Unbalanced leaders, mental health and political rights

What happened in the United States in recent days, when thousands of staunch supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol complex housing the United States Congress, is a shocking reminder of what insane and unhinged leaders can do. At a time when political discourse – whatever its quality – has become too accessible to ordinary citizens, where the physical distance between the articulation of a politician and the ear of a citizen is now broken by modern technology, and where it is easier to peddle lies, disinformation and forgery, it is time to reflect on whether political rights should be limited to those who are sane.

However, any initiative to consider mental health and mental health as requirements in the exercise of political rights faces a huge legal challenge, both in national and international law.

Republic Law (RA) 11036, also known as the “Mental Health Law”, passed in 2017, is clear. In chapter I, section 2 of the law, the state affirms that all people with mental disorders should be “able to exercise all human rights and to participate fully in society and at work, without being stigmatized. neither discriminatory ”. This is reiterated in Chapter 2, Section 5, which ensures that they are able to exercise all of their inherent civil, political, economic, social, religious, educational and cultural rights without discrimination.

It is well established that the most fundamental political right is the right to political participation, which includes the right to vote, as well as the right to run for political office. Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the right of everyone to suffrage, while article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights directs states parties to protect the right of their citizens to participate to political affairs, to vote and to be elected.

It is also a fact that, although these rights are guaranteed, the act of voting and standing for election is nevertheless limited to those who meet the conditions prescribed by the Constitution of 1987, which are generally limited to the possession of Philippine citizenship, a suitable place of residence and age. . The Constitution explicitly excludes educational attainment and even physical and mental health from the conditions required to vote and stand for election.

The adoption of RA 11036 effectively makes discrimination against people with mental disorders illegal. It is a rights-based law that fully grants them the broadest range of rights, including political rights and the right to run for public office.

And yet, what we’ve seen recently in the United States tells us about the havoc a leader with a destructive mental state can wreak on the Republic. While institutional mechanisms are in place, especially those presented as essential elements of the functioning of a democratic system of government that ensure not only a system of checks and balances, but also political accountability, the danger not only for national authorities, but even regional and international security, cannot be taken lightly.

While one can marvel at the resilience of the American political system, seen in the speed with which its Congress was able to regain its bearings to pursue the certification of votes for President-elect Joseph Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris Just hours after the debates were brutally and violently interrupted by what amounted to a Trump-instigated insurgency, other political systems may not be so lucky. This is even more compelling in political systems where the political institutions upon which the responsibility for controlling and balancing executive power rests are weak and have a track record of being accountable and flexible, if not captured, by the executive.

It is therefore evident that relying on a system of checks and balances to ensure that imbalanced leaders will be removed from office as soon as they engage in destructive actions is more of a luxury. In some cases, removing a person from office, whether by removal or other means, may already be too late. Thus, for some, there is a need to seek more preventive mechanisms.

However, this is a decision that is not supported by the current legal landscape in the Philippines. In today’s legal environment, it is not possible to require applicants and job applicants to undergo a mental health assessment. Any licensed mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist, would violate their oaths if they made such an assessment and disclosed it to the public. They cannot, even in their capacity as citizens, issue their own expert opinion and diagnose a leader, or a candidate, and reveal it under the guise of civic duty, without infringing the very protections that RA 11036 grants to those suffering mental disorders to be free from stigma and discrimination.

The law is explicit in its protection of the confidentiality of all information relating to the state of mental health of any person, except in specified situations. Running for office is not one of the exceptions listed in Chapter II, section 5, letter l of RA 11036 which would allow public disclosure of a person’s mental health status.

Certainly, a law can be passed to amend RA 11036 to include candidacy for political office as an exemption, since this is imbued with public interest. It is even possible to include mental health as a precondition for exercising the political right to run for office. But in addition to overturning the intention of RA 11036 by literally contradicting its fundamental premise, it would also be a controversial decision, as it would be blatantly discriminatory.

Ultimately, what will protect us from crazy leaders and lopsided politicians would be to ensure that our political institutions remain healthy and our society remains resilient. It’s a tall order, but we have no choice.


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