Legality and justice under a dictatorship

No letter of the law binds a dictator. His word is the law. His whims, his wishes, his declarations – no matter how preposterous or serious – are the laws of the land. Inevitably, justice exists only as a principle. Alas, legality and justice are never the same thing, most especially under a dictatorship.

In five years, the US-Duterte regime relentlessly abused its power, waged the worst and most brutal all-out war against the Filipino people and used the stamp of ‘legality’ and the loopholes of the law to get away with it. Whether by passing bills in Congress or issuing decrees, the regime is unstoppable in spewing out neoliberal and fascist policies. Its pending bills in Congress regarding the economy all have one common denominator: foreign unrestricted exploitation of patrimony and the surrender of sovereignty. It lifted the mining ban. It reduced tariffs for agricultural products. It imposed onerous taxes on the people. It overly encouraged imports while allowing its own economy to lag behind and remain reliant on foreign investments and loans. All the while ignoring bills that would have been beneficial for the people, albeit limited, such as the Security of Tenure bill.

It even passed the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 as the crowning glory of its tyranny, in order to silence, threaten and scare its critics and the opposition. Now, it even claims that the sole designation of NTF-ELCAC that an individual or organization is a ‘terrorist’ will hold water, even with a court order stating otherwise. It stripped off all adornments of civilian authority and allowed military authority to reign over the entire bureaucracy – only through a simple declaration.

The US-Duterte regime’s power, however, relies on flimsy foundations. It is easily shaken, and can easily be overthrown by the united people. His draconian declarations and laws only further aroused the people’s revolutionary spirit rather than scare them. The people’s movement condemned and opposed every neoliberal and fascist policy the regime churned out. The ATA 2020 became the most contested law in the history of the country, with 37 petitioners questioning it in the Supreme Court. Even with intense military and police operations, red-tagging and more apparent threats to the lives of progressive and nationalist individuals, people continue to stand up for their rights and for justice. No wonder, despite its most treacherous efforts, the regime has failed to push for Charter Change up to this day.

The lessons of five years under Duterte’s dictatorship serves as a reminder that under a reactionary state owned and controlled by the ruling class, the flexibility of what is legal solely relies upon the benefits they could gain. Puppets like Duterte would always take advantage of it. The Filipinos, as a sovereign people, have the duty to assert what is just.

LUMABAN-Bikol calls on the people, especially the Bikolano masses, to further strengthen their unity and to continuously be vigilant and critical of the policies being implemented by the US-Duterte regime. Now, more than ever, it becomes more crucial for legal practitioners, paralegals and even law students to challenge what is legal and pursue what is just, to use their skills and knowledge for the benefit of the majority who are marginalized and oppressed. The law has never been blind. And in this society, the scales of justice have never been balanced. Ultimately, what is just for the people is tantamount to a complete overhaul of a system that drastically oppresses and exploits them.

Legality and justice under a dictatorship