"Despite these clear legal and biblical proscriptions, some continue to render unjust judgments or give false testimony."
Legal minds and political nitpickers have said much about the Rule of Law. For those in power, it may be a convenient tool to perpetuate it; while for the minority who were once in power, the Rule of Law is a necessary implement to maintain the balance of power in an unequal political environment.
But for the oppressed, underprivileged and marginalized, the Rule of Law guarantees the protection of their rights, equal treatment and a fair application of the law. Former President Ramon Magsaysay’s slogan aptly capsulized the equalizing effect of the law—“those who have less in life should have more in law.”
What really is the Rule of Law? The rule of law is a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards (https://www.doj.gov.ph/philippine-development-forum.html).
In the same definition, it also requires measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency (https://www.doj.gov.ph/philippine-development-forum.html).
In the Courts of the United States, the definition of the Rule of law is similar if not identical to that of the Philippines. Their courts play an integral role in maintaining the rule of law, particularly when they hear the grievances voiced by minority groups or by those who may hold minority opinions (https://www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/educational-activities/overview-rule-law).
The concept of the Rule of Law traces its roots to as far back as Aristotle, who formulated the idea of “whether it was better to be ruled by the best of man or the best laws.” However, Montesquieu’s work on the Rule of Law is best known in connection with his insistence on the separation of powers—particularly the separation of judicial power from the executive and legislative authorities (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rule-of-law/)
On the other hand, Dicey advanced that the Rule of Law was legal equality “[w]ith no man above the the law [and] every man, whatever be his rank or condition, is subject to the ordinary law of the realm and amenable to the jurisdiction of the ordinary tribunals.” He further said that “[n]o man is punishable or can be lawfully made to suffer in body or goods except for a distinct breach of law established in the ordinary legal manner before the ordinary Courts of the land” (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rule-of-law/)
In the Bible, Moses sat to be the judge of the people after being delivered from Egypt; and the people stood by Moses from morning until the evening (Exodus 18:13). His father in law then advised him that he will surely wear away, for this is too heavy for him; [he is] not able to perform it alone (Exodus 18:18).
As early as in the time of Moses, there was a need for able men – such as those who fear God, who are honest, and do not covet. These are the people who deserved to rule and judge over thousands, He said (Exodus 18: 21).
The expectation that a judge shall render a fair and just judgment is true now as it was more than a thousand years ago. The judge shall do no unrighteousness in judgment and will judge all people equally (Leviticus 19: 15). Judges shall not pervert justice. They shall not show partiality, and shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous (Deuteronomy 16:19).
The New Code of Judicial Conduct provides that Judges and members of their families shall neither ask for, nor accept, any gift, bequest, loan or favor in relation to anything done or to be done or omitted to be done by him or her in connection with the performance of judicial duties (Canon 4, Section 13).
Judges shall not knowingly permit court staff or others subject to their influence, direction or authority, to ask for, or accept, any gift, bequest, loan or favor in relation to anything done or to be done or omitted to be done in connection with their duties or functions (Canon 4, Section 14).
Republic Act No. 3019 otherwise known as the “Anti Graft and Corrupt Practices Act” mandates that it shall be a corrupt practice and unlawful for public officers to directly or indirectly request or receive any gift, present, share, percentage, or benefit, for himself or for any other person, in connection with any contract or transaction between the Government and any other party. (Section 3 [b]).
It is also unlawful for a public officer to agree to perform an act constituting a crime, in connection with the performance of this official duties, in consideration of any offer, promise, gift or present received by such officer, personally or through the mediation of another (Article 210, Revised Penal Code [RPC]). This crime is commonly known as bribery of a public officer.
If the gifts offered to and accepted by a public officer are by reason of his office, the crime committed is indirect bribery (Article 211, RPC). A person who corrupts a public officer by making offers or promises or gives gifts or presents shall commit the crime of Corruption of Public Officials (Article 212, RPC).
Knowingly rendering an unjust judgment or one rendered by a judge through negligence is punishable. (Articles 204-205, RPC). Even malicious delays in the administration of justice by a judge exposes him to liability (Article 207, RPC).
It is a Biblical ordinance that we shall not spread a false report and join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. (Exodus 23:1). One of the imperatives of the Ten Commandments of God is that we shall not bear false witness against our neighbor (Deuteronomy 5:20).
Making false testimony for or against a defendant in civil cases is unlawful (Articles 180-182, RPC). False testimony also includes knowingly offering a false witness or testimony in any judicial or official proceeding (Article 184, RPC).
However, the most common crime of this nature is perjury. Perjury is committed when a person knowingly makes untruthful statements under oath, or an affidavit of any material matter which the law requires before a person authorized to administer oath (Article 183, RPC).
Despite these clear legal and biblical proscriptions, some continue to render unjust judgments or give false testimony. These irregular practices ruin the judicial system and erode the trust and faith of the public.
If not strictly observed, the Rule of Law will be an empty principle that cannot be upheld. It is undeniable even to those who reject the Rule of Law that regardless of who you are, you are under the fold of the law.