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LAW AS AN INSTRUMENT OF JUSTICE

Alvin T. Claridades HR 121 PUP College of Law (2002)

More than ever before, the Filipino people are growing wary about the spate of crimes, both petty and sensational, happening around them, and with good reason. For the past decade or so, crime prevention and mitigation policies put in place by the State have been anchored on the pretext that a stricter enforcement of the law can fix the peace and order problem besetting our society: greater police visibility, more severe penalties for convicted offenders, and frequent use of the lethal injection for perpetrators of heinous crimes. Except that nowadays, with more and more people being sent to the penitentiary, the Filipino public is no more out of harms way than before. The very basic rights accorded the accused, the crime suspects, the defendants, and the prisoners were not enshrined in the 1987 Constitutions Bill of Rights to be enjoyed by convicted felons. On the contrary, they are only some of the fundamental political and civil rights that protect all of us, Filipinos, not only from the inherent harshness of penal laws, but more importantly, from the potential abuse of governmental powers. These rights, no doubt, found their way into the fundamental law of the land precisely to serve the ends of justice as well as to curb possible abuses in the execution of the law by overzealous agents of the State. They embrace such essential rights as the guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom of expression, the impairment clause, the right to bail, the right to due process and equal protection, the right to a speedy trial, and the right to be free from cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment, among others. I believe that this package of rights has been embedded in our legal system for the purpose of preserving the dignity due every human being and promoting equity among citizens under the mantle of social justice. But justice in this context should not be equated with as universal a word as fairness lest it lose much of its luster. Neither should its definition be constricted to that given in the books as a mere state of affairs in which the conduct or action is both fair and right, given the circumstances. In relation to law, justice more specifically refers to the paramount obligation of the State to ensure that

all persons are treated equitably. It is in this light that litigants seek justice by asking for compensation for wrongs committed against them; to right the inequity such that, with the compensation, a wrong has been rectified and the balance of good or virtue over wrong or evil has been corrected. On the other hand, it is the laws that give flesh to our basic human rights. All the rules of conduct that have been approved by the Philippine government and which are in force over its territory are designed to be obeyed by all its inhabitants as well by those who sojourn in its territory. Violation of these rules could lead to government action such as imprisonment or fine, or private action such as legal judgment against the offender obtained by the person injured by the action prohibited by law. Indeed, as a veritable instrument of justice, laws serve to maintain the proper balance between the authority being wielded by the State, on the one hand, and the constitutional rights to be enjoyed by its citizens, on the other hand. By themselves, laws are supposed to serve the ends of justice and fair play at all times if they are to be effective tools for attaining a well-ordered society. They are, in fact, enacted not so much for the purpose of imposing the will of the State over her subjects nor of elevating human rights to such heights as would undermine the powers of the State as for the purpose of effecting a happy balance between rights and authority. I believe that laws can be a potent instrument of justice if, and only if, rights are exercised within their framework and, conversely, laws are enacted with due respect to human rights.