THEN Cebu City mayor Mike Rama in December 2016, towards the end of his term and apparently confident of reelection, squelched critics by saying in print and on TV, “Pag-mayor una mo. (Be a mayor first.)”
Last July 15, in an ANC interview, Solicitor General Jose Calida replied to criticisms of President Duterte’s foreign policy on China, “Become the President first before giving an opinion” on the issue.
In effect: You’re not the mayor, you’re not the President. You have no right or competence to criticize.
Also last July 15, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, slamming Iceland for leading a resolution of the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, said, “There are more killings of unborn babies in Iceland than drug pushers (in our country)...”
In other words: Iceland, you abort more babies than we gun down drug suspects. How dare you investigate us?
Both arguments are flawed, yet many of us are persuaded by them.
Both Mike Rama and Solgen Calida used the same device in argument: Tell the critic to keep quiet because he did not have the position and power, knowledge and wisdom to criticize.
As public officials, they were bound to allow dissent, from whatever source, although they could choose the comment they’d care to answer.
But it is arrogant, if not despotic, to require that the critic become mayor first before he could talk about how City Hall should tackle a problem, or become President first before he could disagree with government policy on China and the use of our exclusive natural resources.
Where the flaw lies
Since there is only one mayor or one President at a time, no one else, under Rama’s and Calida’s theory, can give a contrary opinion to the chief executive’s policy.
That plainly does not fly in the face of the country’s democratic precepts. A structure of three departments and the principle of checks and balances, on top of free speech and free press, allow and encourage robust discussion on any issue of public interest.
That the President is the architect of foreign policy does not slam the door on contrary opinion, especially when the policy is difficult to understand and justify. A mayor is not expected to be less transparent and tolerant.
The Sotto argument
Senate President Sotto’s swatting of Iceland for having no moral superiority to criticize the Philippines uses what they call “moral equivalence.” Sotto compared two different things to make the point that one is just as bad as the other. He said killing drug suspects is less bad than killing unborn babies: a suspect can fight back, an unborn baby cannot.
The flaw in the argument is that aborting a baby, when allowed by the laws of a country, especially when there are compelling reasons for it—such as the mother’s health or deformity of the child—is not criminal under United Nations standards, to which our country submits. The UN condemns extrajudicial killings but not legalized abortion.
Aborting an unwanted pregnancy cannot be made an equivalent to executing suspects without due process. (Although the Catholic Church abhors both).
Although abortion is illegal in the Philippines, the country kills unborn babies: Some 470,000 induced abortions, or almost a third of women aged 16 to 44 choosing to have an abortion, were recorded in 2010. (And four of five abortions here were for economic reason, not to eradicate Down’s syndrome, which was Iceland’s purpose for liberalizing its abortion law.)
If the fallacy were pursued, it couldn’t be said that aborting unborn babies is worse than gunning down crime suspects. Mothers wanted to terminate pregnancy; crime suspects didn’t plead to be killed. Still, each should be assessed separately and one must not be used to justify or repel the other.
Extrajudicial killings are crimes under our laws and, apparently with the United Nations Human Rights Council decision to investigate us, under international law as well.