An enemy of the state

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    ‘…whenever the Administration labels someone as an “enemy of the State,” chances are the person or group being labeled is a strident critic whom they want to silence because many people, once in power, begin to think themselves infallible and look at a criticism as an attack.’

    HAPPY birthday to Sen. Richard J. Gordon, who turns a golden 75 today. I first met then-Mayor Dick Gordon of Olongapo in the 1980s when I was working for Assemblyman Rene Cayetano, who became the secretary-general of the Nacionalista Party (Palmares-Enrile wing) and Mayor Gordon was our central committee member for Central Luzon. That’s 40 years ago, but the young man of the 1980s is in mind and spirit no different from the dedicated public servant in the Senate and the Red Cross of today.

    Over those 40 years I’ve spent countless hours chatting with Dick Gordon on topics about our country spanning decades, covering various personalities and situations, and they remain some of the most invaluable inputs I carry in my head wherever I go. And some of those conversations have spurred me to think things on my own – about who we are, why we are who and where we are, and what else could we be as a people. And in many ways the thoughts I will share in this piece are inspired, influenced and informed by many of those conversations.

    Very often, we hear this from people in power: someone who disagrees with them is “an enemy of the State.” That’s a very big, serious and dangerous accusation, because being an “enemy of the State” means that the person (or persons) so tagged wishes to bring down the very reason for our being. You see, you and I are “Filipinos” because of the legal concept of “the State” whose defining text is the Constitution. To be an “enemy of the State” then is to be desirous of bringing down the very legal entity that gives you and me our identities as Filipino citizens.

    But you must forgive people in power. Sometimes (oftentimes?) in their fear of losing (or desperate desire to hold on to) power, they concoct such “enemies” in order to rally the people – that’s all of us collectively who make up the human part of the State – to their defense. That defense may be an active one – we take to the barricades and protect government offices from attack, for example; or it may be a passive one – we let those in power take measures they deem “necessary” in order to quell the threat. One example of this is when an order goes out to arrest personalities who have been classified as “enemies of the State,” and we sit back, do nothing and just watch.

    This is why I think that as part of an effort to create a more intelligent citizenry, every Filipino, as far as practicable, obtain a copy of the 1987 Constitution, read it from preamble to Transitory Provisions, and engage others in discussions of the principles and policies and concepts contained therein.

    But citizens should also be able to speak of the same things and mean the same things when they so speak, and one of the more common sources of confusion is how we refer to the “people in power.” I think some clarification is needed here.

    The “Administration,” at least in my book, is the set of public officials who make up the elected and appointed part of the government and who take office for a set period of time. In our case under the 1987 Constitution, this is a six-year period, and every six years we have an “X Administration,” with X being the name of the President of the Philippines. So from 2016 to 2022 what we have is the Duterte Administration.

    “Government,” again in my book, is that bigger, regular and more continuing entity of civil servants who manage the affairs of State as per the directions set by the Administration. Many of this bigger set of public servants are Civil Service eligibles who dedicate their lives to serving us day by day. Most retire from office to simple lives; a few do get filthy rich, only because they corrupt the system, sometimes in connivance with those from the Administration, but this is a different topic altogether. Anyway, this is why I find the terms “the Duterte Administration” and “the Philippine Government” more accurate.

    Finally, there is the State, which I have referred to above. An Administration for the period it is in office sets the directions by which the Government manages the affairs of the State. These directions may or may not change when one Administration steps down from office and another takes over. Because the People (Constitutionally at least – meaning, on paper!) are the Sovereign Power in the State, it is the People who decide through the ballot which Administration sits in office and sets the directions for Government for the next six year period.

    Which now brings me back to the matter of being an “enemy of the State.” In a democracy, where contending personalities and parties argue over issues and policies and even specific programs, different points of view will be raised and disagreements will arise. And when the People through the ballot box embrace the plans and vision of one side over the other, arguments do not stop; you can expect the losing side (the “loyal” opposition in the UK) to continue to argue its points and act as fiscalizers of the Administration.

    Being a critic of the Administration clearly does not mean that one is a critic (or, worse, an enemy) of the Government or of the State.

    Because no man (or group of men) is infallible, and because an Administration must remain sensitive to public opinion, contrarian viewpoints are necessary in a democracy. This ensures that those in power do not govern within echo chambers and are always exposed to points of view they may have missed.

    And so, whenever the Administration labels someone as an “enemy of the State” chances are the person or group being labeled is a strident critic whom they want to silence because many people, once in power, begin to think themselves infallible and look at a criticism as an attack.

    Guess what – when that happens, who do you think becomes the enemy of the democratic State?

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