The Church’s Teaching on Law
Unlike the descriptive understanding of the social sciences, law is viewed by the Catholic Church and its theology in the normative perspective. It is seen as a norm that must be obeyed by people because it emanates from right reason and from the eternal law of God. Says the Universal Catechism of the Church: “A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of violence” (CCC, n. 1092).
Thus, there are two criteria for the Church to make law morally acceptable: It must emanate from right reason and it must be in accord with the divine law of God as revealed in the Scriptures. “The rule of law is the necessary condition for the establishment of an authentic democracy. For democracy to develop, there is a need for civic education and the promotion of public order and peace” (Ecclesia in America, n 56)
The principle of the “Rule of Law” for the Church means that the law is sovereign and not the arbitrary will of individuals. To achieve this in a state, the CST recommends that there must be a system of checks and balance between its three branches or powers: executive, legislative and judicial. It is preferable, according to Pope Leo XIII, that each of these powers be balanced by other powers and by other spheres of responsibilities which keep it within proper bounds (Centesimus Annus, n. 44). Without a strong check and balance system in the state, the “Rule of Law’ deteriorates in the country and the interests of the power elite and big business can dominate society at expense of the poor.
The “Rule of Law” in the Philippines
In the Philippines, the system of checks and balances between these branches of the government is quite loose despite the constitutional provision under the 1987 Constitution on the separation of powers. Ideally, the executive branch headed by the President cannot interfere in the affairs of the legislative and judicial branches because each of these powers is autonomous and supreme in its own sphere. However, the power to release of the national budget of these branches from the national treasury through Department of Budget and Management (DBM) is in the hands of the Philippine President. For instance, the release of the “pork barrel” funds or the countryside development fund for the pet projects of congressmen/women and senators needs the approval of the President, as well as the appointment of the justices and judges of the judiciary.
How can there be independence of each branch if the President holds the purse or control of the annual budget of the 3 branches of the government? Don’t we think it would be better if each head of this branch (Chief Justice for the judicial and Speaker and Senate President for the legislative branch) approves the release of its annual budget, not just the President? Or an independent constitutional body chosen through national election be created to screen and appoint the justices and judges?
The politics of “utang-na-loob” (debt of gratitude) can surely operate under this system. Those appointed by the President would more likely owe gratitude to him/her and would probably repay him/her directly or indirectly in the future. Thus, there seems to be an inherent structural defect in the current political law of the Philippines: Governmental powers are too concentrated in the hands of the President,jeopardizing the checks and balances system of the 3 branches of the bureaucracy to attain the “Rule of Law” as taught by the Church. This is probably one reason why the Philippines has been undergoing perennial crisis from one Philippine president to the other, almost all are accused of abuse of power and corruption.
To strengthen the system of checks and balances of these 3 branches of government powers, the Pope recommends “other spheres of responsibilities” to participate in the evaluating the performance of these powers to keep them within their proper bounds. Here, the Pope is probably recommending the participation of civil society and mass media in monitoring government affairs. Non-government organizations (NGOs), people’s organizations (POs) and other citizens’ groups and movements must be vigilant to prevent government officials from abusing their powers. The participation of these groups and the mass media in securing justice for poor victims of crimes, for instance, in high profile cases, is an illustration how pressure groups can help in preventing corruption and abuse of power by public officials.
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