By: Rowell Nico S. Macalino
Ateneo de Manila University
“Liberty and Prosperity under the rule of law.” This sounds like a very vague and broad statement at first glance. But nothing is ever too broad, too vague or too insurmountable to fathom. For me, liberty consists of freedoms. Our everyday freedoms and liberty that we sometimes fail to realize as gifts that we have. Freedoms that we are so accustomed to that we fail to be grateful for them. These freedoms range from the simplest freedom on what to wear, on which restaurant to eat or even freedom to walk freely amongst a crowded sea of people to the most complex of freedoms like the freedom to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. These are essential freedoms that we have because some person believed and fought for what they believe human beings are worth and deserving of. And that idea is sometimes put to a side and never given its due contemplation. People have grown to become so entitled to what they currently have that they fail to give praise and thanks to their forefathers who gave them such gift of freedom. People fail to realize that at one point in time, that people of color were considered slaves and inferior to Caucasians. People fail to realize that once, the Germans believed themselves to be the superior race and that Jews were less than them. People fail to realize that once, a dictator ruled our country and curtailed most of the freedoms that we have now. But this should not be the case. We as humans have to cherish such liberties that we have now. This is essential because laws are created and mandated to either regulate, protect or even diminish these freedoms that we have. Every person has to know what they are worth and what their freedoms are so they can know whether the laws that they accept to be bound to are just and reasonable. A person will know the limitations and parameters of his freedom of speech if one is knowledgeable of the law. This on the other hand will let other people know when what they say already is beyond the ambit of the freedom of speech and is already violating the reputation of another person. The people need to know what their chosen legislators have deemed to be the limits of such right and what penalty, if any, will one have if one ought to have been considered as violating such freedom. Where then does this place the rule of law? Squarely in the middle of all of it. For one, the law will draw the line where a speech is to be considered libelous and this entails criminal law. Corollary to this, a person violating the law will have to be meted out a certain penalty if proven to have violated such freedom. Next, the violator proven to have breached such freedom as defined by law, will on the other hand be made civilly liable for damages done. Now the rules on civil law regulating on independent civil actions and quasi-delicts then may come into play. Removing such situation from the ambit of libel in between two persons, and seen from a different perspective, such freedom of speech can be glanced from the government’s point of view. If the government curtails one’s speech and is proven to not have been validly done so, then this falls into the realm of Constitutional law as a violation of the rights enshrined in our Bill of Rights. The point being is that the law will always be in the middle of all these freedoms that we have. We all live under the roof of one big community headed by our government. And for every home, there will always be different sets of rules and guidelines that the people must follow in order to have a fully functioning and efficient system and way of living. Thus, these freedoms that we enjoy are never unlimited. They are inherent in us as human beings but are never absolute. Our human rights can be inviolable, but in exercising such, we can never on the other hand be stepping on the rights of others.
Prescinding then from such understanding of what liberty is, then one cannot help but tie this with the idea of prosperity. What does prosperity entail? I personally believe that prosperity can be easily identified visually, but such is not its best representation. Easily, one can say that the United Arab Emirates is a prosperous nation because they are a powerhouse of a country in terms of its economy. A lot of countries rely on the oil supplied by UAE to run their own country, as oil is a very important resource. One will notice the towering skyscrapers like the Burj Khalifa, and the Ferraris and other luxury cars which flock its streets. Very easily, one can conclude that it is prosperous. But does that material wealth really signify prosperity? I beg to disagree. One can never rely solely on the measure of prosperity with wealth. Wealth is fool’s gold when we equate it with prosperity. And assuming wealth is considered a great barometer for prosperity, wealth does not necessarily equate to these material things alone. Prosperity then is what? Prosperity as the dictionary defines it is flourishing, thriving and being successful, which from my perspective is true. But again words like flourish and thriving does not make it any less abstract. Therefore, for me, in order to be prosperous, one has to understand that it is the product of our liberties—our freedoms which we enjoy every day under a stable and efficient rule of law. When a person goes to work, he then touches upon numerous webs of interplay. From a laborers’ prospective, the work he does necessarily redounds to the ultimate benefit of his employer. The employer then in turn pays for the worker’s job. The employer earns his profit and in turn keeps his business growing, subsequently keeping his worker’s job and perhaps even employing other more workers. This efficient and healthy relationship which produces a prosperous environment is a product of our liberties. The freedom of the worker to be employed on adequate living wages and the freedom of the employer to select his employees who are competent enough to produce quality work. But this can never be fully achieved without the laws in between. What did the law play in this scenario? Labor laws set the standard pay and standard working hours of the employee. This keeps the worker from being abused by the employer and at the same time provides a guideline for the employer on how to go about managing his costs and his people in general. The laws then ultimately balances these liberties in order to achieve prosperity. How did prosperity manifest in this scenario then? Prosperity can be seen on how efficient such working environment is. The worker goes home to his family with sufficient money for their sustenance while the employer goes to the commercial world with enough resources to compete against the rest of the commercial players. Both parties in the scenario come out as winners. But how is that possible? It is what it is for not without the nurturing given by the rule of law. One then can sense that liberty, the law and prosperity are all linked together. Prosperity is the byproduct of liberty under a just and proper rule of law. But does one stop then upon achieving prosperity? No, for the rule of law must continue to preserve it by continuously evolving and adopting to cater to the new liberties of the people. Once upon a time, internet did not exist. But nowadays, there are arguments by scholars that people have the right to access internet. This then becomes a liberty that has to be regulated by the rule of law in order to maintain prosperity within a nation. This is the whole cycle then of the liberty-prosperity-rule of law compendium.
How can you promote this philosophy as a student? How will you apply this in your legal career?
As a student, this philosophy may seem far-reaching and too abstract to reach. But everything is always achieved in small steps and it starts with ourselves and our families. Everything that I have learned so far in my law studies has given me a broader perspective on how I can make use of the law in order to promote justice. Back then, the law for me seemed like a fancy profession. Full of suits, barongs and court hearings with astute men speaking foreign sounding legalese phrases. But I have come to realize that there is no prestige in merely wearing barongs and speaking words like “dura lex sed lex”. The prestige really comes from the fact that lawyers are the very reason why some families remain complete, why some businesses flourish and why the nation is what it is now. Lawyers are the deliverers of justice. They keep the people’s liberties protected and at bay. They make sure no one takes advantage of any one’s misfortunes. They make sure those that need to be punished do not roam free unscathed. In keeping the rule of law and not the rule of man as the main principle that the people abide, then the lawyers maintain the prosperity that we have. But I’m a mere student and how then do I help achieve this philosophy? By merely believing in this philosophy and imbibing such in my daily life, then I start to take the small steps that help fulfill this philosophy. Because it will all start from one person’s belief and one person’s desire to achieve such philosophy. As a student, with the bare minimum of legal knowledge that I have, I can already start the ripple effect to help other people realize that this philosophy is the truth that people tend to overlook. If Martin Luther King’s I have a dream can impact so many people, then it proves that one man can make a difference. If people can see a man’s conscious effort and desire to respect other people’s liberties then it will not come left unnoticed. A simple example that I could fathom would be in legal aid missions. I came across a voluntary legal aid mission from my alma mater fairly recently. And as a student who was very enthusiastic with the legal knowledge that I have, I signed-up. But the night before the legal aid mission day, I received a message from my mother. She told me that our house maid, who practically raised me as my second mother, got herself and to her husband into a legal dispute with one of their family members. I was able to speak to our house maid, Ate Liezel. She sounded very worried. I asked her then how such dispute came about. Apparently she and her husband tried to pacify a relative who was drunk when he was about to get into a fistfight with a neighbor. But for some reason, that relative turned the table against them and complained against Ate Liezel and her husband for physical injuries. She was scared because she had 2 minor children at home who depended on them for their sustenance. When I heard of the facts, I told her that the case is fairly simple and that she had nothing to worry about because I believe that the opposing relative had little to none to pin them guilty on the case. But then she started asking me very specific legal questions, like the process and how it is in a conciliation proceeding and the like. Then I was dumbfounded because I have never been in one because I am still a student. I just then told her to keep her faith, and trust the truth because the law will protect her. That is then when I realized, how I will then be able to handle the barrage of questions that I will get in the legal aid mission from strangers when I myself could not help Ate Liezel with her problems. So I contemplated for a while and I made a stark realization—I did not fail Ate Liezel. In fact, I made her believe in the rule of law. Towards the end of our conversation, her initially very worried voice started to become calm. I was able to point out enough to her that the law is not a weapon that is used to destroy, but instead it is a shield that protects people and their liberties. I have made a difference. I did not yet need the privilege of being called a lawyer in order to promote the rule of law. I made some other people believe in the power of the rule of law. In that such will always protect the truth and keep our liberties where they should and maintain the balance that prosperity provides. If I then as a student can do this, then I believe as a full-pledged lawyer, I can do more to help promote this philosophy. I can always give specific examples on how I can fathom applying this in my legal career, but these countless examples are all anchored on one and the same thing—believing in this philosophy and ingraining it as early as today, then as a lawyer, this will become second nature for me and manifest in whatever I will do in my legal career. Keeping the rule of law as the primary guiding principle will help me in my practice and my vow to keep serving justice to people. No distractions, no temptations and no other questionable tactics can shake me and my belief in keeping the philosophy fulfilled. If I will keep the rule of law as the anchor to promote and balance liberty and prosperity, then justice will be served.