AS I mentioned last week, heckling has an uncertain place in the Philippines. Much, possibly too much, respect is given to the speaker. Consequently, the speaker makes pronouncements that, at best, are challengeable and, more likely, are just plain wrong. The heckler has an important role to play because he may cause the speaker to reappraise what he is saying. No challenges mean that some speakers believe that they are uttering profound and inviolable truths. Challenges are a necessary component of the democratic discourse.

Independence Day is an occasion where leaders make speeches which are not above challenge. This is good, a speech that does not engender debate is likely to be bland and platitudinous.

In San Juan, Senate President Franklin Drilon’s Independence Day’s speech appealed to us to keep our faith in democratic institutions such as the Senate where three of its members are facing plunder and graft cases at the Sandiganbayan because of alleged irregularities in the implementation of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

We understand. We can distinguish between the institutions, such as the Senate, which are essential Constitutional components of Philippine sovereignty, and members of those institutions whose conduct is suspect. When members of our august bodies step outside the bounds of propriety, however, the institutions are weakened.

In January 2001, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) decided that the conduct of President Estrada created an unacceptable gulf with the sanctity of Philippine sovereignty so the AFP “withdrew its support” for the democratically-elected President. There is a clear distinction between an institution, whether it is the President or the Senate, and those who occupy the institution. Drilon need not worry overmuch about the safety of Senate as a respected, democratic instrument of Philippine sovereignty. No one is recommending that Senate be disbanded.

During the week before Independence Day, Drilon asked that, to preserve the dignity of the Senate, the three Senators who are facing charges should not be arrested on the Senate floor. At the time I agreed with him but after Bong Revilla’s privilege speech I was not so sure.

Drilon’s Independence Day speech rightly drew attention to the “brave and selfless Filipinos who valiantly fought the foreign colonizers to liberate our country, thus giving birth to Asia’s first democracy.” True but it should be remembered that it was one of the colonizers, the Americans, who did much to create our democratic institutions. Franklin Drilon will be aware that it was another Franklin, US President Roosevelt, who verified the first Philippine Constitution in 1935, thereby taking a major step in democratizing the Philippines.

In fact, some of the Constitutional changes that have been proposed recently by Senator Drilon, such as those which encourage foreign investment, are to be found in the 1935 Constitution though not in the current 1987 version.

Sadly, democracy is fragile and progress since 1986 has not been as great as the optimists at the time would have hoped for.

Impunity is profoundly undemocratic. We are now seeing the apparent results of impunity that existed from 2007-2009.

Will we see the results of 2010-2014 malpractices before 2016? Or will, as seems more likely, we shall have to wait until a later presidency?