A Disagreeing Opinion

So the Chief of the Public Attorney’s Office – the highly esteemed Persida Acosta – has filed her application for the Supreme Court seat soon to be vacated by Justice Jose Perez (who I cannot stop calling “ACA Peps” in my mind, from the time I spent at the Office of the Court Administrator).

Before I go any further, I strongly recommend reading these two Rappler stories about her interview with the Judicial and Bar Council: This one, where she admits to a rookie job applicant mistake; and this one, where she – in my opinion – flubbed an airball of a question which I thought she could’ve knocked clean across the park, past the woods, over the river and into next week, but didn’t.

One last thing before moving on, know that I have the highest respect for the PAO Chief and what she has accomplished at the PAO. Know also that I am aware of the sort of pressure she must’ve been under, during her interview, and that most people under the same set of circumstances would probably not fare half as well as she did. That being said, off we go!

Rookie Mistake

It is one of the cardinal rules of preparing for a job interview that the interviewee should know everything she possibly can about the company she is interviewing for. You want to work for Google? Then a self-inflicted wound would be the inevitable result of you going into the interview not knowing what Google Docs is all about. It really is that basic, and you’d think that someone applying for the position of Supreme Court Justice would know that. But when asked to discuss several high-profile SC decisions of recent vintage, Acosta went and shot herself in the foot.

Acosta admitted that she had read about the SC (decisions) only in the newspapers.

I didn’t see the televised interview myself, but I can imagine how that snippet of information was received by the interviewers. As it was, Acosta was pointedly reminded that she needed to ‘read more.’ I have no doubt that she had already come to that conclusion herself.

There really is no excusing this gaffe, obviously, but I still think we should cut her some slack. The workload at the PAO is horrific, to put it mildly. To make matters worse, that office is chronically under-funded, under-provisioned, and under-manned.  Under those conditions, it isn’t at all difficult to imagine PAO lawyers – their Chief included – developing some admittedly unfortunate work-arounds that ultimately allow them to keep up with the stuff they’re expected to accomplish. Oh sure, it’s easy to take the high road and demand the highest quality work at all times. I’m all for that too, but a healthy dose of pragmatism might not be entirely out of place here.

So she under-prepared for her interview. terrible, I know. But previous performance is no guarantee of future quality. And if she were to be appointed to the Court, do we really expect her not to level-up? In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to keep in mind that, under her helmsmanship, the PAO has managed to keep it’s head above water and, in the process, has been providing yeoman service to countless Filipinos in desperate need of competent representation.

On the scale of things to worry about future Justices doing, I think under-preparing for a job interview would definitely be on the low end of the spectrum. The nature of the future Justice’s legal opinionating, however, is a different story altogether.

That Airball

Asked if she thought there were existing laws that favoured one sex over the other, Acosta pointed out the Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) Act, noting that men lacked similar protection despite themselves being victims of violence. She then went on to tackle the laws on adultery and concubinage.

[Sa] adultery and concubinage, dapat mas mahigpit sa babae kaysa sa lalaki. Dahil ang babae ang ilaw ng tahanan. Kapag nawasak ang tahanan, nagloko ang babae, wala na. Kapag ang lalaki nagloko, ang babae matatag, siya ang ilaw, buhay pa ang tahanan,” she said.

(Rapper’s translation: For adultery and concubinage, it should be stricter on women more than on men. Because women are the light of the home. If the home is destroyed because the woman cheats, it’s over. But if the man cheats, the woman remains strong, and since she is the light of the home, the home remains strong.)

Hokay. So she’s definitely right of centre on this one (I would’ve said she was a conservative but those labels – liberal, conservative – mean little in the Philippines). Don’t get me wrong. This opinion is probably shared by more people than we can imagine, seeing as how we live in the only country in the world – apart from the Vatican State which doesn’t count – still without legalised divorce, but pardon me if I say that it rankles is something I cannot agree with.

As they stand, the laws on adultery and concubinage are ridiculously skewed in favour of men. Ask any lawyer and you will be told that it is far easier to prove adultery than it is to prove concubinage. Not to put too fine a point on it, a woman can get in trouble for simply fucking a man she isn’t married to, whereas a married man can fuck any woman and not get into any legal trouble as long as he isn’t living with her. Great deal for men who, if they’re fucking around, are probably not likely to want to have to live with their side-bang anyway. Lousy deal for women who, despite what the law seems to think, are not sexless androids with chronically depressed libidos.

That Acosta agrees with this state of affairs (pun mostly unintended) is troublesome, to say the least, because it perpetuates discriminatory treatment against women. What’s even more worrying is that she framed her support for these laws within hopelessly outdated social and gender norms, whilst in the midst of the most powerful wave of gender equality reform in recent memory. She is either completely out of touch with the struggles of half of humanity, or she is a willing participant in the continued oppression of women.

And just so we’re clear, yes, I believe women should be able to fuck whoever the hell they want, whenever the hell they want, and that the law should not have any power to stifle that right, unless intervention is made necessary by reason of public health or safety. And even then, the power to intervene should be given the narrowest interpretation possible to ensure public health and safety.

What about the sanctity of the family? Well, what about it? Existing adultery and concubinage laws do not protect the sanctity of the family, contrary to Acosta’s opinion on the matter. All those laws do is shift the burden of being responsible adults onto the shoulders of the woman, while giving the man a free pass to dick around. That’s not just unfair, that’s downright medieval. We might as well go back to treating ‘hysterical’ women with electroshock therapy and firehoses.

I freely admit that there are lots and lots of people who can argue this far better than I ever can. Over the next few days, I suspect you will get the chance to read or listen to their arguments. Myself, I can only rail at the intrinsic injustice of such a point of view as held by the PAO Chief. But push back a bit and consider this: there is pending anti-discriminatory legislation in Congress; the Magna Carta of Women’s Rights is under constant attack; and substantial portions of the Reproductive Health Law are still in limbo. Now imagine a Supreme Court with one more Associate Justice who believes that laws should put an entire class of humans at a disadvantage simply because they have a different set of plumbing. Is that comforting at all?

If, on the other hand, that is the Supreme Court you want to see, then I humbly – if most emphatically – disagree.



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