April 26, 2006

A Win?

It’s not exactly a win; in fact the dispositive portion of the Decision says all the Petitions are granted only in part and dismissed as to all other respects.  But at least something came out of it.

I’m referring to the Supreme Court’s Decision in the  CPR case, which I argued before the Supreme Court En Banc on April 4, promulgated yesterday.

The Court upheld the law, Batas Pambansa Blg. 880, which is Marcos vintage, but struck down the press release, i.e., CPR.  For me, it was a foregone conclusion that CPR would be struck down but I was more interested in striking down Batas Pambansa Blg. 880.  Unfortunately the Court did not see it my way.

What is interesting about the CPR Decision is this part:

“In sum, this Court reiterates its basic policy of upholding the fundamental rights of our people, especially freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.  In several policy addresses, Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban has repeatedly vowed to uphold the liberty of our people and to nurture their prosperity.  He said that “in cases involving liberty, the scales of justice should weigh heavily against the government and in favor of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the dispossessed and the weak.  Indeed, laws and actions that restrict fundamental rights come to the courts with a heavy presumption against their validity.  These laws and actions are subjected to heightened scrutiny.”

For this reason, the so-called calibrated preemptive response policy has no place in our legal firmament and must be struck down as a darkness that shrouds freedom.  It merely confuses our people and is used by some police agents to justify abuses.  On the other hand, B.P. No. 880 cannot be condemned as unconstitutional; it does not curtail or unduly restrict freedoms; it merely regulates the use of public places as to the time, place and manner of assemblies.  Far from being insidious, “maximum tolerance” is for the benefit of rallyists, not the government.  The delegation to the mayors of the power to issue rally “permits” is valid because it is subject to the constitutionally-sound “clear and present danger” standard.

In this Decision, the Court goes even one step further in safeguarding liberty by giving local governments a deadline of 30 days within which to designate specific freedom parks as provided under B.P. No. 880.  If, after that period, no such parks are so identified in accordance with Section 15 of the law, all public parks and plazas of the municipality or city concerned shall in effect be deemed freedom parks; no prior permit of whatever kind shall be required to hold an assembly therein.  The only requirement will be written notices to the police and the mayor’s office to allow proper coordination and orderly activities.

WHEREFORE, the petitions are GRANTED in part, and respondents, more particularly the Secretary of the Interior and Local Governments, are DIRECTED to take all necessary steps for the immediate compliance with Section 15 of Batas Pambansa No. 880 through the establishment or designation of at least one suitable freedom park or plaza in every city and municipality of the country. After thirty (30) days from the finality of this Decision, subject to the giving of advance notices, no prior permit shall be required to exercise the right to peaceably assemble and petition in the public parks or plazas of a city or municipality that has not yet complied with Section 15 of the law.  Furthermore, Calibrated Preemptive Response (CPR), insofar as it would purport to differ from or be in lieu of maximum tolerance, is NULL and VOID and respondents are ENJOINED to REFRAIN from using it and to STRICTLY OBSERVE the requirements of maximum tolerance.  The petitions are DISMISSED in all other respects, and the CONSTITUTIONALITY of Batas Pambansa No. 880 is SUSTAINED.”

What the Court essentially ordered is that all local governments all over the country must designate freedom parks within 30 days, otherwise the “no permit, no rally” provision in the law, sec. 4, becomes inoperative.  Essentially, the right to freedom of assembly has become subject to a “resolutory” condition of sorts.

That’s why it’s a weird decision, from where I sit.  

Also, the Court said the law was not vague nor overbroad and that it was not a content-based restriction to freedom of assembly and expression.  Of course, I disagreed with this in my Memorandum to the Court but, hey, you lose some and then you lose some more.

It’s the latest thing nowadays—a “win-win” formula for cases of transcendental public importance; for example the recent EO 464 case.  I’m not sure I like this trend of decision-making of the Court right now—I’d rather lose and know why I lost rather than  lose and not be able to figure out why I lost, which is what these “win-win” cases actually are not able to tell me.

In the meantime, the CPR Decision, particularly that part on Freedom Parks, is going to raise more questions than answers, particularly for May 1—where rallies are traditional and expected.  I would not be exaggerating if I say that this won’t be the last we will hear of BP 880 being challenged in the Court;  hopefully,  the next time the Court sees the light.




     

April 20, 2006

Venetian blinded

Fiction from Faith.

That is what the forthcoming Philippine release of  The Da Vinci Code expects us to think about.    So too the recent revelation that there is  what is called a Gospel of Judas—note it is not the Gospel According to Judas but the Gospel of Judas.  The title alone tells everything.

In DVC, the title tells us of a code that comes from Venice—not from Leonarda Da Vinci.  That, by itself, should tell us to take what it says with a large heaping pinch of salt. Any reference to Leonardo Da Vinci should be to “Leonardo” and not “Da Vinci” as the former is his name, the latter is a reference to his roots—Venice.  At least, the Ninja turtles got it right.  So, how do we look at DVC?  As a work of fiction, as a work of suspense, as a novel—but certainly not as truth nor as gospel truth.  Will I watch it?  Sure, I like Tom Hanks and I love a good suspense movie.  Will it affect me and my faith?  NO.  On matters of faith, I turn to God’s Word not to Dan Brown or to any other “gospel” he may be referring to.

The so-called Gospel of Judas also tells us a lot by the title alone.  Gospel means “good news”;  that’s why the four Gospels in the Bible are “Gospels According to” and not “Gospels of.”  The four Gospel writers clearly point to one direction only—the good news comes from Christ and the good news is salvation.  So, there is a Gospel of Judas;  that means its essentially a brief for the man who betrayed Jesus and is intended to propagate the “good news” about Judas, not about Jesus and his salvific love.  Would I read it?  Given a chance and assuming someone translates it into understandable English, sure.  Will it affect my faith?  NO.  On matters of faith, I turn to God’s Word, not to Judas and his “good news.”  

These are simplistic ways of insisting on our faith.  But, for me, we have to start somewhere and differentiating fact from fiction is the most logical starting point.  Let’s not ban DVC or any the supposed Gospel of Judas—doing that will simply pique curiosity. Let the movie be shown but insist that it is a work of fiction and not faith and encourage the faithful to know the difference—at the pulpit and also in schools, forums  or any other gathering of the faithful.

If you want to watch DVC and be entertained for two hours, go and watch it.  But if you want to know God, seek Him out in prayer, seek Him out in reading His Word, seek Him out in the Lives of the Saints, seek Him out in the lives of the many men and women He sends to touch our lives—hopefully, these will take more than two hours and perhaps even a lifetime.  

April 18, 2006

"Second rate, trying hard. . . "

As far as political gimmicks go, its not even original.  The first dictator did it—several times.  I’m referring to commuting sentences of convicts on a special occasion.  Marcos did it on his birthday,  on Imelda’s birthday, on the anniversary of the new society—just so that he could put a benevolent sheen to his dictatorship.

What did that wise man say about old dogs and new tricks.

The current dictator has taken a page from the old one, which somehow leads me to admire Imee Marcos’s riposte about the current dictator being a “second rate, trying hard copycat” for its candor, if not its media-impact (One would wish that neither Imee nor the current dictator would try so hard though.)

The Easter message of the dictator mentioned a new policy of commutation of all death sentences.  Now, all the legal scholars—acknowledged, unacknowledged, self-proclaimed or otherwise—have spoken at length about the commutations being flawed constitutionally because:  1.  they trench on the judicial power to review death sentences, 2.  they are broad and sweeping and may impair the rights of the truly innocent on death row (yes, there are those) and 3.  commutations cannot be given on a blanket basis because they would involve only those sentenced by final judgment to death and would have to be determined on individual merits on a case to case basis.  So I won’t bother too much with these.

What I do mind is the dictator using lives to simply toady up to the Catholic church and get the church’s nod on charter change.  If the dictator had suddenly come to an epiphany in the cool mountain air of Baguio, I am certain that the Holy Spirit would have told her—just have the death penalty law repealed.  Now, that would underscore a serious commitment to the sanctity of life.  Oh, and I’m sure in the next whisper, the Holy Spirit would have told her—forget about charter change and just resign.

Unfortunately, from media grabs of the lent retreat, she sat beside Totoy Wangwang (aka Raul Gonzalez) and, despite what she may claim, the Holy Spirit doesn’t sound like Raul Gonzalez—perhaps another spirit, certainly not the Holy one.

I blogged about this before—I’ll believe it when I see it.  Certify the bill to repeal the death penalty (of course, there’s nothing to prevent her stooges from inserting another constitutional provision in their proposed constitution on this; but that’s another story altogether.) and stop resorting to cheap—and unoriginal—gimmicks.

April 10, 2006

Love, repeatedly

Repetition is an expression of love. Doing things over and over again, an endless cycle, a repetition of familiar events and happenings—it is the essence of and an expression of love.

That startled me. It was among the first few lines spoken by Sr. Perry, our retreat facilitator in the first session of our retreat. And it brought me upright and prompted me to write it down.

She was saying, “why do we do things over and over again? We are about to celebrate Holy Week, again; paulit-ulit, para tayong loko-loko. Yet we do it., Why? Because doing things over and over again shows that we love. If we do not love, then we would do something and stop.”

That made me really think.

Why, indeed, do we do the many things we do over and over again—because we believe that these things are worth our time and effort, because we believe that we will make a difference, because we believe that some day, some time, we will get it right. Perhaps, but I liked Sr. Perry’s way of putting it best: it is way of showing that you love.

I was on silent retreat with my brothers and sisters from Lingkod QC at Sacred Heart Novitiate last weekend and after Sr. Perry said that, I just could not do the activity she asked us to do but I spent a lot of time chewing on that nugget of wisdom: repetition as an expression of love.

And then, I realized the enormity of that truth: it is reflected after all in God’s own act of showing love. God did not impose a one-time offer: “I love you; take it or leave it.” Its not as if God’s love were a sale—for a limited period. God’s love is eternal, limitless, boundless and God shows His love repeatedly for His people; for me.

God is not content with one single moment of grace, one single return to Him; He pursues me—repeatedly. Each time I fall from grace, He does not write me off—“tsk, tsk, tsk, I knew it. He can’t hack it”—but instead, picks me up, dusts me off and sends me on my way—again and again and again.

Under the tree-lined beauty of Sacred Heart Novitiate, I marveled at the many ways God showed that He loved me—as he repeatedly would send me grace upon grace, blessing upon blessing, even adversity upon adversity.

Just before lunch of the first day, sitting in a low swing under a tree, with my feet dirtied by the soil below me, I asked myself if I could be capable of that kind of love—to repeatedly do things over and over and over again, selflessly, all in love’s name. And I answered my own question with a “no.” I am not capable of that kind of love for many times, I tend to stop and let my humanity take over; I tend to not “waste time and effort.” And I fell to my knees, like Nehemiah, imploring God’s mercy that He might make more loving, He might make me more determined to be more loving. A I ended my prayer, I heard the Lord say to me—in the silence of Sacred Heart Novitiate and amidst the noise of my heart—“thank you for asking for that grace.”

It was a great start for an immensely fulfilling journey.

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Personal aside: I’ve raved about Sacred Heart Novitiate’s beauty for some time already; I think the brothers and sisters have been tuning out whenever I start on this.

But more than ever, last weekend, SHN became a beautiful place for me; perhaps it was because it was silent and God’s voice really could be heard or because it was peaceful and God’s presence could be felt.

Looking at them last weekend, I know that my brothers and sisters from Lingkod QC appreciated the beauty of the place and now share this little secret with me as I saw them choose their favorite bench, their favorite swing, their favorite tree amidst the silence that is not the absence of sound but the absence of noise, amidst the solitude that is not the absence of people but the presence of God.

April 07, 2006

Noises off

Noise really does wear you down.   It causes your body to react in many ways that we sometimes don’t realize.

These past weeks have been noisy for me.  

I look forward to two days of retreat—of solitude that is not simply being alone but of being alone with God, of silence that is not absence of sound but the absence of noise.

Like Elijah, I seek the Lord  not in the earthquake, not in the raging wind but in the gentle breeze.

I pray for this grace to be able to set these past weeks aside and focus on the God of the gentle breeze, the God whose power is not in noise but in the sound of His voice alone—the voice that calls me from my tomb to break the fetters of sin that bind and the mask of death that blinds  and commands me to walk into the light.

April 04, 2006

Orals

The Resolution reads, in part:

“For PETITIONERS, Atty. Theodore Te will argue for a maximum of twenty five (25) minutes and he will decide on how to share his time with the other counsel/s for petitioners.”

Its not my first oral argument before the Supreme Court En Banc—its my fifth (previously on the Death Penalty [People v. Malabago], Oil Deregulation [Edcel Lagman, Joker Arroyo et al. v. Executive Secretary], Visiting Forces Agreement [Jovito Salonga, Wigberto R. Tanada, et al. v. Executive Secretary, Electricity rates [Freedom from Debt Coalition et al. v. ERC and MERALCO]) but the thrill—and the anxiety—is still there.  

Today, the Court set orals for the Calibrated Pre-emptive Response (CPR) issue (Del Prado et al. v. Ermita et al.) and at 1 pm, I will stand before the 15-member Court and once again start with that over-used opening, “May it please this Court. . .

I’ve been preparing for this for what seems like ages and to speak only for 25 minutes.  In an oral argument, however, 25 minutes is like the last two minutes of a basketball game—it can last for hours.  In the  Meralco orals, I started at 10 in the morning with my presentation and ended my presentation at  4 in the afternoon straight (without lunchbreak, coffeebreak or bathroom break);  the orals for that case ended eventually at 9 in the evening.

I pray not only for wisdom, guidance, inspiration but also that I won’t need a bathroom break for hours.