I didn’t think I’d ever have any misgivings with democracy.
Even if the ambush on Juan Ponce Enrile had been real, the handiwork of communists, and not, as was in fact the case, stage-managed by Enrile himself to give Ferdinand Marcos his pretext for declaring martial law, it wouldn’t have entered my mind at all that it might be time to rethink democracy. I thought, and still think, that, despite all its vulnerabilities, democracy suits everyone.
I have found my most concrete —and heart-rending—validation and reassurance in the Bantayog ng Kagitingan, the wall of heroes in which the names of the martyrs of martial law are inscribed. And Ferdinand Jr. (Bongbong) simply has to be told, and told again and again, until he comes out of his contrived blindnesses and amnesia, that, first, those are names of real people, not names randomly lifted from some directory, as is the fashionable trick; second, that the least he owes them and their orphans is the apology he continues to withhold on some hypocritical sense of principle.
Now he is himself in the Senate, instead of prison, and aspiring yet to higher office. But, again, not even his and his family’s speedy political rehabilitation—Mommy Meldy sits in Congress, and Manang Imee is their province’s governor—could shake my faith. Martial law may well have been a mere fluke, some sort of rare viral infection of democracy, though a debilitating and long-festering one—14 years!
What I find truly dreadful is the challenge posed persistently by poisonous plots cooked up in our own democratic kitchen, then served up promoted as something good for us all. It’s a challenge that comes gift-wrapped in the cardinal democratic principle of the rule of the majority. It tells us it is in numbers that people power lies. Its practical details unexamined for the devil that resides in them, democracy may look like a popularity contest indeed. But, of course, it shouldn’t be; in the very least it is meant to be reasonable.
And reasonableness happens to be the one thing in which the challenge is precisely deficient. It has the numbers all right, but even those numbers are dubious. In one case they represent a herd vote, manipulated, cowboy-driven, as it were; in another case the numbers make for an arbitrary vote, one that ironically derives its force from the supreme position democracy itself has assigned it. As happens, a show of force has been lately mounted in all its fraudulent glory in both cases.
Figuring in the first case was the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), a locally bred Christian sect known for its command electoral vote. Convulsed by intramurals that had escaped into public notice and led to grave charges—forcible detention is one—being filed with the civil authorities against some of its top leaders, the normally secretive INC herded thousands of its faithful out on the streets of the city on an implausible notion of the constitutional precept of separation of church and state, a notion that tends to stretch the precept to the ludicrous point of stopping the workings of criminal justice at the INC’s doorsteps.
The opportune moment not lost on them, politicians looking to next year’s national elections—Binay, Poe, Duterte and Escudero, among others—joined the herd, if not right there on the streets, in spirit, but joined it so unreservedly they looked like instant converts and public servants on convenient leave, with no sympathy at all for the public that their new comrades in both faith and politics dislodged from the public streets, harassed, and deprived of its simple right to commute, let alone to commute in peace.
It was the second time actually that INC disrupted commuter life over the same issue. Very shortly before that, it had collected its flock in its new amphitheater just off the north expressway, appropriating a critical section of it as a car park and jamming all traffic from that point in consequence.
Small but even more terrible
Where INC needs a public show and a cast of thousands, the Supreme Court, on the other hand, need neither go out of its comfortable chambers nor enlist anyone else; it needs only a majority to give its edicts the ultimate force of law. In its case the danger lies in that it has a sitting majority, in that sense a sort of herd itself.
It is definitely not the majority democracy intends, which is a majority that sits all right, but forms itself around every issue brought to it, as it is bought to it, for resolution, and does so independent-mindedly, without predisposition, and on principle. It may assert its own power on mere paper, but it packs a force INC’s own cannot even remotely compare with: Supreme Court decisions carry on and on, riding on their own irrepressible momentum as legal precedents, no matter if arbitrary.
And never has such arbitrariness been more egregious than in its ruling granting bail in a crime in which the indictee is precisely denied bail by law. The ruling is lavish in its anomaly: It has no law to stand on, and it commands that the indictee be released from detention on humanitarian grounds, grounds that the indictee, although a nonagenarian, did not even invoke—apparently he does not wish to be seen old or ill; he wishes to get out of confinement, and get around and continue to do his thing.
The Supreme Court’s sitting majority might as well have declared itself the law—and the truth, too; after all, it also made up its facts, for one thing picturing the indictee as some noble figure of politics and history. Sure, he is a senator, but he is Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, whose most memorable potrayals in public life are as a confessed fabricator for martial law and a renegade, crossing both Marcos and his democratic successor, Cory Aquino.
Surely, democracy is blameless. Still, one cannot help feeling disturbed.