The Philippines' last battleground

is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

This article is based on a paper I delivered (“The Last Battleground: Philippine Social Issues And The Constitutional Response To Natural Law”; for the full text, see http://www.jemygatdula.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-last-battleground-philippine-social.html) at the 19th International Law and Religion Symposium, Brigham Young University, last Oct. 7-9. 2012. The paper sought to discuss how natural law worked within Philippine legal history, and how the same can play a better role in resolving present and future social disputes.

The paper found only three Philippine presidents who didn’t make any reference to a “higher law” or anything akin to a “natural law” in their inaugurals. Joseph Estrada focused more on his personal struggles as allegory to that of the masses. Corazon Aquino did not as well. But this could be justified perhaps because her swearing in as president occurred during the uncertain days of the People Power revolution. But it is interesting that her son, current president Benigno Aquino III did the same: failing to mention or refer to any higher law and seemed more intent on extolling the virtues of his “tuwid na landas” (literally the straight path), which is more a political slogan than anything else.

In any event, in judicial declarations the concepts of “higher law,” “divine law, “natural law” would be repeatedly seen. That the Philippines refer to a “higher law” is not doubted. It is also clear that natural law has been recognized consistently through the years. What is not clear is the identity of such higher law. Do Supreme Court rulings indicate a Philippine legal system more “fideistic” than is supposed? If so, such presents certain problems, particularly as to how such could be worked into the fabric of our constitutional principles.

The initial reaction to this was to conclude that the Philippines is simply confused in its references to a higher law, mixing up “divine law” with that of natural law. Hence, the seeming easy interchangeability with which the judiciary (and to a certain extent our political leaders) have done on the two seemingly distinct concepts. But on closer look of our case law, particularly as to our justice’s opinions surrounding Estrada vs. Escritor, what looked like confusion becomes actually something else.

That the Philippines involves natural law in its legal thinking is certain. So does its belief that a “divine” law holds human beings accountable. However, instead of concluding that the Philippines simplistically foregoes reason in exchange for a convenient ambiguity that could justify any decision by making references to a law grounded on faith than anything else, the better probability is that the Philippines takes it for granted that, assuming faith has a role to play in our legal system, such faith is also based on reason. Rather, therefore, than simply resorting to fideism, the Philippines seems to have recognized, early on and quite “naturally” (no pun intended), that matters of faith are “reasonable.” Taking that viewpoint, that faith and reason go together, complementing each other, the propriety therefore not only of natural law reasoning but also of religious thought into judicial determinations, as well as legislation, becomes all the more appropriate.

The significance of this becomes all the more apparent when one considers the paper’s title. I called the Philippines the “last battleground.” And the reason for that is twofold: the Philippines is the only country left in the Southeast Asian region that still does not have national legislation legally institutionalizing contraception and is the only remaining country on Earth (except perhaps for the Vatican) that still does not recognize divorce. A lot of the credit has to go to the Catholic Church for courageously keeping to its teachings. However, if the Philippines is to stand its ground on these two issues, despite massive funding being given by international organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and liberal groups, a lot of it will depend on the Philippines being confident enough that its legal system is not based merely on a “leap of faith” but is properly anchored on reason as well.

But there is an even more significant aspect to all this: for a country of 7,000 islands, hundreds of dialects, varied cultures and religions, different races and even political beliefs, the one unifying thing that could be said of the Philippines is its belief that faith, with a commonality to be found first in natural law, is indeed reasonable. The other thing that must be considered is the Philippine demographic: Filipinos 30 years old and below comprise around 70% of the population (with those below 14 years at 35%, with the median age at 22.9 years old). Whoever or whatever captures the soul of this demographic effectively captures the soul of the nation for many decades to come.

Viewed in that regard, to accept and institutionalize the fact that a reasonable faith has a proper role in public and political matters, even perhaps serving as a fundamental and universal normative framework, is perhaps the real last battleground.