“The rule of law and not of men” is one of those clichés at least two generations of Filipino politicians have used to justify anything from the declaration of martial law to the demolition of slum communities.

It was of course “the rule of law” that made Ferdinand Marcos issue Proclamation 1081, and the same “rule of law” that we see at work when the shanties of the poor are demolished to give way to shopping malls.

One would have expected this bromide to have passed into oblivion by now, together with hula hoops and vinyl records. Laws are after all made by men and women who also implement them; there is no such thing as the rule of law in the abstract.

If there’s anything the experience of this country in bad governance should have told us by now, it is that it is still government officials—men and women all—who have to either implement, ignore, twist, bend or break the laws they pass and/or are supposed to defend. The devil is in the implementation—which is why, despite its surfeit of laws, Philippine society’s essentially lawless.

The primary expression of this lawlessness is in the partiality with which laws, no matter how well-intentioned and carefully crafted, are implemented.

The Constitution may ban foreign troops from Philippine territory. But that hasn’t prevented the Arroyo regime from inviting US troops into the country.

The same document forbids the passage of laws abridging freedom of assembly and free expression. But government policy nevertheless allows the habitual dispersal of demonstrations with truncheons and water cannon.

There may not be a law abridging press freedom either, but any bureaucrat can cause the arrest of journalists at any old time on some charge or the other, the currently favored one being libel.

On the other hand, whoever’s in power can ignore the possible and even probable offenses of, and even reward, his or her loyal subalterns with better posts, and delay the implementation of the law for so long as it suits him or her politically. “The rule of law and not of men” is even less meaningful in these parts than that recently retired bromide, “the strong Republic”.

And yet only the other day there was Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye resorting to the same platitude before the media to justify the wholesale ouster of the Makati City government.

“This is a matter of the rule of law and not the rule of men,” said Bunye. “There is no political vendetta involved and hopefully justice will be upheld.”

As many people know by now, the Department of Interior and Local Government served a 60-day suspension order on Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado and the entire city council last Tuesday on charges that the city government keeps “ghost employees” in its payroll.

The phrase “ghost employees” refers to the names, real or imagined and sometimes including those of the dead, that some bureaucrats put in government employee lists without the owners’ actually working, so whoever’s responsible can collect their salaries. Common enough in the country of our torment, it is of course illegal, and among the practices the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act penalizes with stiff prison terms.

It is of course also possible that Mayor Binay has been padding Makati payrolls with the names of phantom clerks, messengers, typists, and whatever else. It is equally possible that not only his vice mayor but also the entire city council is in it with him. Even wider conspiracies have occurred in this country after all, the more recent example being the 2004 electoral fraud and its subsequent cover-up that involved a veritable legion of plotters.

But while a possibility—and all things are possible– the “ghost employee” charge is missing the bill of particulars Binay has demanded. Binay also has a pending appeal for a Temporary Restraining Order before the Court of Appeals.

The DILG—an executive department run by one of Mrs. Arroyo’s political operatives– suspended Binay and his entire administration anyway, thus inviting suspicion that the Palace did it to remove Makati from opposition hands, and to punish Binay for daring to allow anti-Arroyo demonstrations in his turf, among other acts of lese majeste.

The Binay suspension has naturally become one more point of unity among the groups opposed to the Arroyo regime, with personalities as diverse as former senators Francisco Tatad and Loren Legarda, former President Corazon Aquino, formerVice President Teofisto Guingona as well as militant groups expressing support for Binay and condemning Malacanang.

What was Malacanang thinking? That it could do what it did under the cover of “the rule of law” with no one seeing through the subterfuge, protesting, or at least concluding that it’s going after Binay as part of the crackdown on the opposition and legitimate protest that began last February? As things are turning out, the Binay affair could be one more miscalculation likely to reinforce the view that it’s not the rule of law the regime wants to preserve, but the rule of Arroyo.

(Business Mirror)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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