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Political madness and impunity

The Manila Times logo The Manila Times 2/12/2020 Antonio Contreras

(Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.)

THERE is an air of political madness that infects, one that is as deadly as a coronavirus. It kills, not human lives but political reason and sanity; although in the end it will jeopardize human lives and freedoms. And it is global, spreading like wildfire, threatening the very foundations of political communities.

Alan Dershowitz, that otherwise brilliant Harvard Law professor, speaking in defense of impeached United States President Donald Trump, practically spelled out what we can now consider as a justifying doctrine for political impunity. In defending Trump, he propounded the idea that every politician could not be held accountable simply because they believe that what they do, regardless of its morals and ethics, and its consequences, is always in the public interest. This is a leveling up of the Machiavellian precept that the end would always justify the means, except that Machiavelli did not dare to generalize that every single end of the Prince can be justified by every means. Dershowitz made every end of every politician, because he or she believes that it is in the public interest, a desirable end, which can therefore justify every means necessary to achieve it.

In the universe of Dershowitz, the impeached Trump could not be convicted when he pressured the president of Ukraine to dig dirt on a political enemy to aid in his reelection, simply because in Trump’s mind, his reelection is in the country’s best interest. Following the same warped logic, politicians could not be punished for committing a crime, murdering their opponents and annihilating the supporters of the political opposition in a genocidal campaign if only to win an election simply because for them it is in the best interest of the Republic. Dershowitz did not even lay down a critical premise to enable a reasonable judgment on the sanity of politicians when they make the claim that whatever they do is always in the public interest. It doesn’t matter to him if such conclusion is a product of an evil mind, or one blinded by ambition or by a messianic complex, or clouded by delusion, or even dementia or madness.

What is horrifying is that this Dershowitzian pact with the devil was taken hook, line and sinker by many Republicans who agreed that while what Trump did was wrong, he couldn’t be held accountable for it and be removed as president. Even more terrifying is that a similar kind of reasoning is now held sacrosanct by Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo when he scoffed at those who insist that President Rodrigo Duterte should consult with his Cabinet in making any decision on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). Using Panelo’s logic, one can argue that since the President is the chief architect of foreign policy in the country, he can do what he pleases, and abrogate any treaty he wants to terminate even on the flimsiest of reasons simply because he can, as president of the Republic. This thinking is fed by the idolatry of blind supporters who treat the President like an infallible, omnipotent and omniscient demigod who can do no wrong, always knows what he is doing and is wisest beyond reproach, ergo, whatever he does, it is for the best interest of the Republic.

Indeed, the abrogation of the VFA is not the first time the President unilaterally acted on a treaty. He earlier caused the withdrawal of the Philippines from the Rome Statute. What is appalling is that both cases appear to be embodiments of the President’s belief that the public interest equated his own interest, or the interest of his allies.

Panelo can easily rationalize the President’s actions as emanating from his being a president who was legitimately voted into office.

Applying the Dershowitzian doctrine would further justify such actions as beyond reproach simply because they are done ostensibly in pursuit of the public interest. President Duterte and his defenders readily appropriate as justification the fact that withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC) and abrogating the VFA protects our sovereignty from meddlesome human rights bodies and arrogant US politicians and bureaucrats who dare investigate the President and deny him and his allies the privilege of a US visa. Thus, these acts are all done with the best interest of every Filipino in mind.

The Philippines being out of the ICC, however, undermines citizens’ interests by denying us our rights to call out the human rights violations of the state and its agents. Similarly, abrogating the VFA works against our national interest as it weakens an existing mechanism that has been proven to be effective in helping us secure ourselves from natural calamities and acts of terrorism.

Besides, we live in a democratic Republic, and not in an absolute monarchy where the sovereign is the king. We do not have a king. The President is not a monarch, and his supporters work hard to insist that he is not a tyrant. We no longer live in a Hobbesian world where citizens give up all their rights to a benevolent monarch who would be wise enough not to become tyrannical to avoid depleting their vigor so that he would not deplete his.

Sovereignty in a democratic republic resides with the people. As such, it is the people who are the sources of the public interest and politicians are not its authors. They, the political parties they belong to, the platforms they sell to the people and the rituals of political representation they engage in, are mere mechanisms by which those interests are given voice, aggregated and transformed into courses of actions in concrete policies, laws and programs. And these processes require dialogue, debate, dissent and consultation.

It is absolutely wrong to think that politicians cannot be held accountable just because in their minds they always serve the public interest. And it is not a democracy, but a dictatorship when a president is granted the absolute power to decide without the benefit of dissent or discussion.

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