Oh, Nancy Binay…


Nancy Binay, Constitutionalist, civil rights champion, and, of late, Senator of the Republic, has chimed in on a bill that is aimed at preventing political families from fielding relatives and various scions for political posts in successive, simultaneous, or overlapping terms.

The passage of the bill at the committee level at the House of Representatives was hailed as historic by ACT Teachers party-list Representative Antonio Tinio.

For the first time, an anti-dynasty bill has reached the committee level and has been approved,” he said almost tautologically.

Binay, though, daughter of the vice president and sister to a Makati mayor and a Makati district representative, warned that passing such a bill “may limit what the Constitution says about who can run.”

The 1987 Constitution lists as a state policy that “the State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

Since 1987, Congress has yet to pass a law defining political dynasties, so that prohibition has been pretty much enforced on the honesty system.

Here, at least, Binay has a point. The Constitution also lays down who can run for what political positions. Generally, anyone past a certain age, can read and write, is a registered voter, and a resident can seek political office.

That is the kind of argument, though, that should be raised at committee hearings, where experts on the Constitution can say whether or not it holds water. Not in a press statement in reaction to legislation pending in a separate chamber of Congress.

Now this is where Binay flounders. Passing a law against dynasties, she said, “may also go against the principle of Vox Populi, Vox Dei.” Or, the voice of the people is the voice of God.

In the first place, there is no such principle in the Constitution or, hopefully, anywhere in a secular state.

Granted, the phrase was used as a whereas and a battlecry during Edsa II. That does not make it anything more than a slogan, though. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was not installed into office based on it, at any rate.

The Office of the President was declared vacant and so she was sworn in. Vox populi, no matter how loud on that short stretch of EDSA did not enter into it all that much. Much less, Vox Dei except for having the stage set up at Our Lady of EDSA shrine and for generally good weather throughout the whole exercise.

Even worse, Vox Populi, Vox Dei doesn’t quite mean what we think it does.

Here’s Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez comment on the phrase in a concurring opinion in Lambino v. Comelec, the failed people’s initiative to amend the Constitution:

Vox populi vox Dei — the voice of the people is the voice of God. Caution should be exercised in choosing one’s battlecry, lest it does more harm than good to one’s cause. In its original context, the complete version of this Latin phrase means exactly the opposite of what it is frequently taken to mean.

It originated from a holy man, the monk Alcuin, who advised Charlemagne, “nec audiendi qui solent dicere vox populi vox Dei quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit,” meaning, “And those people should not be listened to who keep on saying, ‘The voice of the people is the voice of God,’ since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.”

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