The Long View: A lapdog republic

A lapdog republic

By Manuel L. Quezon III

THERE IS THIS POINT OF VIEW THAT A PRESIDENTIAL proclamation serves to publicize the state of mind of the chief executive. President Macapagal-Arroyo’s Proclamation 1017 suggests a Marcosian state of mind. Lawyers have pointed out that the closing paragraph of the proclamation was lifted virtually verbatim from one of the most notorious proclamations in presidential and Philippine history: Proclamation 1081 of Sept. 21, 1972. Now, if there is something journalists have in common with lawyers, it’s an interest in precision when it comes to language: words, phrases, even punctuation, are not used carelessly (if one takes any pride at all in one’s work); and the use of sources reveals, clearly and beyond a shadow of a doubt, the political color of a writer. If you are a Marxist, you quote Marx, Engels, possibly Lenin and Mao; if you are a democrat, you quote Jefferson, Adams, Burke and Rousseau; if you are for non-violence, you quote Gandhi and the Dalai Lama; if you are a fascist, you look to Mussolini, Hitler and Marcos.

No democratically inclined president, and no lawyer working for a president insistent about maintaining democracy by the ways of democracy (to adapt a phrase from Cory Aquino) would even contemplate using the word “decree” in an executive issuance with democratic and republican intentions. And yet this is what Ms Arroyo did.

Proclaimed she: “[I]n my capacity as their Commander in Chief, do hereby command the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to maintain law and order throughout the Philippines, prevent or suppress all forms of lawless violence as well [as] any act of insurrection or rebellion and to enforce obedience to all the laws and to all decrees, orders and regulations promulgated by me personally or upon my direction.” Which might be fine and dandy except no president since Marcos has claimed the right to issue decrees; not even Cory Aquino, during the period of absolute power she enjoyed until the ratification of the present Constitution, was bold, careless, or crass enough to use that word. And yet, Ms Arroyo does: because her lawyers copied the language from Marcos, and the President, who presumably closely reads everything she signs, found nothing offensive with the presumption she can issue decrees, even in a democratic setting.

If you, the reader, are inclined to quibble with me about one word in a document, bear in mind that for writers, lawyers and readers-that is, for everyone who is literate-words are everything. Be that as it may, here’s an additional point.

The President’s personal lawyer, Romulo Macalintal, has been parroting a phrase to defend the President’s proclamation (regardless of the origin of part of its contents): “Presumption of regularity.” This is, indeed, something that accompanies all issuances coming from government authorities. It is also the weakest of rhetorical appeals-an appeal to authority.

When the government uses a warrant issued by the dictatorship to arrest an elected member of the House, 21 years after the warrant was issued; when a professor and students, who dare to exercise their democratic rights, and insist on doing it peacefully such that they take the trouble to dialogue with the police, are assaulted, rounded up, detained and questioned-only to be released without charges; when a newspaper is raided and its issue for the day prevented from rolling off the press; and then the government appoints military minders to watch over it while the presidential chief of staff claims, without batting an eyelash, that this does not constitute editorial interference; when the justice secretary and the head of the national police make pointed remarks that they can arbitrarily decide which media can continue to function (implying all media operates on their sufferance); when it is announced that a widow wanting to lay a wreath at the foot of the monument of her husband, and those who wish to recall their efforts to overthrow a dictatorship, all face the possibility of arrest or at least “dispersal”; there can be no presumption of regularity. There can only be a presumption of irregularity.

Fear, selectively applied, is the dusk announcing the more promiscuous enforcement of terror in the dark night that’s falling. Intimidation is required if selective official amnesia is to prevail.

Consider that Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim is said to have attempted to convince the AFP chief of staff to join him in withdrawing support from the President. The armed forces has said, in no uncertain terms, that in its determination of the facts, General Lim wanted to join ralliers and make his position known. As far as the chronology goes, this means a mutiny was contemplated by disgruntled military elements, and not a coup d’ etat. Withdrawal of support was what the President and her husband actively courted the leadership of the armed forces to undertake Edsa II; and while it is said that history is written by the victors, it must also be seen that she herself once encouraged what she now condemns.

But then, we are dealing with a government whose chief of police proudly proclaimed last Friday: “We have liberated Edsa.” From whom, you might ask? Why, from the people. It is a proud boast that Ferdinand Marcos once so badly wanted to make.

The Palace proclaimed a strange kind of victory: the kind that requires a continuing state of siege. It trumpeted the triumph of order and democracy-at the expense of liberty. It has substituted CPR, EO 464 and Proclamation 1017, for liberty, equality and fraternity. We are left with the bow-wow-wow, the yip-yip-yip, of a lapdog republic, in which Palace pets are all vying to paw and sniff at the Palace food and water bowl: and snarling at anyone questioning their position in the pack.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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