No Freedom without Order

Manila Bulletin, April 26, 2006 | Go to article overview

No Freedom without Order


Byline: JUSTICE VICENTE V. MENDOZA

(Speech delivered by former Supreme Court Justice Vicente V. Mendoza at the graduation ceremonies of the UP College of Law in Diliman, Quezon City, on April 25, 2006.)

DEAR Carlota, my colleagues in the faculty, dear parents and graduates, my friends:

I confess to being troubled after accepting your invitation to be your guest speaker on this occasion. Not that I did not appreciate the honor implied in your invitation. But I did a cost-benefit analysis, and I worried whether the time spent in preparing a speech would be justified by its reception. I realized that on this occasion, the thoughts of the graduates are on their parents, their girl friends, and the challenge of the bar exams. What chance would a retired justice like me have against such competitors? However, I derived some comfort from the thought that countless self-appointed moralists like me all over the country would be rising these days on countless platforms to give solicited and unsolicited counsel, and perhaps they would be as uncomfortable and as troubled as I was. On balance, I thought, however, that I could reciprocate your kindness in lending me your ears by making my speech short yet long enough, like a bikini, to let me cover the principal point of my message. As you will presently see, I want to illustrate the meaning of a great statement. No, it's not my statement, but that of a great poet, who was also a great lawyer: Wallace Stevens.

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today as you conclude your formal study of the law and prepare for the world outside in which you will be put on your mettle. As one who has been there in all years of my professional life, I believe I can tell you something about the constitutional order in the maintenance of which all of us have a vital stake. I want to tell you that the constitutional order is not something that will not break or that can hold anything because it has an unlimited capacity. It is such a fragile and delicate thing that is easy to break but hard to keep.

Twelve years ago, I had an opportunity to tell the graduating class of 1994 of this great college that freedom isn't freedom till it is exercised, as I challenged them to use their freedom in order to deserve them. For freedom can be lost through anarchy as through atrophy or by default. Today I should like to elaborate on this theme and say that there can be no freedom without order, just as there can be no order without freedom. Freedom is demanded to maintain the legal order, while order is required for freedom to survive. Freedom and order are not anti-thetical terms; on the contrary, they are mutually reinforcing. As Wallace Stevens said in his poem, "Connoisseur of Chaos," they are in fact one:

"A. A violent order is a disorder; and

"B. A great disorder is an order. These "two things are one."

Indeed, "these two things are one," but the truth of this statement needs "pages of illustrations" to be understood. I have, therefore, made some effort to write some "pages of illustrations" as my message to you on this occasion.

A regime maintained by force is a violent order, which is actually a disorder, while an assembly of the University Council, animatedly discussing the pros and cons of an issue, the cacophonous voices of the disputants filling the rafters of the University Theater and disturbing the tranquility that is Diliman, is a great disorder, may even an upheaval. Still, it is an order, no less than the great noise of the marketplace is an order.

Indeed, the constitutional order rests on a delicate balance between liberty and authority, very much like the order of the universe as described in the following lines from Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida:

The heavens themselves, this planet, and this center

Observe degree, priority, and place

Insisture, course, proportion, season, form

Office, and custom, in all line of order.

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