It is not realistic to assume that every single Filipino has read the 1987 Constitution, even if everyone is, under jurisprudence, presumed aware of the law, and the law is our government’s interpretation of the Constitution. Ergo, ignorantia juris non excusat.
For us living in a constitutional republic, this should actually be liberating. Rather than bearing the burden of defending our own rights as individuals, we submit to the Constitution and in doing so trust our government, in good faith, to make laws which uphold said rights, act to protect our freedom and defend our aspirations as a people.
What remains a critical responsibility for us citizens is to constantly maintain a sense of the natural law, which is a basic understanding of what is right and wrong based on our reason and human dignity. Not everyone may know the Civil Code by heart, but everyone is supposed to agree that forcefully taking what is not yours will always be wrong.
The Constitution was created to reinforce that sense of right and wrong such that in the event that we seek legal redress, the people who are in charge of interpreting our law and executing it will work together to stand on the side of what we consider as naturally fair and good.
The law then stands to interpret that Constitution, and to do that we have brilliant legislators who write these laws, as well as brilliant judges and brilliant lawyers who interpret that law.
These people are perhaps a little too brilliant. While the law seeks to in fact defend exceptions and the marginalized, there is a tendency for lawmakers to get too creative in thinking out of the box, even if that box is something as sacred as the Constitution. It is not uncommon for these geniuses to use instruments like the law to their advantage and feign defense of the Constitution when it is in fact a private and often Machiavellian interest that they are defending.
Thus the problem in upholding our legal and judicial system is not in substance, but in spirit. Justice happens when the letter of the law is promulgated and executed in the spirit of the law, and this spirit springs from the Constitution.
When you have someone in the person of Pampanga Rep. Arroyo invoking her Constitutional right to travel and abode then by letter of the law, she should be allowed. But there is the issue of the spirit of the Constitution, and it is because of this that a lot of bilious, but sadly unproductive debate happens.
Look back to the preamble of the Constitution and ask if the event of Rep. Arroyo absconding will contribute to the common good and the conservation and development of our patrimony – perhaps a patrimony of unforgivable injustice and a legacy of failure in public accountability.
It is beautiful that our law protects exceptions and the marginalized. Outspoken Atty. Topacio and the rest of Arroyo’s Praetorian Guard affirm this most especially as their client faces persecution. But the spirit of the law once again dissipates thanks to her defenders’ prowess in twisting truths and the primacy of her strategically placed allies in our hallowed courts.
The Filipinos know what is right and who has done what is wrong. No amount of legalese can reverse in our minds sickening corruption, a gross inability to account for extra-judicial killings and the overarching context of Arroyo’s nine years in power. Legal correctness does not equate compliance with naturally moral and ethical standards, ultimately reinforced by the Constitution.
Therefore, if Justice Secretary Leila de Lima rails against a ‘final and executory’ decision by the Supreme Court to allow a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the DOJ’s watchlist order on Rep. Arroyo and company, we ask ourselves if it is actually unconstitutional as Arroyo’s counsel says.
If it is unconstitutional for someone who is at last honorable and courageous enough in government to question the implementation of law according to what our Constitution stands for, she may prospectively face penal charges.
That is a frightening thought, because in order to uphold our definition of justice, we might have to revise not only our Constitution, but also the natural law.
That would not be too much to ask from people who deem themselves the experts in defending our aspirations as a people. They would know how to rewire something so profoundly etched in our souls. After all, power turns people into gods.