Everyone is presumed to know the law. Whether young or old, educated or uneducated, rich or poor, Filipinos or non-Filipinos, anyone residing or traveling in our country has the responsibility of knowing our laws. If we don’t, we suffer the law’s consequences. “Ignorance of the law excuses no one from compliance therewith,” as the saying goes.
We are prohibited from being ignorant of the law. But does our government adequately educate us on what the laws are? Unfortunately, it does not. The government horribly fails in its duty to inform its subjects on what the laws are and provide them reliable access to these laws. In its practice, the government has a virtual policy of keeping its people ignorant of its laws.
Take for example what is required for a new law to be made known to the people and for the law to enslave them for the rest of their lives. A new law only needs to be published in the Official Gazette (OG) or a national newspaper. But who in the world reads the OG, which is the most obscure and inaccessible of all publications? As to publication in a newspaper, the government assumes that all people subscribe to all newspapers because it publishes only in one and that people read all newspapers every single day of the year.
After the law is published, there is totally no obligation for the government to maintain laws in a permanent publication or online site where lawyers and laypersons can reliably access them at any time.
Take as another example of how regulations issued by executive departments are made binding on citizens—they’re required to be deposited with the University of the Philippines Law Center in Quezon City. But who in the world goes to the UP Law Center, and what kind of access does that provide for lawyers and laypersons based in Visayas and Mindanao?
It’s true that Congress and executive departments maintain websites for their issuances. But they’re presented chronologically, and only masochist researchers will have the patience to read through all of them from the latest to the earlier years, in order to search for a law or rule relevant to their purposes.
For all the obeisance that the government demands, it is horribly remiss in its duty of giving people easy and ready access to all these laws that can destroy or damage their lives and property.
What the Philippines should do is to emulate what the United States does with its laws, which publishes and maintains a United States Code (US Code) where all its laws are gathered in a multivolume publication. The US laws are grouped into 53 subject matters analogous to how our Bar examinations are classified into the eight subjects of political law, labor law, civil law, criminal law, procedural law, commercial law, taxation, and ethics. Each law is classified under a titled subject matter and assigned a section number. Any subsequent amendment of the law would refer to the assigned title and section number. Amendments are published as annexes to the particular volume where the law is grouped. More importantly, the US maintains a website that makes the US Code easily accessible online and for free.
It’s urgently important that the Philippines adopt a system similar to the US Code. Philippine lawyers and judges are left to mine the law from private sources (books and online sites), which provide piecemeal portions of a law’s subject matter. Because they rely on fragmented and private sources, they’re constantly tortured with the lingering doubt that what they’re reading fails to incorporate amendments.
If lawyers and judges endure difficulties because of the absence of reliable, complete, and updated sources of law, what more for laypersons who want to read on their own? Because of the inaccessibility of our laws to common people, the government perpetuates a culture where access to the law is preserved as the business monopoly of lawyers. And since we now spend half of our lives on the internet, our government should maintain and constantly update an online version of a Philippine code of laws.
Our government demands complete obedience to the rule of law. But it renders its people blind as to what the law sounds and looks like.
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