SC stood tall in crucial cases
During the past days, many were disturbed by the alleged softness of the Supreme Court in deciding cases against the government and political figures.
Critics’ laments. Cited as exhibits are the decisions regarding the burial of President Ferdinand Marcos’ remains in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, the acquittal of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the alleged scam at the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, and the grant of bail to former senator Juan Ponce Enrile.
Readers lament that the same group of eight or nine justices voted in favor of these decisions and that the same group of five or six others consistently dissented.
Anticipating the retirement of several justices and the appointment of their replacements by President Duterte, they ask whether the Court can still be relied upon to uphold constitutional rights and democratic ideals.
My standard reply is that I cannot anticipate or predict how the Court would decide specific cases and how each justice would vote. Occasionally, I disagree with my friends in the Court. I just chalk it up to an honest difference of opinions and my esteem for them remains unfettered, unless their stance is clearly hobbled by manifest bias, evident error, or similar palpable factors.
I am confident that—when needed, depending on the circumstances of each case—the justices (or most of them, anyway) will uphold the national interest, regardless of their perceived loyalty to the appointing authority, or their prior personal or political relations.
Historically, the Court has had its fair share of reproaches from dissatisfied litigants and critics. However, when deciding crucial cases under the 1987 Constitution, the Court has stood tall, showing courage, independence and wisdom in performing its duties. Many justices have voted against suits that favor or were initiated by the presidents who appointed them. Let me give some examples.
Ramos and Estrada. During the term of President Fidel V. Ramos, the Court was heavily criticized for acquitting Imelda Marcos (Marcos vs Sandiganbayan, Oct. 6, 1998). It was, however, hailed when it ruled that Republic Act No. 6735 was “inadequate to cover the system of initiative on amendments to the Constitution” (Santiago vs Comelec, March 19, 1997). Thus, the attempt to change the Charter collapsed.
Had all the Ramos appointees voted favorably, the proposed constitutional amendment may have extended his tenure beyond the limit of six years.
President Joseph Estrada was appalled why his six appointees joined the 13-0 (with two abstentions) decision (Estrada vs Desierto, March 2, 2001) affirming his ouster and legitimizing the ascension of President Arroyo.
Arroyo and Aquino. In turn, President Arroyo must have been disappointed when the Court (in Senate vs Ermita, April 20, 2006) unanimously nullified her Executive Order No. 464 which barred executive officials from testifying in congressional investigations, and (in Bayan vs Ermita, April 25, 2006) voided her “calibrated preemptive response” policy in dealing with rallies and demonstrations.
Miffed she must have also been when some of her appointees joined the majority in David vs Arroyo (May 3, 2006) which voided parts of her “declaration of a state of national emergency,” and in Lambino vs Comelec (Oct. 25, 2006) which, by a narrow vote of 8-7, trashed the people’s initiative to change the form of our government from presidential to parliamentary.
Disappointed, too, was President Benigno Aquino III when the Court voted unanimously to declare unconstitutional the congressional pork barrel (Belgica vs Ochoa, Nov. 19, 2013) and certain practices under his Disbursement Acceleration Program (Araullo vs Aquino, July 1, 2014). These two decisions are now being used by his critics to wage criminal actions against him.
I believe the justices are well aware that history will ultimately judge them. They know that our people, particularly the law professors and law students, remember those who lived up to the strict judicial standards of “proven competence, integrity, probity and independence,” and those who betrayed their oaths to render justice though the heavens fall. Fiat justitia ruat caelum.
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