Mary Mary quite contrary

    271

    ‘That’s why in a democracy we always need individuals and organizations that constantly remind us – and especially our leaders – of our limitations and even of our failings.’

    THE Duterte Administration has confronted two Marias in the first 2/3 of its term, and, effectively, has won.

    The first one, Maria Lourdes A. Sereno, was ousted as chief justice via a creative process unexpected by the Sereno camp. While everyone was expecting a long-drawn out impeachment battle, the strategists of the administration pulled the quo warranto scheme out of the hat, and voila! The first woman chief justice was “erased” from the records of the high court.

    In my eyes she remains the first ever female chief justice of the Philippines. Of course I am biased; she was my professor at the UP College of Law.

    The second Maria, Maria A. Ressa, co-founder of Rappler, was convicted two days ago of the crime of cyber libel for an article published by Rappler in May 2012 and reissued in 2014 to correct a typographical error. The complainant, businessman Wilfredo Keng, claimed the article that quoted intelligence reports on his activities, described him as a naturalized citizen and alleged that he had lent one of his vehicles to Chief Justice Renato Corona, fell under the ambit of the Philippine law on cyber crimes, signed into law in September of 2012. While he did not immediately sue Rappler when the article first came out in 2012 and again in 2014 – having taken the advice of a lawyer friend to try to settle with the media outfit — he changed his mind in 2017.

    It is interesting to me that in the period 2012-2016 the Philippine president was Benigno Aquino III during whose term Chief Justice Corona was impeached and Rappler was highly regarded. After the election of Rodrigo Duterte in 2016, the political winds shifted 180 degrees. Whether this affected the timing of the suit or not is anyone’s guess.

    (Someone can point out that the suit filed by Keng was a suit filed by a private citizen and not by the government; in a way that is correct. But it was a government entity – the Department of Justice – which decided to file a case against Rappler. Also, there is this interesting coincidence we now know: this administration has given the daughter of Keng a position on some commission somewhere.)

    Speaking of contrarian Marys just now it struck me that Leni Robredo, Vice President of the philippines, is herself a Maria. As I think of this I hear in my head the nuns in the Sound of Music singing “How do you solve a problem like Maria,” which seems appropriate these days.

    I will not dare wade into the waters where lawyers and would be lawyers are knee-deep in now, debating the merits of the Rappler case. Among my many lawyer friends there are a number whose opinion I deeply respect and it is to their treatment of the case that I look. I think it best to leave the pursing of the case to them.

    What I wish to focus on is my oft-repeated contention that in a democracy one must be overprotective of civil liberties and of public funds. And it is to this contention that I wish to anchor my comments.

    Dealing with contrarian Marys or problematic Marias is an essential aspect of a democracy, where government responds to (if not reflects) public opinion which is often not monolithic, many times confused and is naturally a cacophony or discordant notes.

    That is also why media is the same – there are extreme critics and extreme boot-lickers and a host of in-betweens. Each has a role to play: the critics to help a leader evaluate where he can be better; the boot-lickers to make him feel good on a bad day (because to them the great leader is never wrong!) and the in-between to give a leader a more objective assessment of anything. You as a leader can’t have all of one and none of the other; it will do you no good. And it is the same of the people around you – if everyone does nothing but sing praises, be warned. Anyway, if everyone thinks alike then you can rid yourself of 99% of your hangers-on as they bring no added value, yes?

    But maybe it is in human nature to believe that as a leader you know everything and woe to anyone who tries to tell you that you have no clothes. That’s why in a democracy we always need individuals and organizations that constantly remind us – and especially our leaders – of our limitations and even of our failings. Because power blinds as much as it corrupts.

    Contrarians have a role to play in friendships, in the workplace and even in society as a whole. We need to learn to acknowledge their proper place, and their value.

    And so even when we unfriend people on Facebook just because they hold views diametrically opposite ours let’s be conscious of the fact that they can be right too and we wrong at times. But when there’s no one left to point that out because we have only kept around us those who think alike, how can we learn from our mistakes and grow up as a person, as a people, as a nation?