How can something decent and progressive become illegal? At the same time, how can something disturbing and distorted be proclaimed legal?
The concept of “the legal” has become paradoxical in itself. It serves as a license of the state to declare whether something deserves acceptance, dispute or some kind of authoritative might. In instances when something “already legal” contravenes the new will of the powers that be, the state is quick in rallying its force just to abolish what it sees as a stumbling block to its mission of preserving its doctrinal power. The state, then, has a double-edged power in this sense. It has the overarching might to decide what is legal, and the power to destroy what it considers a threat to its survival by proclaiming such as illegal.
There are two recent cases where we can make sense of the political contradictions between illegality and legality.
The first case: the Lumad indigenous schools are illegal.
In his yet another populist tirade, President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to bomb indigenous schools which he claimed is teaching subversion and rebellion. Beyond this plain rhetoric of bombing, the more serious threat lies in the way he nurtured the might of the military when he warned the schools: “I will use the Armed Forces, the Philippine Air Force. Talagang bobombahan ko ‘yung mga…lahat ng ano ninyo (I will really bomb all of it [referring to the entire school structure]) because you are operating illegally and you are teaching the children to rebel against government”.
Following this, the military through its spokesperson verbalized the threat, this time, directed towards the people behind the operation of what it sees as “illegal learning institutions”. In a press conference, it fortified the rhetoric of bombing as a means to communicate a strong government position and that it is “not intended to really destroy the community but to extend a message, a very strong message, to the people behind the organization of this illegal learning institutions to comply with government regulation”.
The second case: a hero’s burial for the dictator is legal.
In a recent Supreme Court ruling, the highest tribunal affirmed its November 2016 decision of according Marcos a place at the country’s Heroes’ Cemetery. This took place amid two separate petitions that sought a reversal of the Court’s original ruling.
Such event does not merely confer Marcos a heroic space in history. But on an equal level, it signals a perfect timing for the rest of the Marcoses and their cronies to launch a return to the center isle of power. It is an obvious mockery of the real heroes, living and otherwise, who suffered under the deceptive and legalized martial rule then orchestrated by the Marcoses.
So, why then are such contradictions inevitable?
Contradictions are embedded in these institutions of state power. They have every reason to feast out of such contradictions. They are where they are supposed to be because of the power and might that they themselves cultivate “in the name of the state”. For example, there is one default way of rationalizing an online surveillance, or an online libel, or the sudden disappearance of a student activist, or the precise killing of a hard-hitting journalist – that is, all in the name of national security, all in the name of the state.
Illegality and legality, first and foremost, preserve the survival of the state. The two operate on a binary mechanism of right and wrong, left and right. Its institutions of state power, or what was similarly referred to as state apparatuses in social and critical theory, are generally expected to function as guardian of legitimacy and re-enforcer of the power capital of the state.
There are indeed laws that secure a set of fundamental rights. And there are rights without a single well-articulated doctrine of legality. Ours is more of the latter.