I make a case for the candidacy of Jose Manuel I. Diokno, known as Chel to his friends. Chel is running for senator, but because he is unknown in Philippine politics, his awareness rating is low.
My point is that Chel is the candidate of everyone. Yes, he belongs to the opposition. He has opposed the current administration for condoning extra-judicial killings, for imprisoning political opponents, for damaging the independence of the Supreme Court, for harassing the free media, for prolonging unwarranted martial law in Mindanao, for attempting to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility, etc.
Yet, Chel belongs to everyone. Chel is not a candidate solely for those who dislike President Rodrigo Duterte but also for those, admittedly the majority, who like Duterte.
Let me explain why this is so — why Chel will appeal to everyone, including the pro-Duterte electorate.
Chel’s platform is singularly focused on Philippine justice. His slogan is Boses ng Katarungan, the “Voice of Justice.” He is the only candidate who has fully articulated the problems of the Philippine legal and judicial system and has offered concrete solutions.
Justice is a public good. In economic parlance, a public good cannot exclude anyone; everyone benefits from it. Its use or consumption by a part of the populace will not diminish its access to others. Everyone must have access to the justice system. The enforcement of justice or of the rule of law is absolutely necessary for society and all its components to function cohesively and harmoniously.
Thus, Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations (1776) emphasizes a “duty of the sovereign, that of protecting as far as possible every member of the society from the injustice or oppression of every other member of it, or the duty of establishing an exact administration of justice.”
Today, notwithstanding the challenge of resolving causation, the consensus among social scientists is that good institutions are associated with long-term growth and prosperity. The set of institutions is essentially about the rule of law and includes protection of property rights, checks on government abuses, an independent judiciary, and maintenance of peace through good law enforcement and a well-functioning penal system.
Although the rule of law is a constant factor in shaping development outcomes, the magnitude of its role varies depending on concrete social, political and economic conditions. In the Philippines, the weak rule of law has for a long time been a binding constraint — creating an obstruction to growth, investments, and poverty reduction and abetting inequality. Said differently, if authorities fail to solve the problems relating to rule of law, the current growth momentum would be short-lived.
These problems are tangible and well-known: Unpredictable if not whimsical court decisions, non-enforcement of contracts, political interference in the courts, elite capture, padrino system, overworked judges and undermanned judiciary, long trial periods, “hoodlums in robes,” trigger-happy and corruptible police, planted evidence, overcrowded prisons, low conviction rates, and so on.
Business suffers as a result of the rules being bent, the uncertainty of contracts, and the high transaction costs plus bribes.
But it is the ordinary people and the poor who suffer most. They cannot even access justice. Nor can they afford to get good lawyers. They are the ones who bear the brunt of police brutality and extortion. And they are harshly convicted for petty crimes. Many of those convicted are even innocent.
The broken justice system in the Philippines is a problem that affects society as a whole. It is a concern of everyone, whether he or she is rich or poor, educated or unschooled, progressive or reactionary, pro-Duterte or anti-Duterte.
Duterte himself is aware of the problems and their complexity. His response is extremely pragmatic but is a quick fix. Thus he resorts to shortcuts. In particular, he bends or circumvents the law.
Chel is most familiar with the wide range of issues on the rule of law. He is a scholar who has diagnosed the Philippine legal and judicial system, theoretically and empirically. At the same time, he is a practicing lawyer, representing clients, especially the poor and the downtrodden in legal cases. In many instances, he does pro bono work.
From his diagnostics, Chel has offered a coherent set of policy and institutional reforms. The reforms he champions include the following:
• The insulation of justices, judges, and prosecutors from partisan politics;
• The filling up of vacancies in the trial courts and prosecution agency by recruiting the most competent lawyers who possess integrity;
• The simplification of the rules on evidence and procedure;
• The reorientation of performance standard for the police and prosecution toward achieving high conviction rates;
• The creation of transparent information and monitoring system to track cases and convictions;
• The transfer of police’s disciplinary jurisdiction to the Civil Service Commission;
• The expansion of the Ombudsman’s scope to investigate justices and judges;
• The strengthening of the law on witness protection by allowing the perpetuation of testimonies of whistleblowers.
What is paramount now is to secure justice and the rule of law. To quote Chel, “We owe it to those who came before us and those who will come after us to make justice a reality.”
Boses ng Katarungan is not partisan politics. Boses ng Katarungan is for the benefit of all Filipinos, regardless of their class and political standpoint.
May our people vote Chel Diokno into office.
Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.