Grassroots & Governance

The appointment of Lucas Bersamin as chief justice of the Philippines is yet another blasphemy committed against one of our sacred institutions, the last bastion of justice in our country. Let us be kind. In his inaugural talk to his people, delivered during the flag-raising ceremony, Bersamin betrayed his small-mindedness. The presidential appointment came at about the same time as when our national leader bad-mouthed the Catholic Church and its leaders in no uncertain terms. Rodrigo Duterte seems to be on a rampage, weakening institutions that help ensure a sense of justice, civility, and of right and wrong among our increasingly confused people. Even Filipino women, regarded worldwide as competent, kind and fine human beings — from nurses and nannies, doctors to musicians, artists and designers — are not spared from his insults.
Justice Bersamin’s voting record — which includes voting in favor of the burial of Ferdinand Marcos in the cemetery reserved for our heroes, and legitimizing Eduardo Cojuangco’s ownership of coco levy shares in San Miguel Corp. (allegedly because “there was no evidence that he was a Marcos crony”) — betrays degraded values unbecoming of the head of the third branch of our government. There is enough judicial evidence that Marcos deprived the Filipino people of what belongs to them. As retired Justice Conchita Carpio Morales said in her dissenting opinion on Cojuangco’s right to the coco levy shares because he was not a Marcos crony: “it was the biggest joke of the century.”
Duterte’s many outlandish, nay, scandalous public statements are constantly dismissed by his many minions as “jokes.” What, you mean to say our national leader is only joking when he asserts his power by downgrading institutions long-held as sacred?
Of course, in this age of disruption, where the world turns on its head with revolutionary technologies such as electric and driverless cars, ride-hailing transport, robotics, landing research vehicles on the planet Mars, and online shopping and banking, disruption can be constructive; and we ordinary humans must try as best we can to adjust and catch up (we super-seniors can be excused).
But what, pray tell, is the purpose of our president’s iconoclasm? Does he think about these things? Or is our national leader just an undisciplined, impulsive and immature person who expresses his subconscious bitterness in public, with no thought as to its impact on the national consciousness and value systems? Does he realize his responsibility as our leader to inspire and edify our youth?
This president makes no bones about fighting a bloody “war on drugs,” no matter how many lives (mostly among the young and the poor) are taken every day. Does he really think, despite his campaign promise to erase the drug menace in six months, that he can, in fact, end this scourge? Perhaps this is an area where he can come up with some really creative and disruptive thinking on how to rid our people of this menace without resorting to so much bloodshed. It has been said that if you keep doing the same things over and over again, and still do not succeed — that means you are a moron.
This president seems to be tough on those he thinks he can intimidate with his macho powers: Leila de Lima remains in detention based on testimony provided by convicted felons. He constantly declares that his constitutional successor, Vice-President Leni Robredo is not capable of handling the presidency. Patricia Fox has been technically deported. Journalist Maria Ressa faces multiple charges of tax evasion, following various failed attempts to get rid of Rappler.
Why is he so obsequious when it comes to the People’s Republic of China? He unbelievably avowed in public that we can do nothing to protect our legally certified ownership of our marine territories, even before China openly admitted its brusque, invasive actions. He openly embraces disgraced public figures like the Marcoses and Gloria Arroyo, for what reason, it is interesting to conjecture. Early in his presidency, he avowed his debt of gratitude to the self-proclaimed “appointed Son of God” the wealthy Apollo Quiboloy who was publicly disgraced by US Immigration authorities in Hawaii for violating US laws.
How do we counter these unhealthy proclivities and serious threats to our hard-earned democratic freedoms and way of life? Is there any hope?
There are a few silver linings in the sky. Court of First Instance Judge Andres Soriano stuck his neck out to dismiss the charges against courageous Senator Antonio Trillanes IV. Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, De La Salle University College of Law founding dean, has decided to run for public office despite the tremendous odds against senatorial survey leaders Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile who are still facing plunder charges; Lito Lapid, the Senate’s nonperforming member; and, who knows, the actor Bong Revilla, who has been incredibly acquitted of plunder despite all the evidence that should have convicted him. We have a confused electorate that does not know the difference between notoriety and mere fame.
As long as this administration stays in power, the odds get heavier against civility, justice, and decency. We need to mobilize what influence we can muster to strengthen resistance to the destructiveness threatening our value systems and our honor as a people. Every little bit of effort counts. We must protect what space is still left for democratic dissent.
Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and an independent development management consultant.