The president has to be a tough law enforcer

The Constitution allocates power to three branches of government -the legislative branch, which enacts the laws; the executive department, which enforces the law; and the judiciary, which interprets the law. Legislative power is vested in Congress; executive power in the President; and judicial power in the Supreme Court.

Although too many laws already exist in the Philippines, senators and congressmen believe that the more bills a legislator files, the more competent the legislator is perceived to be. That is a fallacy because almost all of those bills are left unacted upon and die a legislative death when the next congressional elections begin.

The problem lies in law enforcement. Well-meaning laws, if unenforced, are worthless. For instance, although the Clean Air Act forbids smoke-belching vehicles from the roads, many public utility buses on Edsa violate this law with impunity. Tricycle drivers add oil to their fuel tanks to increase the volume of their fuel, but they end up with vehicles that produce thick, irritating white smoke.

Another example is the national penitentiary, where convicted drug lords are given special accommodations and privileges by prison officials. When Liberal Party senatorial candidate Leila de Lima was the Justice secretary, these felons lived in air-conditioned, spacious quarters, with access to restaurant food, cable television, the internet, mobile telephones, and firearms. No wonder rich criminals are not afraid to be put behind bars!

Traffic regulations, the most basic of rules in the metropolis, are disobeyed by many motorists and pedestrians. Unless there are traffic enforcers nearby, taxicab and jeepney drivers load and unload anywhere they please, breach traffic lights, and enter one-way streets the wrong way. When accosted by traffic lawmen, they scratch their heads and plead they are only trying to make a living. Since when has one's working-class status been an excuse for disobeying traffic regulations?

Many jeepney drivers keep rocks near their vehicles' pedals. They throw these rocks at drivers of private vehicles who reprimand them for disregarding traffic rules.

Drivers of luxury vehicles are worse. Because their employers are wealthy and powerful, they assume that they are exempted from traffic rules, particularly from "no parking" signages. Their impunity eventually conditions the children of their employers into believing that with wealth and power comes exemption from compliance with the law.

One big concern of law enforcement is organized crime. Criminal syndicates behind illegal drugs, kidnapping, human trafficking, and large-scale smuggling will not hesitate to use money or violence to protect their operations. Corruptible bureaucrats and law enforcers are paid to look the other way whenever these organizations have transactions. The honest and dedicated ones are summarily killed to discourage future resistance.

Terrorism is another concern of law enforcement. Islamic separatist groups and kidnap for ransom gangs in Mindanao have powerful firearms and will not hesitate to kill any policeman or soldier who gets in their way. Many of these groups have no respect for women and treat their female victims inhumanely.

All that, in a nutshell, illustrates the total collapse of law and order in the Philippines under President Benigno Aquino III.

Since law enforcement is an executive function, the Constitution explicitly requires the president, as the top executive of the country, to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed. That is why the national police and the armed forces are under his ultimate authority.

Sadly, a president vested with executive power is not enough. As the primary law enforcer in a troubled country, the president has to be tough as steel if he is to succeed in enforcing the law. Since lawless elements will respect only those they fear, the president must talk to lawless elements in the language the criminals understand. If the criminals refuse to listen, the president must use force of the type and intensity the criminals are afraid of. All that must be done by the president himself, and not by some representative or hireling. Otherwise, the president will be seen as a weakling, and large-scale crime will continue unabated.

During his strongman administration, President Ferdinand Marcos conveyed the message to everyone that he was serious about law enforcement. Thus, curfew violators and reckless motorists were required to pull weeds from the old center island of Edsa (now occupied by the MRT) for everyone to behold. Soon enough, the number of violators declined, motorists followed traffic rules, and pedestrians crossed the streets at designated lanes.

Likewise during his strongman rule, Marcos ordered the execution by musketry, at Fort Bonifacio, of convicted drug lord Lim Seng. After the execution was televised, the drug menace plaguing the country was halted.

In 1974, when a power outage darkened the national capital region for two consecutive nights, Marcos publicly threatened the top officials of the state-owned power company with unemployment if the brownouts continued. After that announcement, the dark nights were no more.

Five years later, when parents complained about violent Japanese animated robot programs on a popular television channel, Marcos put a stop to the violent programming.

Since 1946, the United States used the term "aid" to refer to what it paid Manila for its military bases in the Philippines. Under Marcos, the Americans were compelled to call it "rent." Marcos was also the obvious leader of the Association of South East Asian Nations. Unfortunately, the presidents after Marcos were poor approximations of the executive that he was.

If the president is seen as a weakling, or a stooge of vested interest groups, or an alien, or an inexperienced but ambitious politician, or one beholden to big corporations subject to state regulation, or one who, despite health problems, insists on leading the country, or a hopelessly corrupt politician, that president will not enjoy the respect of the people, and will not be feared by criminal organizations. Law enforcement will remain an impossible dream, and crime will not be reduced, much less eradicated.

Source: The Standard

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