The Fight of a Lifetime: The Fight for our Constitution, our People, our Democracy, and our Nation


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Human Rights Symposium hosted by the Arellano University School of Law Student Government


19 September 2017

          Greetings from my place of detention here in the Custodial Center of Camp Crame!

Magandang hapon po sa lahat ng mga kabataan, law students, student government officials, at sa iba pang nakikilahok sa pagtitipong ito.

Maraming salamat sa Arellano University School of Law Student Government para sa pagkakataong ibinigay ninyo sa akin ngayong hapon upang maipaabot sa inyo ang aking mensahe.

This opportunity reminds me of the years past, when I was regularly asked to speak at graduation ceremonies, particularly of graduating batches of law students, and even for oath-taking ceremonies of incoming Integrated Bar of the Philippines officials. 

In those days, without fail, I would speak about the nobility of the legal profession. 

About the difficulty, but overriding importance, of maintaining our personal integrity, even as we are deployed into, quote-unquote, the mean streets of the real world, and all the temptations it holds. 

About how we have to protect the primacy of the Rule of Law, because it is all that stands in defense of our democratic ideals, including liberty, equality, truth, justice, and a government that is accountable to the people, with public servants that recognize, respect, uphold and protect the human dignity and the inherent and inalienable human rights of their people. In simpler terms, the Rule of Law is all that stands between us and the powerful who use their power, might, wealth and influence to oppress, rather than lift up the defenseless and downtrodden. 

Ika nga, ours laws, based on the ideals that have been ordained and promulgated by the Filipino people through our Constitution, were meant to give those who have less in life, more in law.  Why? Because without what little protection the law and the Constitution provides, tatapak-tapakan, aapihin, pagsasamantalahan at dudurugin ng makapangyarihan ang ating mahihirap na kababayan.

We but have to look at how our Constitution was purposely structured, worded and given substance. The doctrine of Separation of Powers is there, where every branch is separate, but co-equal with one another – the intent being that they will serve to check and balance one another. It was envisioned to ensure that both the Legislature and Judiciary will be independent of the influence and pressure of the Executive, which has historically wielded the most power among the three branches. 

Part of the effort to protect the Judiciary is to ensure that its members are removal only by impeachment. 

As for the Legislature, it has been given the power of the purse, the power of impeachment, the power of oversight, the power to conduct investigations and in aid of legislation, the power of contempt and the power to give protection to resource persons and witnesses testifying before it, among others, to ensure the same.

Independent constitutional bodies are there, not the least of which is the Commission on Human Rights – which is mandated, among others, to investigate all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights.

There is also the Office of the Ombudsman, created to be both independent and powerful, in order to give life and talons to the tenet that public office is a public trust, and that public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.

Those beautifully, thoughtfully and carefully crafted provisions of the Constitution were not created out of a vacuum.  The wisdom that gave life to those provisions was hard-earned. They are the product of painful experience, and of learnings that were obtained from the bloody sacrifice of thousands of victims of human rights abuse during the Martial Law Era.

I know, as law students, you have been required to read our Constitution. But I also invite you to read the Closing Remarks delivered by Constitutional Commission President Cecillia Muñoz-Palma during the final session of the Commission back in October 15, 1986.  In her words, as well as in the sponsorship speeches of other members of the Commission, the spirit that gave life to the Supreme Law of the Land shines brightly and, yes, defiantly. 

I would quote, a short passage from those closing remarks at this point, and another one later. First, she referenced the remarks made by “the great nationalist”, Claro M. Recto, as President of the Constitutional Convention of 1935, who said that in order “to drive away all danger of anarchy as well as dictatorship, whether by one man or a few, it is necessary that both the government authorities and the people faithfully observe and obey the Constitution.”  Then, she added her own call:

Yes, we must be ready to defend and uphold this fundamental law with our lives, if necessary, so that never again will it be trampled upon and desecrated by men of evil designs.

Today, as we draw the curtain on the work of the Constitutional Commission, I make a plea to our people — judge not this new Charter for its imperfections and inadequacies, but rather judge it for the unprecedented measures taken to protect and defend our rights and freedoms, uphold truth, justice and the rule of law, to give a better quality of life for the working man, the sick, the elderly, disabled, the indigenous cultural communities who have long been neglected and abandoned. Look upon this new Charter as a giant step towards rebuilding our shattered democracy and regaining our pride and dignity as a free and liberated noble nation.

Reading these words, but two days shy of the 45th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law, gives me chills.

Chills, both of the bad and the good kind.

It is chilling to think that, just 30 years after we ushered in this new era of hopeful democracy, characterized by renewed pride and dignity for our humanity, we are once again at the cusp of a creeping authoritarianism.

An authoritarian rule that is shooting down, one-by-one, all the safeguards that protect us from abuse.

The Legislature, especially some members of the House of Representatives, appears to have traded in its independence in exchange for the benefits they can reap from currying favor from the old man in Malacañang.  A scenario that has played out once before, as Justice Muñoz Palma recounted in her Closing Remarks, when she referenced the “beautiful irony” of “the fact that this new Constitution was discussed, debated, and finally written within the walls of this hall which saw the emergence of what was called by its author a ‘constitutional authoritarianism,’ but which, in effect, was a dictatorship, pure and simple.”  The “hall” she was referring to is, of course, the Batasang Pambansa, which is now, doubly ironically, the home of the House of Representatives, which she described as once serving as “the seat of a combined executive and legislative power skillfully placed in the hands of one man for more than a decade.”    

Are we truly doomed to repeat history?

The Judiciary’s independence is also at risk, given that members of the lower house, by their vote that the impeachment complaint against the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is sufficient in form and substance, effectively sends a message to members of the court who would dare stand up against the combined forces of the President and his minions in Congress.

The Ombudsman is also under threat of impeachment, or an earlier ouster given the President’s baseless position that her term has already long expired.  Her term would soon end, but it appears that the President cannot wait to put his own man in the post – perhaps because there are revelations that he would rather not be investigated by a truly independent Ombudsman.

The CHR is effectively being sought to be abolished by that shameless vote to give it a budget of P1,000 for 2018. There are even so-called members of the Bar, who would obfuscate the issue and mislead our people by misrepresenting the mandate of the CHR.

Even some members of the Senate are under threat, including Senators Trillanes and Hontiveros. The first, being the subject of an ethics complaint that seeks his ouster – just because he objected to the initial failure of a Senate Committee to look into the allegations that a member of the First Family is involved in illegal drug smuggling activities, including the shipment of P6B-worth of shabu. The latter, being the target of planned harassment suits to be filed upon the behest of no less than the incumbent Secretary of Justice.

Even the powers of the Senate are being misused: with the power of inquiry, contempt and the giving of protective custody being used and withheld at the whim of members of the Senate, who appear to have other interests other than ferreting out the truth.  Comite de Absuelto, is it?

One by one the institutions that are meant to protect us are being shot down. Once they fall, who will be left to protect us? The common people? The poor, the powerless, or simply those of us who do not want to compromise our integrity and our commitment to the Rule of Law, Truth and Justice? We will be, once again, in the grim state of being under the grip of a dictatorship – worse, one that appears to be willing, and even eager, to sell us and our sovereignty out to foreign powers.

It’s a disturbing situation we are facing. 

It’s so disturbing because it is quite possible that the thousands of EJKs incidents we are protesting will perhaps just be the beginning. Kian, Carl and Kulot won’t be the last.

Worse, EJKs may be the least of our worries. Because what follows just might be the death of our democracy.

It’s a frightening and chilling prospect.

Yet, all is not lost.

What chills me, in a good way, is hearing news that there are still those who have not given into the false promises and the overt threats of tyranny. That it is the youth of today – you, my dear ladies and gentlemen – that are at the forefront of this fight, firmly shouting “Never Again!”, is what gives me the good kind of chills.

Do not cower.

But know that it won’t be easy.

I should know. Today marks my 208th day in Detention. I have suffered humiliation, persecution and violation of my personal liberty at the hands of this administration – simply because I spoke up against EJKs back in 2009, and am still speaking against it to this day; because I have been standing up for human rights for nearly 10 years now; because I dared make the wrong enemies by filing charges against the former President, and against the rich, powerful and influential people behind the PDAF scam, among others. 

Yes, I made enemies. But I know I did right. And that knowledge allows me to be at peace with my situation, because I know I am innocent – I repeat, innocent – of the charges against me. No number of convicted felons or perjured witnesses, lined up to tell lies about me, can change that fact. And if this is the price I have to pay for standing up for what is right, for retaining my integrity, and for fighting for our people’s dignity and human rights – so be it.

I join you and all the brave people who would not bowed, cowered or broken.

I, again, thank you for this opportunity.  It is a blessed day to be able to be one with you in spirit.  At times like this, I know I am not alone.

I just hope that the rest of our people and the other stakeholders are not too slow to realize what we are up against. Because the time will come, and it may be soon, when we will virtually be transported back to where we were 45 years ago.

In my hope that we avoid that, I wish to leave you with the words of Justice Muñoz-Palma, which is, unfortunately, as timely now as it was then:

One last word, the Constitutional Commission has framed a new Constitution with a vision — peace and happiness — for the Filipino people. But the vision will remain a mere vision if we the people do not give life to it by our deeds. We must live it and live by it. The final responsibility lies in our hands — shall the new Charter be a mere “rope of sand” that can be washed away by the strong currents of time or shall it be a rock, firm and indestructible, unyielding to forces of greed and power?

To this, together, let us answer: No. Never again!

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