The President sees himself as a statesman with a near-impossible mission of steering the ship of state from a decade of corruption that destroyed institutions, consigned the citizens to continued poverty, and further entrenched our country’s reputation as the “sick man of Asia.” He has produced results, and can give us a list of verifiable accomplishments—the improved numbers of the economy, the reform of the budget, and the aggressive pursuit of the corrupt. He believes his politics is transformative, and therefore must be given the freedom to begin such transformation, at the very least.
This freedom to reform society requires an environment of rules that will not shackle his discretion. These are difficult times, and the Constitution’s commands must be given practical breathing space so the President may straighten the nation’s path. The Constitution is here, not so that its rules may be imposed on the people regardless of consequence, but so that it may be an instrument for their welfare. We can assume this was the President’s view when, during his recent State of the Nation Address, he demonstrated the DAP’s ground results with repeated exemplars of how this program actually benefited impoverished and marginalized citizens. This is his way of asking us to “go beyond legalism and return everyone to the big picture,” as Pangalangan has noted.
Given the President’s and the Supreme Court’s disparate anchors for defining what is good, we can, along the lines of one of Nery’s theses, see the Court’s constitutionalism as potentially undermining the President-as-statesman’s mandate. To be sure, this is not a conflict between good and evil, right and wrong, but an unfortunate though hopefully temporary disagreement over business models for interpreting rules—one emphasizes freedom, the other, constraint. This interpretive disagreement is at its most intense in the DAP decision because, as Nery sharply notes, it touches the President’s “core achievement” and puts an embarrassing dent on it that can be painfully spun by critics—“you improved the economy, but ‘violated’ the Constitution and ‘raped’ Congress”; “you reformed the budget, but accumulated billions for ‘discretionary’ spending”; “you went after the corrupt, but ‘bribed’ senators with public funds.”
Nery also points out that the Supreme Court’s vaunted legalism can again rear its head in the other legacy issues that will be decided by the Court, that are or will be known also by their acronyms—the Edca (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) and BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law). This is a matter of grave concern for everyone, and we can only hope that the leaders of our institutions can dig deep and find unity of vision at some level. The future is too important to be left to happy accidents of circumstance.
Florin T. Hilbay previously circulated this piece to his colleagues at the UP College of Law, where he teaches constitutional law. He is on secondment to the Office of the Solicitor General. His views in this piece are academic and personal.