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Why follow rules?

By: Jose Maria L. Marella - @inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 05:06 AM September 23, 2018

During rush hour, the unassertive commuter silently chastises the

inconsiderate commuter who cuts in line to cram into the next brimming
jeepney. The nerve of disregarding a simple rule as waiting in line. But he
never knows, or considers, that the other commuter might have had to
care for a sick child before leaving home, or with a stern boss on the
verge of firing him while he badly needs the job to pay for his child’s
tuition — factors that make cutting preferable to waiting.

Rules are little more than systems of payoffs and disincentives that
influence rather than command individual action. Depending on his
calculus of perceived risks, projected benefits and constrained resources,
one is just as likely to wait or cut in line. Rules, although articulated in
abstract syntax, operate in constantly changing contexts.

Waiting in line is a soft rule — a hardly binding social practice packaged

as “good manners.” What of rules elevated to the status of law? A product
of consensus, backed by sanctions and enforceable before courts —
would obedience to such be made more compelling?

Constitutional law establishes legislative inquiry powers as coercive,

limited only by tenets of due process. Yet, Solicitor General Jose Calida
believes he can deflect a Senate inquiry with Malacañang connections,
resort to an enfeebled Court, and diversionary tactics on Sen. Antonio
Trillanes’ amnesty. To Calida, law is but an element in a cost-benefit

One must simply amass enough money, power and influence to dilute the
efficacy of legal commands. In economic parlance, one would be easing
budget constraints or minimizing risks, ultimately increasing the chances
to obtain the desired payoffs. But the rule-breaker’s actions pose negative
externalities—social costs like the welfare of an aggrieved party, the
weakening of the legal system, and mixed signals as to the importance of
the law.

Consider the allure of the chief justice post, with a concomitant

improvement in retirement benefits, as against the costs of undermining
judicial independence, earning public ire, and overturning judicial
precedent on impeachment proceedings. For all their mystique,
magistrates — writes Judge Richard Posner — are no more than workers
in a labor market responding to different incentives.

We must discard the notion that law — purportedly crafted to serve

higher collective purposes — can, in and of itself, command its own
obedience. Adherence is an individual matter, and, unfortunately, the
difficulty arises when the individual’s set of payoffs and incentives is
incongruent to the common good.

Law is cheapened when no less than the President, constitutionally

mandated to “faithfully execute the laws,” disregards an arbitral ruling
that secured to the Philippines its sovereign rights over maritime
resources—sending out the clarion message that laws are mere
instruments that can easily be shelved.

Depreciation is caused by a presidential spokesperson who, in press

statements, affirms the SolGen’s mangling of legal doctrine to justify an
amnesty as “void ab initio.” Such pronouncements disrupt the legal
system, distorting the law’s substance, especially in the minds of the
legally untrained. Stability and predictability are key to following the law.

Most tragic is, while the political and economic elite possess purchasing
power to parry the law’s heavy hand, the marginalized are smothered
under its iron fist. For the unnamed whose blood has seeped into the
streets, obtaining resources is not even about going around the law—it’s
as simple as obtaining redress.
Far from being a profound issue, following or disobeying the law is
reduced to the unsavory question of: Who can afford to do so?

Why follow rules? The only hope for adherence is when individual
incentives align with the law’s avowed purposes. But until we learn to
dissolve “dilaw”/“Dutertard” dichotomies, or quell social media’s
polarizing chaos, individual interest remains detached from the law’s
collective importance.


Jose Maria L. Marella, a summa cum laude graduate from the UP School
of Economics, is a senior in the UP College of Law.

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/116270/why-follow-rules#ixzz5S68WZNE4

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