|Sir Thomas More, The Man for all Seasons|
In my commentaries on Philippine politics and the rule of law, I have always alluded to Thomas More, who lost his head because King Henry VIII of England wanted the Crown to remain on his head and his male issue. As the story goes, it was a female issue from Henry's loins that brought England to glory for ever! But Henry never saw that happen. What Henry saw was the probably the first major change in England's constitutional arrangements since the Magna Carta. Henry had Parliament pass a series of acts culminating in the Acts of Supremacy, which made the King the Head of the English Church. Thus the English Church was separated from the jurisdiction of the Pope in Rome.
More argued quite correctly that Henry cannot have Supremacy over the Church since the canons of Christendom and his coronation oath deny him this power.
" this Indictment is grounded upon an Act of Parliament, directly repugnant ,to the Laws of God and his Holy Church, the Supreme Government of which, or of any part thereof, no Temporal Person may by any Law presume to take upon him, being what right belongs to the See of Rome, which by special Prerogative was granted by the Mouth of our Savior Christ himself to St. Peter, and the Bishops of Rome"
More and a host of English Catholics refused to recognize the King's supremacy and many lost their heads. Thus the Crown was secured from foreign intervention and a new Church by law established but at a inestimable price which resulted in England losing "things of beauty". With More gone, a new Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell executed the King's policies but in the end lost his head too!
In England then as now the Monarch is Sovereign. Legally she has absolute power, but she is limited and bound by convention and thus has really very little political power to speak of. This powerlessness is shown by the fact that if Parliament issues a death warrant for the Monarch's head, she will be bound by convention to sign it! However, convention dictates that she exercise her power through her ministers who advise her and the electorate provides a check on the absolute powers exercised in the Queen's name. Thus in practice, almost all these powers are exercised by her government who are responsible to Parliament. If the government loses confidence of Parliament it has to resign and an election is called. In the Philippines, then as now, the People are sovereign but the Constitution allows their power exercised only through the Constitution which defines three separate but co-equal branches of government. The President as representative of the people executes these powers of which he has competence. Similarly Congress as representatives of the people in assembly does what is within their powers and the Courts do so within theirs.
This is the context of Fr Bernas commentary. But in our case, the Chief Justice has the Crown and the President just his balding head. So it is a wry but ironic commentary. Noynoy wants to have the Supremacy over the Justices which the Constitution denies him. But like Henry he can get the parliament to bend to his will and so the impeachment steam locomotive is well steaming along!
The Reformation set the stage for the English Civil War which neither was much about religion but about who is Supreme over the realm. A King's head was the price for the battle between the supremacy of Parliament over the Crown. In the end, Parliament won and so we see the system of Constitutional monarchy in England today which Pope Benedict XVI praised in a speech to the British political establishment in Westminster Hall as
"This country’s Parliamentary tradition owes much to the national instinct for moderation, to the desire to achieve a genuine balance between the legitimate claims of government and the rights of those subject to it. While decisive steps have been taken at several points in your history to place limits on the exercise of power, the nation’s political institutions have been able to evolve with a remarkable degree of stability. In the process, Britain has emerged as a pluralist democracy"
But the EDSA constitutional system which Fr Bernas help aborning did not evolve into a way of moderation in our political life.
Thus he warns
"In this critical moment of our constitutional history, my hope is that the justices of the Supreme Court, imperfect though they may be, will not capitulate and that others in the judiciary will not tremble in their boots and yield what is constitutionally theirs to President Aquino. If they do, it would be tragic for our nation.