By: Carmella Gaye D. Perez
University of San Carlos
“What makes a great nation?”
This question sparks a conversation that almost always leads to varying opinions. Some might say it is its government, the people in seats of power; or its laws representing the sense of order it pursues; or its people, the ordinary citizens that make up its population. Wherever this discussion leads to, it will always result to a difference in thought. But, this analysis is pointless.
There is no use in trying to figure out the exact formula of what makes a nation great because there is no fixed one. To make it so, entails the combination of the ideal efforts of all its elements—its government in true service to the people; the citizens, in power or not who work for the nation’s progress as much as their own; and its legal system that embodies the principles and values essential to its welfare.
The Foundation’s philosophy, Safeguarding of Liberty and Nurturing of Prosperity under the Rule of Law focuses on the third element, but of course with the indispensable roles of the government and citizens to accomplish it. To further elaborate on this, allow me to discuss the two main points of this philosophy.
Safeguarding of Liberty
Countless men and women, and years of struggle have been sacrificed to attain this ideal. History is evidence of these sacrifices, and while the actors and subjects may differ, the fight for liberty remains the same. At the end of the day, it is an innate quality of humanity to long for freedom—whether it is the liberty to make individual choices or the freedom of a country to rule its own affairs. Liberty was, is and will always remain to be an essential element of humanity such that when restrained without reason, it is but natural for one to oppose.
What is liberty? So many mistake this as the right to do anything at will without restrictions and limitations. But, this is entirely wrong. Liberty is the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s behavior or political views1. To state it simply, liberty is the balance between satisfying one’s personal wishes and decisions within the sound parameters imposed by the State.
While we may think that these restrictions completely contradict the meaning of freedom, it is important to understand that these are indispensable. Without these limitations, society would be in constant chaos because its individual members would continually pursue their own personal agendas without the consideration of others. In contrast, the liberty sought by the State is the balance of letting its members enjoy their individual liberty without unjustifiably infringing upon the liberty of another. This is the compromise that we must live with.
The fight for freedom has been a continuous cycle since time immemorial. Our very own country is a prime example. Dr. Jose Rizal did not become our national hero just because he was a gifted writer. He became our national hero because he used his pen to fight back against our colonizers. Apart from foreign oppressors, come 1986, the Philippines united to face a dictator. Filipino nationalism prevailed, and through the EDSA Revolution, our desire for liberty as a country was once again upheld. These usual examples, however depict a more general sense of liberty. We often see the “fight for freedom” through the image of a country longing for its own independence. What is often overlooked are the everyday “fights for freedom” of ordinary people.
An example is the rising era of feminism. Women had been refused the right to suffrage, unreasonably restricted on their type of clothing, denied equal pay for the same type of work and had even been forbidden to drive, just because of an inborn biological difference. Through feminism and the extraordinary acts of remarkable people, these manifestations of gender discrimination are slowly being addressed and resolved.
The continued eradication of racism is another example. Although a great extent of prejudice is still present among races, it is still a big step forward from where we were decades ago. It is unbelievable how much history of hate and discrimination exists just from the difference of skin color and culture. We may have a long way to go towards multicultural acceptance, but at least, majority of the world are taking the positive path towards it.
Another instance is the grown acceptance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/ transsexual, and queer community (LGBTQ Community). In the past, their unique sexual orientation very much contradicted society’s “men-and-women-only” dichotomy that such preference was even categorized as a mental illness. This led to such a long-standing struggle for these individuals striving for self-acceptance. Nonetheless, after years of this reality, they are now rising up to to become advocates for their own rights and privileges, challenging society’s viewpoints.
Lastly, another case of the modern-day fight for freedom is the widespread awareness about mental health. In some cultures, it has been considered a taboo to talk about mental disorders, and many of those who suffered from it were forced to belittle their battles. Now, we are not only able to destigmatize mental illness, but we are also making efforts to find solutions to these problems.
All these examples are existing manifestations of what it means to safeguard liberty. Feminism has enabled women to be free from the oppressive prejudice against their sex. The continuous breakdown of racial discrimination has paved the way towards a more harmonious relationship with other cultures and races. Acceptance of the LGBTQ Community has become a movement to allow these individuals a chance to truly experience their whole identity away from ridicule. And, Mental Health Awareness has become an awakening for all to take a proactive approach towards mental health as we are with our physical wellness.
In our constant efforts to seek liberty in these aspects, we must regard our legal system as tools to help us attain this goal. We must rely on the government as an ally. However, we must never grow dependent. We must always remain passionate to fight for liberty in the aspects that we are deprived of, not just for our own but for others, as well. Safeguarding liberty does not come after one victory but it is a collective continued effort to fight oppression that tears down this ideal. In the words of Dr. Jose Rizal, “Our liberty will not be secured at the sword’s point…We must secure it by making ourselves worthy of it.” Action will always be the solution; Indifference, the poison.
Nurturing of Prosperity under the Rule of Law
By definition, prosperity is defined as the condition of being successful or thriving, especially economic well-being2. There is this particular emphasis on financial progress leading to financial stability that begins with the individual further reaching the community.
The most basic index of prosperity is considered as the ability of one person to comfortably provide for his or her own needs, as well as that of the family’s. At the very least, the statutory minimum wage should be sufficient to support a modest lifestyle without sacrificing an individual’s most basic necessities. This is what States pursue—to reach that level of prosperity wherein it can assure its citizens with their essentials through capable governmental facilities and services. This can be largely achieved when individual prosperity is nurtured because this would lead to a more fruitful economy.
Accordingly, there can be no avenue to foster prosperity when there is an unreasonable restriction in individual liberty imposed by the State. It is pertinent for a person to be given reasonable autonomy to discover fields of specialty to enhance his or her economic status. With proper growth allowed and supported by the State, it is a mere consequence that economic progress will also flow in the society.
Rather than perceiving the State as an antagonist in economic prosperity, it should be seen as a partner towards achieving the same. Hence, it is significant to regard the interference of the State through the imposition of taxes, rigid application process for licenses, strict regulation of labor law compliance, among others as mere guidelines that help promote individual prosperity. What is sought after all is the balance of individual freedoms so it would not tilt society in uneven standards and opportunities. In the end, what the State envisions is economic prosperity across the populace and not just in limited classes of society.
This is where our country finds its weak point. Poverty is the ever constant social issue plaguing our country. Despite the influx of jobs brought about by globalization and technological advancement, it is still prevalent among Filipinos that greener pastures are sought in foreign soil. Filipinos, especially minimum wage earners, tend to escape the fate of unbelievably expensive healthcare, incompetent public education, substandard public infrastructure, and the inability to provide sufficiently for the family, found in our nation. These are realities that make it apparent that our country is not effectively nurturing prosperity.
Although the rule of law should be regarded as an instrument for economic prosperity, poor administration makes it a hindrance. Despite the government taking a major role, we must remember that nurturing prosperity is not a one-man job. We cannot simply put all the blame in our government. Everyone of us should use our resources and utilize our creativity to better our economic prosperity. It is a collective effort that springs from years of hard work by both the State and the people.
Some might say that they do not have enough money to go around to help alleviate poverty, but surely we are blessed with more than just that. While prosperity may be perceived as financial stability, it cannot simply be narrowed down to that. The word has so much more meaning. Prosperity is found in one’s potential that is uncovered by growth and learning, and maximized through belief in oneself; individual expertise that is a result of diligence and patience to develop it; and, passion that is relentless and overwhelming that becomes an inspiration for others. All these are hallmarks of prosperity that eventually may become the stepping stone to economic progress. True prosperity after all begins with oneself that spreads like wildfire to the rest of society.
The Balance between Liberty and Prosperity under the Rule of Law and our Role to Uphold it
While liberty and prosperity are the two main ideals that each society is adamant in attaining, these cannot be truly accomplished without another essential element— the rule of law.
Though the ideals of liberty and prosperity may seem to contradict with the essence of the rule of law, this understanding is flawed. The most harmonious form of liberty is when the freedom of one does not disturb the freedom of another without reason. This is how the rule of law plays its part. It ensures that in the exercise of liberty by one individual, another is not unduly violated. And, while prosperity can be easier attained without laws limiting its potential, it would inevitably result to a chaotic case in society where opportunities are unfairly balanced. The rule of law, thus makes sure that in the pursuit of prosperity, it does not only prove to benefit one class of society.
The Department of Justice gave a definition of the rule of law, as “a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights, norms and standards.”3 Apart from so, the rule of law also entails ideals like supremacy of the law, equality before the law, accountability of the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness, and procedural and legal transparency to be upheld.4 To state simply, the rule of law is the promotion of the laws properly enacted by the State for the general welfare of all people.
The general welfare of the people: the end goal of every effective government. It is often said that an ideal government is a government of laws, and not of men. This is why when the State through legislation, enacts laws, it is basic that the vision of these laws are only to promote the greater good of society. Hence, it applies to everyone in every situation it is applicable subject to reasonable exceptions. A basic tenet in the study of law after all is “the law may be harsh, but it is the law” or dura lex, sed lex.
The rule of law of a nation should display the essence of the nation’s values. It follows then that before a law is enacted, a strict process is done to really study whether every crevice of that law is fair, and more so, if it holds the ideals valued by society. The ideals of liberty and prosperity, for example are often regarded as high standards to critique a law. However, even more crucial than the law-developing process is what takes place after the law already becomes effective. What purpose will a good law serve when its constituents do not abide by it? Indeed, the value of a law cannot truly be seen when the community that it is supposed to serve does not accept its responsibility to follow. It will become meaningless.
As a law student, I have always believed that it is my obligation I owe to my country to educate my peers to be socially aware in relevant issues that affect our nation. Before a law can even be thought of, it takes one to first evaluate society and assess the weak points that may be corrected with a proper law addressing such. This cannot be done when the members in the society remain indifferent. This is what I aim to change in our youth today. I believe a voice that comes from the youth is best that can effect change among them.
I will use my platform in social media to address significant issues surrounding us. I intend to advocate for the awareness of the environmental conditions of the country, the dilemma of our young students in the public school system, the promotion of the online habit of verifying sources of information and rehabilitation programs of those with mental health disorders and victims of abuse. Also, I will inform my peers of their basic rights and privileges as citizens, and in turn, their duties and obligations. I will target my friends in the working class and enlighten them of their protected rights under labor laws. I will put my study of the law to use by informing others of this knowledge to create a growing population of informed citizens.
True freedom, which is the root of prosperity, can only be properly appreciated when people are aware of what they possess. I will make it my duty to make the indifference of societal issues a thing of the past especially among millennials. With the rise of technological advances, we owe it to ourselves to use these as tools to be better citizens. We start by knowing, by being aware. Then, with proper guidance and action, change will follow.
When I will become a lawyer, I aim to be accepted in the Public Attorney’s Office. There I will hone my potential and attend to those who need legal aid but are financially struggling. In the exercise of my liberty, I will choose this path that secures the liberty of another by protecting their rights under our rule of law. I will ensure that their freedom is properly sheltered to enable them to use it to enhance their sense of prosperity. I will serve their cause to the best of my abilities. I will accept my responsibility that as a member of the Bar, my duty is to serve the public by safeguarding their liberty and consequently, ensuring their prosperity.
While this essay emphasizes the Foundation’s philosophy more on the standpoint of one in the legal profession, it is not to preclude the applicability of this philosophy to each member in society. Liberty and Prosperity are ideals of a government. However, it is not exclusive to it. Every individual must also strive hard to attain and fully appreciate these ideals in their own lives. All while keeping in mind that true freedom and prosperity cannot be contained in one person. It is best preserved when all in the community experience them.
“What makes a great nation?”
History teaches us that the government cannot and does not cause the greatness of a nation. Its law alone, no matter how perfect, cannot cause it. Rather, it is by the little acts of greatness, the kind that inspires others, of everyday men and women who use their freedom, their government and laws to explore and unlock their true potential. The inner workings of an extraordinary nation, after all begin with the inner workings of an ordinary individual. It must first become a culture born by practice of one person that spreads across the community. This is how change begins. This is how you start greatness.
1“Definition of Liberty In English,” Oxford Dictionaries | English, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/liberty (accessed July 15, 2018).
2“Definition of Prosperity,” Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prosperity (accessed July 17, 2018).
3“Philippines Development Forum,” Republic of the Philippines- Department of Justice, https://www.doj.gov.ph/philippine-development-forum.html (accessed July 17, 2018).
4“Philippines Development Forum,” Republic of the Philippines- Department of Justice, https://www.doj.gov.ph/philippine-development-forum.html (accessed July 17, 2018).