SESSION 6:
DEMOCRACY: RULE OF LAW AND HUMAN RIGHTS

  • What do you understand by the Rule of Law?
  • Government has agencies that ensure the rule of law, mostly included in the criminal justice system. We therefore think of law as punitive, punishing wrong-doing or crime. What do you think about the state of the rule of law in our country?

RULE OF LAW

Democracy ensures all citizens of freedom and equality. Equality operates for all citizens as a matter of law; citizens are free and equal in the eyes of the law. Meaning, the law is blind to all the other attributes that are unequally distributed. The law applies to all persons, those in power and those without official status, the rich and the poor, the famous or anonymous, the beautiful and the plain.

It is important for citizens to believe in the “Rule of Law,” as applying to all citizens equally. It can work only if the belief is widespread, shared by those in government and those who are ordinary citizens or the general public. The rule of law is a force for their protection, as it guides as well as enforces the checks and limits on the exercise of government power, the people they have elected to rule.

The law after all recognizes that the force of law comes from the “consent of the governed.” Thus, citizens must understand what they are being subjected to accept and to follow, knowing that there are limits to what they can be forced to do. 

If people do not believe the “rule of law” as limiting the power of government, those in power may more easily abuse the authority they hold.

It is the belief about the force it has that strengthens the “rule of law.”

Rule of Law is a political and moral idea that applies even to those who make laws (parliament or congress), or interprets laws (courts/judiciary) – so that legislators can makes laws only that are according the values that are embedded in the history, in the customs and traditions of the national community –the common law that serves as the bedrock of fundamental human values.  

Laws guide the conduct of an individual as well as groups, and when necessary, law should constrain them in what they want to do.  Rule of law holds all members to be accountable for what they do.

Law enforces certain obligations, such as traffic rules, respect for the property of another, payment of taxes – that require every individual to contribute to the greater good.

But more than these rules are the principles that evolve the achievement of the greater good — the guarantee of fundamental rights for all, rights that define and reflect the dignity of every human being.

On this, we refer again to the Constitution as the source of all laws.

DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS

The purpose of democracy is to create a society of equal and free persons. We can ask ourselves what will make us happy or content? Democracy recognizes the men and women are different from one another as individuals. Each has the freedom or seek happiness and fulfillment in different ways. The choice for democracy is a conscious one, aware that the paramount values of equality and freedom combine to encourage creativity, imagination, innovation; but also the will to work and the discipline necessary to attain a personally chosen goal.

The groups formed by men and women can also be immensely different from one another. Race, ethnicity, culture, religion, color. 

The glue that holds us all together is our humanity. Human beings all stand on this common ground.  They may be differ in personality, in the conditions of their birth, beauty and bounty. Cut each human being is as human as any person can be.

Our common ground: We believe that every human being is possessed of inherent dignity. And the dignity must be accorded with the same rights and freedoms.

There is something fundamental here, as suggested by the Magna Carta of which laid down a charter of rights and obligations for all, even when England was still ruled by monarchs. King John himself initiated the charter which obliged him as king to also pay taxes.

The Philippine Constitution states the principles that ground all laws, including the Bill of Rights, listed in 22 sections, that all persons should not be deprived of nor abridged, nor impaired  — from the fundamental protection of life, liberty and property, of abode, the freedoms of speech, expression, press and assembly; to form associations and unions; to more recently evolved right to information, access to public documents, free legal assistance, protection from torture, violence, threat and intimidation that would weaken the will, upholding due process in all aspects of the application of law on those accused of offenses and more – assuring these equally and universally.

The Bill of rights limits what the state can do in pursuit of its policies and programs. The constitution also creates for the Commission on Human Rights to strengthen the checks on abuse of state power against the people.

The constitution was drafted in 1986 and ratified by the people’s vote in 1987. The country had just emerged from the disruption of Martial Law and fourteen years of one-man rule when human rights were sidelined and ignored. More than thirty years after, we must ask how deeply rooted these principles have become in the national consciousness and how strong is the consensus to uphold them in our way of life.

It took some time for the world to recognize human rights as the natural consequence of our humanity. World history shows how revolutions toppled monarchs from their thrones.  National struggles gained their liberty from foreign powers. – events which produced the words that further defined the aspiration for the rights of man and of the citizen.

The experience of World War II taught humanity the need for all nations to recognize that they all belong to one human family; sharing the same human rights and principles of mutual respect in the conduct of international affairs.

International conventions now enshrine these rights and countries around the world have committed to respect the rights of their people.

1. Protection of the Human Life

2. Preservation of his/her Freedom and Dignity from Attacks from any source of power and from other members of society. 

3. Limitation of state action against any social group or other persons

The terms of the United Nations Charter of 1945 based membership on the expressed commitment to promote and encourage human rights and fundamental freedom for all without distinction as to race, sex, language and religion.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights advanced the gains in the political debate when it was adopted by the General Assembly in Paris on December 10 1948. More conventions would be signed to strengthen the commitment to the observance of rights in the conduct of war, including the treatment of prisoners of war and later the international convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.

The basis is a simple enough idea:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in the spirit of brotherhood.”

Government commits to fulfil the above principles and accepts the limits of what it can do. A president or prime minister cannot simply decide to do as he pleases. Around the world, despots and tyrants continue to rule through terror and war, turning on their own through torture, extra-judicial killings, genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Exploiting those seeking better lives in foreign places, new forms of slavery have emerged, human trafficking, taking advantage of the desperately poor people in search of a better life.

The promulgation of universal human rights by the UN has raised the protest that human rights are a concept of the West and can be applied only to their part of the world. And yet ancient codes have embedded these ideals in many societies in Asia.

This common ground can be consolidated through citizen education and through debate and dialogue.

In a democracy, citizens must commit to: 

1. Learn these rights as principles and values

2. Identify the responsibilities that come with these rights

3. Create and enforce ethical guides, codes of conduct in dealing with one another

The bill of rights must be articulated in a shared national vision, so these can make up the foundation, the common ground from which all laws, rules and regulations arise. From which we hope we can build a culture and a way of life faithful to these principles and ideals.


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