The Abstract and Unrealistic Concept of the Rule of Law

By: Kenneth Glenn L. Manuel

University of Santo Tomas


          It has been demotivational – news, opinion of key figures, and public sentiment. To study law, an occupation which is already known to be heavy, is becoming more burdensome. The concept of due process seems so abstract; the concept of freedom, ungraspable. The checks and balances of the government could be just theory on paper, and the Supreme Court may not be as brilliant as the books portray. The government, the law enforcement, and the society envisioned in our law books – they are all ideal, but currently unrealistic.

          All of these seem to tire law students all over the country. Public opinion keeps bashing the Supreme Court. Top politicians keep saying things against long-cherished constitutional processes. Human rights defenders are likewise vilified and ridiculed. News outlets are all depicting events in transgression of what we study – and nothing seems to ever happen for these things to be rectified.

          For months, we have been witnesses to a bloodbath on the streets, to a crackdown on due process, and to disrespect of the governmental processes we thought were stable. Indeed, we live in an increasingly hostile world. We walk among the increasing number of people who disregard human rights. We hail influential people on national television who would break the law in order to achieve their selfish agenda, while we antagonize people who would fight for and defend our strongly precious liberties.

          Social media commentaries are replete with false views on human rights. Many would even consider a lockdown on their freedoms to pave way to an orderly society, similar to the perceived albeit dangerous quietness that the Martial Law of the 1970s has provided. Our government officials are even proud to state their lack of value for human rights. The rule of law has been associated with inconvenience, delay, and lengthy processes.

          This is alarming. This should be a cause of concern. Mothers and fathers of our generation fought for our freedoms; they marched on the streets to set us free, but here we are, opting to go back to the Dark Ages, to that lack of liberty, to that very place from where our mothers and fathers led us away. We are struggling to blow off the torches they gave to us because we think it is fire and it is dangerous, not knowing that what they gave is light to guide all of us.

          The rise of totalitarianism disguised as populism has never been as profound as before. Xenophobia is becoming a trend in Western democracies – we have President Trump in the United States enforcing a Muslim ban and planning to build a border wall; we have United Kingdom, now led by Theresa May, is making an exit to the European Union; France, after becoming the victim of religious extremism, almost elected a candidate who likewise espoused such populism. Such rise imposes unto us, people who are well-versed with the law, the responsibility to educate, to inform the populace that the rule of law is actually beneficial to everyone, that the liberties we hold now, if properly exercised, would lead us to prosperity.

          It is only under the rule of law that prosperity is attainable. It is when people have mutual regard over one another’s rights that we can achieve progress. It is when people respect the government, and the government respect the people, that we can work hand-in-hand. The rule of law is not a system to be beaten. The rule of law does not work for the advantage of the few and for the disadvantage of the many. The rule of law benefits, protects, and uplifts us all.

          I have a heart of an educator. Ever since I was young, I have always dreamt of teaching. Whenever a classmate would ask me about a particular concept, I would always try to explain things that I know. Whenever our college would conduct peer review programs, I always volunteer as a peer tutor. I am always excited when our teacher would assign topics for us to report about, and I make sure that my PowerPoint presentation would be the most brilliant my classmates will see. I also like crafting trivia questions; I have a weird proclivity for checking papers and recording scores. I remember when I was an elementary student, I would gladly volunteer to take the load off my teacher and check our papers for her, and return it to her with a summary of scores. My brother once went angry when I checked his assignment and placed the words “very good” in red ink, even before he is able to pass it to her teacher.

          This heart has landed me a job. Currently, I am an accounting instructor at my pre-law alma mater. It’s taxing – it demands me to be active, requiring the highest energy when delivering instruction and catering students’ questions. Considering that accounting is a highly technical and procedural subject, explaining a single concept can take an entire three-hour class. It is fun and fulfilling, but it is tiring, considering that I need to attend law school classes in the evening.

          Teaching is a profession of passion as much as it is a vocation of necessity, since my parents are unable to support my daily expenses and my expenses in going to law school. As a means of living, it is a little insufficient considering the effect of K-12 to today’s colleges and universities and the limited number of institutions hiring part-time instructors without a master’s degree. As a passion, this is fulfilling, for I always like to be remembered by my students as someone who has been instrumental to their success. I personally feel that their success is my legacy in this world. Just last year, I have seen my first batch of students march and take their diplomas, and the fulfillment is heartwarmingly different.

          For months, teaching has been purely to share some accounting knowledge – to help aspiring certified public accountants hurdle the tough board examination. I taught them well about the correct debits and credits, the proper computation of one’s income tax payable, and the critical considerations in auditing the financial statements of a company. To give meaning to what I teach, I emphasize the importance of paying the correct amount of taxes, of working in the financial word ethically, and of adhering to our sworn oath of professionalism. Although strenuous, to teach them these concepts are of little difficulty. These are textbook-based. These are long-established accounting procedures. These have been practiced by people in the industry. I have taken them during my days as an Accountancy days and have gained considerable mastery of them while preparing for the licensure exam. There is little trouble in browsing back through my notes as an accounting student.

          Teaching has gone so well. I eventually got used to my daily grind of teaching from the morning to the afternoon, and attending my law school classes in the evening. It was a 7:00am – 9:00pm whole day affair. I was thinking that the routine, although very exhausting, is going smoothly until student sentiment grew hostile, until misinformation became rampant, until the values we hold dear became threatened. You suddenly start to hear students praising the brutal and murderous crackdown on the poor. Amidst the indistinct chatter, there are a few blood-thirsty commentaries in support of death penalty. In a matter of months, Facebook and Twitter became trial courts, with faceless judges and trial by comments. As an adult, as a law student, as a person who has taken to heart his future oath as a lawyer, I started to get worried. It became an imperative. It became a duty to educators, to those with the capacity to influence, to bring light to the situation. I have to speak up.

          At this point, we spread what needs to be spread – the truth, the knowledge, the love and passion for the rule of law. In times when darkness abounds, it is up for us, the learned, the enlightened, to bring in the light. Everyone is scared; everyone is confused, but our quest for liberty and prosperity shall never falter, and we shall forever be staunch defenders of values and principles that keep our society civil.

          It is tough. We will be under fire. We will face a lot of criticisms for expressing what we think and know is right. We will be smart-shamed, accused of being a supporter of narcopolitics, generalized as part of a “yellow” propaganda to destabilize the government. We will be called names, names which we do not like – humiliating, detestable, dehumanizing. Our families and friends may even be caught in the middle of the crossfire, getting hit by some of the bullets. The attacks upon us are voracious, and for many of us, we might as well avoid the inconvenience and the humiliation.

          Silence is convenient, but silence is complicit. Paraphrasing a popular quote, when we are silent, we are taking the side of the oppressor. When we are allowing atrocities to be committed without our opposition, we are empowering the culprits. When the voice of rationality have their mouths voluntarily taped, we let irrationality reign.

          It is tough, but these times require us to be tougher. I have been questioned for being politically hyperpartisan when all I do is express a sentiment advocating for the rule of law. I have been accused of being too anti-government when I become vocal against extrajudicial killings notwithstanding my understanding of the noble end of the war on drugs. When all I want was the rule of law, the respect to basic human rights and dignity, and the good of all, you get branded as the enemy, the prideful, the destabilizer of our cherished country.

          The Preamble of our Constitution upholds the “blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equity, and peace,” and it is this document of paramount importance that I solemnly swore and am swearing to uphold. In my pursuit to become a lawyer, as the Supreme Court said in Businos v. Ricafort, I also become a guardian of truth and the rule of law.

          That is the educator’s burden. As educators, our jobs will not stop at the end of the cover of the book; our matter should never be limited to the syllabus. In so much as school curricula mold students to become professionals and to be experts in specific fields, this arbitrary set of subjects do not necessarily mold a law-abiding and law-loving citizen. There may be subjects such as Philippine History and Philippine Constitution; some schools may even have values formation and civic awareness, but these subjects are likewise confined within lesson plans, with quizzes and exams, resulting in outcomes that are based on numerical grades.

          As educators, it has become imperative for us to lead the younger generation to a better understanding of our laws. It has become part of our unwritten job description to fight misinformation and cure misconceptions out of our students.

          The youth is a vulnerable yet a critical group. They are vulnerable because they are the most immersed in social media – where wrong information masquerading themselves as truths abound. In social media, it is falsely assumed that virality and popularity equate to truthfulness. Like sheep on a herd, the youth tend to follow trends, with little consideration of its veracity or its ethical implications. The youth, unfortunately, can be easily misled.

          They are critical because the youth holds the future of the country. It is from this pack of hopeful individuals that the next professionals will arise, that the next government officials will be picked, that the next president will steer our beloved land.

          Imagine an entire generation without regard to the rule of law and which despises human rights. Imagine leaders declaring their abdication of our democracy, their plans of curtailing our liberties, and their exaltations of tyranny. Imagine all of this with no opposition – that all of these appalling words and abuses of power get all of the nods of compliant and passive Filipinos. We are spiraling downwards into this particular dystopia of our imagination, and it is up for us, educators, to save the Philippines.

          The task is huge. Never has it been more critical to educate than ever before. It is not only the lives of individuals at stake, but the destiny of our country as a whole. Misinformation is a tough enemy; preconceived biases fortify the opposition, but patience in adequately and clearly explaining concepts related to the rule of law coupled with parallel examples has always proven to be effective in enlightening the youth.

          Who would these educators be? Lawyers and law students enlightened by the law should pass their enlightenment to those who are clueless, to those who are misinformed. We are blessed to have the opportunity and the courage to enter law school, to sit in front of legal luminaries as they discuss important concepts. Others are not as equally blessed as us.

          Information leads to vigilance against abuses, to the responsible exercise of freedoms, and to the advancement of progressive agenda. Those who carry knowledge in today’s sea of false notions are now obliged to pass on this knowledge. We owe it upon ourselves, to our Constitution, and to our country. It may not be through a formal classroom setup, but person by person, lesson by lesson, we may be able to rewrite our seemingly dark destiny.

          It is from this noble mission that I find my motivation – my motivation to continue in my law studies despite the seemingly abstraction of the numerous concepts that I study. The books seemingly depict a functioning judicial system where errors are corrected and justice is properly served. The classroom discussions seem to rationalize the rights and the corresponding obligations given to everyone. The halls of law schools place the Constitution at the pedestal – a written embodiment of our progress as a nation. These are all ideal, but currently unrealistic. It has indeed been demotivational – news, opinion of key figures, and public sentiment – but when we think of the larger tasks ahead of us as law students and lawyers, when we think of the new roles unwittingly imposed to us by the times, when we think of the importance of spreading the knowledge and our love of law – it all becomes motivational, it all becomes a profession of passion – for our liberty and for our prosperity.

          These are all ideal. These are all currently unrealistic. However, this is not impossible; these are all attainable.