Culture, Human Rights

On TV Cops and Lawyers (And On Drawing the Naked Blade)

As a kid I grew up watching cop and lawyer shows on TV. I don’t remember how I went from watching He-Man, Thundercats and Transformers to staying up late for Miami Vice, Cagney and Lacey and Wiseguy. My parents, particularly my Dad, used to watch those cop shows at 9 in the evening (they show the news at 10 p.m. during the 80s), and we get to watch with him. I think what persuaded my Mom to tolerate us watching those shows was the fact that there were hardly any kissing scenes in cop shows.

I remember that my favorite night was Thursday, during which time they showed two mystery shows: Night Heat, featuring detectives named Frank and Kevin; and The Equalizer, starring Edward Woodward as Robert McCall. The latter I particularly liked. It had an original premise, with Woodward’s character a former spy for a government agency who became a vigilante (not the Norberto Manero type, though). The show never revealed what McCall exactly did before he became The Equalizer. But it hinted that McCall was involved in something rotten, like being an assassin for the US government, or training rightwing death squads in Latin America, or for that matter, posing as a diplomat while spying on foreign governments like the Philippines, ala Joseph Mussomeli.

Whatever the case, McCall must have realized his evil ways. He quit the espionage business and sought redemption by solving crimes that victimized ordinary people. Where the justice system failed, there was The Equalizer to, well, equalize things, in the form of an anonymous ad in the Yellow Pages or something, which said: “Got a problem? Odds against you? Call The Equalizer!” and then his number. The criminal justice system in the US must have been so bad that The Equalizer got more calls than he can handle. Everyday, he would sit in his couch, drink his coffee, eat his doughnut, while listening to tons of messages in his answering machine from people pleading for help (good thing the answering machine had been invented by then, or he would have had to hire a secretary).

By the end of each show, The Equalizer would turnover the crook to cops, anonymously of course. Justice would then prevail, albeit not the brand the US government sanctioned. As a show, The Equalizer was unique in its portrayal of the US justice system. Most cop shows, tough, had cops for protagonists. And at the end of the show and after all the crises the cop would go through (like corruption within his ranks), our faith in the justice system would be restored. The crooks are behind bars and the rule of law prevails.


If you’re wondering, the reason I began thinking about those cop and lawyer (Perry Mason, Law and Order, LA Law, The Practice) shows was because of Gloria Arroyo. Yes, our counterfeit president, who of late recently unleashed some freighteningly vicious campaign against dissenters in the form of a couple of EOs (464 and 467) and a CPR (no, not the one George Clooney did in ER). In her defense of those policies, Gloria said that it was time to strictly enforce the “rule of law” against those nosy oppositionists and militant groups who would not stop until she steps down.

After hearing Gloria, I began wondering what those lawyers in lawyer shows would say given this situation with Gloria. Would Perry Mason protest such arbitray or even utter ignorance for the real “rule of law,” something he knows a lot about? Would Bobby Donnell (Dylan McDermott in The Practice) say something? Faced with the utter arrogance of a non-lawyer, would the impetuous Ally McBeal join lawyers like those from the Counsels for the Defense of Liberties and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, who were in full force during last week’s big rally?

Faced with a dearth of lawyer-heroes to look up to and respect in today’s television (with McDermott gone and all), I started reading former Supreme Court Justice Isagani Cruz’s law book Constitutional Law. It’s actually quite an engaging read for a law book. A friend who went to UP Law School once told me Cruz’s book is seldom used as textbook for courses on constitutional law. Cruz’s book, they say, is too impassioned for a course traditionally handled dispassionately. Written just three years after a civil uprising ended two decades of severe state repression under El Macoy, Cruz argued passionately for our civil liberties. In law schools, I was told his views were regarded as “activist,” the legal opinions he penned as an associate justice of the Supreme Court were consistently progessive and liberal, not to mention eloquent.

Naturally, the most volumious section of his book was on freedom of _expression. In discussing the scope of such freedom, Cruz wrote thus: “To be really meaningful, (such freedom) should permit the articulation of even the unorthodox view, though it be hostile to or derided by others, or'”induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.’ One of the functions of this freedom is precisely, according to the US Supreme Court, ‘to invite dispute.’ Unity is too high a price to pay for the loss of liberty.”

What really blew me off, though, was Cruz’s fiery defense of our right of assembly. Citing local and US cases, Cruz’s words cut through the heart of today’s debate on the constitutionality, or lack thereof, of Gloria’s CPR. He wrote, “Like the other rights embraced in freedom of _expression, the right to assemble is not subject to previous restraint or censorship. Hence, it may not be conditioned upon the prior issuance of a permit or authorization from government authorities.”

Cruz further clarifies that in the Public Assembly Act (or B.P. 880 — a Marcosian law upon which the “no permit, no rally policy” is based), a local official (e.g. Mayor Atienza of Manila) may only regulate the holding of rallies and cannot altogether ban them. For rallies in public places, a permit is required and must be submitted five days prior to the rally. But if not acted upon within two days after submission, the permit is deemed granted. A permit may only be refused, said Cruz, if there is clear and present danger to the public, the burden of proving such is upon the local official. Clear and present danger, said Cruz, means that danger to the public must not only be possible, but certain.

In ending the chapter on freedom of _expression, Cruz cited an SC decision he penned in the Tanada v. Tuvera case: “Laws must come out in the open in the clear light of the sun instead of skulking in the shadows with their dark, deep secrets…A furtive law is like a scabbarded saber that cannot feint, parry or cut unless the naked blade is drawn.” He might as well be talking about Gloria’s regime, with its endless invocation of a “rule of law” that most people do not understand and, if exposed to the light of public scrunity, will be seen as nothing more than a sham.


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