Wednesday, April 25, 2018
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With Due Respect

Confidentiality of SC deliberations

Why is the Supreme Court so protective of the sanctity and confidentiality of its judicial “deliberations”? Why not just be transparent? Well, to begin with, confidentiality is constitutionally justified.

Constitutional protection. Thus, Senate vs. Ermita (April 20, 2006) unanimously held that “… members of the Supreme Court are exempt from the power of inquiry [of Congress]… on the basis not only of separation of powers but also on the fiscal autonomy and the constitutional independence of the judiciary. This point is not in dispute, as even the counsel for the Senate, Sen. Joker Arroyo, admitted it during the oral argument upon interpellation of Chief Justice [Panganiban]…”

Similarly, the President is also granted executive privilege, the power to withhold information from the public, the courts and the legislature. This includes his conversations with his subalterns, as well as communications involving military, diplomatic and national security concerns, and closed-door Cabinet meetings.

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Likewise, the executive sessions of Congress or its committees are accorded confidentiality.

Transparency is the rule, especially during oral arguments, and confidentiality of deliberations is an exception.

Administrative matters only. The confidentiality of judicial deliberations was repeatedly stressed in its en banc resolution dated Nov. 28 but released only a few days ago. While the Court allowed its invited administrative officials to “appear and testify, if they wish to do so,” in the House impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno, it limited them “only [to] administrative matters relating to the subject of the inquiry.”

Furthermore, Justices Mariano C. Del Castillo, Francis H. Jardeleza, Noel G. Tijam and Andres B. Reyes Jr. and Court of Appeals Justice Remedios A. Salazar-Fernando “may testify only on administrative or non-adjudicatory matters.”

Moreover, Justice Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro “may testify on administrative matters, and on adjudicatory matters only in the following cases: a… only on the issuance of the Temporary Restraining Order and on the exchange of communications between” CJ Sereno and her “but not on the deliberations of the En Banc in [Coalition of Association of Senior Citizens v. Comelec]; b… only on the merits of her ponencia but not on the deliberations of the En Banc in [Aguinaldo vs Aquino and] c… only on the merits of her separate concurring opinion, but not on the deliberations of the Court in [Jardeleza vs Sereno].”

Judicial deliberations. So sacred are judicial deliberations that secretaries, clerks or stenographers are NOT allowed to listen, much less participate in any way. In fact, they are barred from entering the meeting room. Only the 15 justices (five, in Division cases) are allowed inside the judicial sanctum during deliberations. The sanctity of deliberations begins from the receipt by the Court of the petition or appeal till an official order or decision is promulgated.

In 2009, an associate justice was fined P500,000 and disqualified from holding any public office after an investigation showed that an unpromulgated decision he had penned was leaked while it was being routed for the signature of the justices.

The agenda in a typical session is long, about 50 pages with 250 or so items. These are supported by orders or decisions drafted by the member-in-charge for each of the items. The drafts become the official action if accepted by the majority.

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Verbal skirmishes are seldom protracted; written arguments with extensive citations of authorities are preferred. For this reason, a session seldom lasts for more than three hours. Normally, it takes several sessions before a final judgment is promulgated. But hundreds of cases are taken up in each session.

If the deliberations are not accorded privacy, the justices would be hesitant to give full vent to their arguments. Moreover, a leakage in the deliberations may tempt the parties to pressure justices to change their minds, not just through outright bribery but via appeals to their family, pastors and friends. Ugly rumors could be circulated to demonize or inhibit them.

Comments to chiefjusticepanganiban@hotmail.com

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TAGS: Andres B. Reyes Jr., artemio v. panganiban, confidentiality of SC deliberations, Francis H. Jardeleza, Maria Lourdes Sereno, Mariano C. del Castillo, Noel G. Tijam, Remedios A. Salazar-Fernando, Supreme Court, Teresita de Castro, With Due Respect
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