First, it seems I was not the only one who picked up on the complete lack of logic in Ermita’s statement, (see Ellen Tordesillas: “’Let the people be judge of GMA,’” Ermita said. The survey score is the people’s judgment.” Mon Casiple: “They illogically echoed each other, chorusing that ‘it is the people who will decide the popularity of the president, not surveys.’ As if the ones surveyed are not a cross-section of and scientifically representative of the people.” Conrado de Quiros: “It’s as if she’s saying, ‘What has being elected or serving the people got to do with being president?’ No, more than that, it’s as if she’s saying, ‘What has being disliked, detested and reviled by the people got to do with me leading them wherever I damn please?'”

Anyway, another gut reaction to another great thing Ate Glo has done. In preparation for the SONA address, several barangay leaders were “asked” to impose curfews and prohibit public drinking. This weekend, 120 people were rounded up and detained for violating this (I don’t even know what to call it…temporary and suddenly declared ordinance?), but, like so many, later released when it was found that none of the men had any criminal records or posed any actual threat to the safety and security of their communities. (see full story)

So despite our strong proclivity to brush such actions off as yet another unnecessary action, and one not so important because no one was actually harmed, I would like to point out several things wrong with this situation and how they contribute to the deterioration of our democracy:

1) This curfew is supposedly a city ordinance that applies only to a few barangays and, and uncoincidentally, barangays with high poverty levels. Yet, the very imposition of the curfew is illegal. It is difficult to believe there is an actual ordinace; it has no record. Furthermore, even if such ordinance exists, it must be published. Rehashing some of the arguments from GMA’s infamous curfew after the Manila Pen Incident last year:

1. As an inherent and extraordinary power of the State, police power is exercised through legislation. A curfew imposed without any law or legal order is illegal and unconstitutional. (Atty. Theodore Te)

2. The President has no authority to curtail freedom of movement. Also, such a directive needs to be in writing and has to be published. (Atty. Marichu Lambino).

3. The curfew imposition is unlawful and contrary to the Constitution — our right to liberty, our right to travel, our constitutionally guaranteed rights that cannot be curtailed or disregarded by executive order. Even curfews imposed in town and barangays need local ordinance. (Sen. Francis Pangilinan)

4. There is no right in Philippine law to impose a curfew on ALL PERSONS. There is only the ability to impose a curfew on minors. (Thanks to Dissenting Opinion. See also PCIJ.)

These legal arguments are, of course, in addition to all the overlooked  guarantees of personal liberty in the constitution.

2) The City “asked” barangay leaders to impose this curfew. Asked, in reality of course meaning the QC police went to the barangay chairmen and told them to impose a curfew. This not only brings into question whether or not barangay officials actually told their communities, but also the right of the City police department to basically co-opt the barangay. I don’t know the answer to this and I must admit that reading the Local Government Code of 1991 hasn’t left me with a clearer picture, but the LGU code as well as the 1987 Constitution portray an overwhelming spirit of the autonomy and limited sovereignty of the barangay, and are more explicit that the role of the city is “oversight.”

3) More generally, this temporary, suddenly-proclaimed, so-called ordinance is in direct violation of the basic legal principle that good law requires consistency and prior notice. A legal system where new ordinances can pop up all willy-nilly and be arbitrarily enforced is not systematic at all. It takes away one of the main purposes of democracy, which is some guarantee that government will be rational and not subject to the whims of a person or small group. Arbitrary laws (and the arbitrary imposition of laws) are authoritarian. (See Railway Express Agency, Inc. vs. New York, “Conversely, nothing opens the door to arbitrary action so effectively as to allow those officials to pick and choose only a few to whom they will apply legislation and thus to escape the political retribution that might be visited upon them if larger numbers were affected.” Kennedy’s opinion in Lawrence vs. Texas for expanded argument)

4) Once again, people were arrested, detained and then released and this is supposed to be alright.

  • If the ordinance was real, why were they released? If they were guilty of committing a crime their arrests were justified and they should not have been released. Their relsease, at the mercy and benevolence of the authorities, would have been another example of arbitrary justice and patronage. It takes away from democracy becasue one’s fate is not longer determined by a ratinal legal system, but by the will of hte authority.
  • More likely, the ordinance did not exist to begin with and the police rounded these people up becasue they could. The police simply wanted to assert their authority and send a clear message that if GMA can arrest people for doing something ordinary on a Saturday night, don’t even thinkabout speaking or acting against her. The people were then released after it was demonstrated that none of them had criminal records supports this second theory – the police basically rounded them up hoping to find a reason to continue detaining them, but couldn’t.
  • Similar arrests, detainment and then release after it was shown that there was no need for the detainments in the first place have happened before. (Think the Manila Pen incident – a big hoopla and then all were unconditionally released for lack of case). The ability of the police to detain at will and then release without consequence. Detainment without being charged. This is basically a form of de facto imprisonment without reason. Check the Guantanamo arguments.

5) And the kicker, 120 people were arrested for drinking on a Saturday night! Come on people, open your eyes. What do people do on Saturday nights? They sit around with their friends, throw back a couple beers, and make kuwento. In most neighborhoods, but especially in urban poor communities, where homes are too small and hot and going to a bar will add to expenses, you sit and drink in front of your house. Filipinos work hard. Filipinos suffer. And now, you want to arrest them for one of the small joys they have?

Welcome to the police state of the nation.