution enshrines a person’s right to freedom of speech, expression, and the press. No law can abridge this right. Be that as it may, this right is not limitless. Justice Velasco in Tulfo v. People of the Philippines eloquently penned, “the freedom of the press is one of the cherished hallmarks of our democracy; but even as we strive to protect and respect the fourth estate, the freedom it enjoys must be balanced with responsibility.” The Constitution has blessed us with the freedom to express ourselves in any way we can, to send out our messages, to make known to the world what we stand for. Corollary to this constitutionally protected right is the duty on the part of the citizen to exercise this responsibly.

          Every person’s right to an opinion is highly recognized, but this does not extend to the dissemination of false information. Fake news, as popularly known today, is the act of communicating spurious and untrue events and statements that people may perceive to be true. This is damaging not only to the people or institution subject of the same but also to the society who are victimized by this futile deed. People take advantage of this freedom while having a platform that is so boundless it is quite impossible to regulate. The cyberspace is so vast that it cannot be thoroughly filtered in such a way that only real news would be published and those which are not would be blocked.

          Prior to the infamous fake news, the Philippine legislators have curated laws protecting us from the arbitrary use of the freedom of the press and expression. In the Revised Penal Code, there are felonies like libel and slander that protect a person’s reputation and honor against the malicious imputations by others. In 2012, the Congress has enacted the Cybercrime Prevention Act to keep up with the speedy development of technology in order to protect the people from offenses committed online. The Philippine lawmakers have done their part. They passed laws to preserve the rights of the people and to shield it from any transgression.

          The freedom of the press is guarded by the Constitution, but an abuse of the exercise of this freedom is sanctioned by our laws. It is quite disappointing to see that it is the misuse of these rights which constitute the crimes and offenses. We have laws. These laws co-exist with our rights. These two must go hand-in-hand. One is not above the other. They complement each other.

          We have the Rule of Law. Liberty is embodied in our rights. Our liberties must be exemplified faithful to the rule of law and it is the rule of law that preserves our liberties.

          Vital to the Rule of Law are the legislations that it is composed of. The legislation is the heart of the Rule of Law. The Congress is given wide latitude of discretion in determining the particular subject matters of statutes and the penalties in relation thereto. However, such laws must not be baseless and unreasonable. It must be crafted in conformity with the universal principles of morality, fairness and justice. Laws should be formed in the interest of righteousness and for the betterment of the welfare. They must address the issues at hand to help cure a damage already done and to prevent another one from happening. It must be feasible and capable of being enforced. It must not be arbitrary because it particular set of laws we have that would yield a system that would guide the people in the exercise of their liberties; and such system must be sound. The country’s legislators are in the best position in making that ideal system happen.

          In conjunction with the laws enacted is the manner of its enforcement. Former Chief Justice Puno in MMDA v. Bel-Air Village Association Inc. emphasized that a government can only do an act when it is empowered to do so. He stressed that even though a public officer believes that his act will benefit the public and is consistent with the promotion of the general welfare, it still must not be done at the expense of the rule of law. No person shall be held liable to another unless there is a law that penalizing his action. The law enforcers cannot just punish a person for something that is not even sanctioned. They must not go beyond the words of the law. Anything in excess of what the law intended is in itself a violation. They must do their tasks as what the law prescribes and not as they please. They should put their personal motives aside and execute the laws as they are written. As enforcers of the law, they must respect the law.

          Equally important with the legislations and its enforcement is a neutral body deciding the merits of a case. The Rule of Law mandates that no person should be liable unless there is a law penalizing the same and when one is penalized, fairness and justice demand that he be heard before an impartial body by even-handed persons. The judiciary is tasked with the preservation of the law. It must decide in accordance with the spirit and intent of the law. The laws must be fairly construed and applied letting justice prevail. It is the duty of the court to liberate the people from the abusive exercise of rights and the erroneous interpretations of the laws. It is only with this guarantee against arbitrariness when a person can be considered truly free.

          It is the symbiosis of a sound law system, responsible enforcement, and impartial judgments when the Rule of Law can faithfully serve its purpose in protecting the liberties of the people against suppression and exploitation of the law. The Rule of Law is not a mere regulation of how one is to act or what should be done but it is a safeguard against arbitrariness by keeping us on the right paths and reminding us of the limitations of what can and cannot be done. The philosophy of liberty and prosperity under the rule of law signifies that the actions of man must be done with the Rule of Law always in mind. The Rule of Law, being an indicator of the propriety of the actions of a person in the society, is the key in upholding every individual’s liberty as we strive for progress in the country. These are not bits and pieces existing separately but are puzzle pieces forming one big picture, a prosperous Philippines.

          The Constitution granted us with several rights that we now enjoy as citizens of this country. Justice Chico-Nazario, in Makati Stock Exchange v. Campos, highlighted that a right is a claim or title one may assert and corollary to such right is the obligation on the part of the other people to respect such right. The duty to respect the rights of the people is not only lodged with the fellow countrymen but to those in office as well. Any abuse to the creation, execution, or application of the law is not only frowned upon but also absolutely restrained. This country deserves to have a government of law, not of men. Our heroes did not free us from the shackles of the invaders just to be further imprisoned by the mischiefs of our fellow Filipinos. We owe it to our heroes. We owe it to ourselves. We have to take part in the promotion of liberty and prosperity under Rule of Law in any way we can.

          Mother Teresa once said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” Being a 23-year-old student of the law sometimes would make me feel that I am in a position of limited sources to further my advocacy. I am neither a Congressman who could craft laws nor a Judge who could rule on the law. But I am a woman, with a clear set of ideals and a passion to uphold them and share it to the world. Like Mother Teresa, I will cast as many stones as I can to create endless ripples.

          With the prevalence of technology today, we are now given the opportunity to spread the word with just a few clicks and taps on the screens of our gadgets. There are several online articles about new laws being enacted and latest cases being decided. With the simple act of sharing these articles, we are raising awareness both towards the people in the field of law and those who are not. In that way, we are keeping them abreast of the laws and hopefully, guide them on acting in accordance with the law.

          As a student of the law, it is not enough that I understand and memorize every provision of the Civil Code or learn by heart every rule under the Rules of Court. I have to breathe the law and live the law. I will be a role model by simply acting in accordance with the law. I will lead by example. Furthermore, I will use the abuses and misuse of the Rule of Law as an inspiration to persevere in my studies and when I pass the Bar, do my part in rectifying the same. I will take active part in different discourses in school and use it as an opportunity to speak out and lobby on this advocacy. When people in power will visit the school, I would it as an opportunity to raise concerns and give them an idea of what our generation has to say. I may not be in a position of power but I believe that it is through these little acts that we accumulate our powers in bringing about change.

          Being a student of the law has also given me an opportunity to take part in spreading awareness. I have just been recently invited to give a talk before the students of a national high school in my hometown regarding cyber bullying. These high school students are fully aware of their freedom to use the social media as a means of expression but what they are ignorant about are the implications of the misuse of the same to their peers and the society. This December, I will use this as an opportunity to apprise these students of their rights and freedom to express themselves without causing any harm or hurt to the others. I will exert my best effort to make them understand that these rights are blessings but they are not limitless because they should not be abused to the extent of impairing the rights of the others. If we start from the roots, as early as possible, we can prevent the misuse from proliferating. Mahatma Gandhi said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” I hope that this shaking would be a good initiation in creating ripples of change.

          Finally, when I become a lawyer, hopefully in the near future, I will do my best to be an epitome of liberty and prosperity under the Rule of Law. I pursued law because it is the intersection of the world’s greatest needs and my deepest hunger. It is the world’s greatest need because despite the efforts of every country in striving for peace and unity, there is always that loophole that gives way for conflicts and misunderstanding. It is my deepest hunger because I do not want to feel helpless and lurk on the sides, watching it happen without doing anything. I have the strong urge to stand up and do something about it.

          When the stars align and I finally become a lawyer, I will uphold the law with my every movement. It is my dream to be a litigation lawyer. I want to appear in court, speak before the Judge, and defend my client. I want to defend the oppressed and be their voice. I firmly believe that this is the essence of lawyering. I will remain faithful to the Constitution and be sure to practice law in furtherance of it. In practice, I vow to only speak the truth and apply what the law provides without any circumvention. I will always behave in accordance with the law and do no act running counter to it. I will engage in volunteer legal work in extending help to those in need and to inform them of the laws that they have to follow and that will protect them. Should there be any contravention to the law, I will report the same beyond question.

          It is through this loyalty to the Rule of Law which will pave the way to responsible lawyering, having that serve as a protection of the liberties of my clients, myself, and the Filipino people. The country’s journey towards prosperity began since our existence. This is on going and is seemingly an endless journey; but that is the beauty of it. It is endless. It keeps going and changes from time to time. Progress is impossible without change. Prosperity is not about having to achieve a particular goal and ending with that; it is about moving with time, changing to adapt, and unceasingly striving to become better and bolder.

          The Rule of Law is the compass that directs us in exercising our liberties and the beacon of hope that inspires us as we traverse the path towards the country’s prosperity. It is, indeed, the way and the light.