Like hooded bishop-jurors of the Spanish Inquisition trying a religious heretic, the august chamber of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, through one of its members, castigated Justice Secretary Leila de Lima for acting “like you are more powerful than the Court.” (Inquirer, 12/1/11) This suggests that the now beleaguered Court is gravely concerned with and obsessed by the potency of its public authority or power.
The fracas over the Court’s authority came about with its perceived hasty issuance of an order, in effect challenging the Executive’s power and frustrating the latter’s sworn duty to protect the public interest. The order would have allowed an individual suspected of committing serious crimes against the people to elude the clutches of the law. Opinion polls, as well as media reportage, show that the public is overwhelmingly supporting the Executive by an average ratio of 80-20.
The issue involves not just the matter of just retribution. It also concerns the future of generations of Filipinos, and their political and economic security. For if powerful government officials were allowed to betray, again and again, with impunity—through plunder and human rights violations—the trust granted them by the public, as what happened during the Marcos, Estrada and Arroyo administrations, then the future of our nation would be dark indeed.
True, the Constitution vests in the Supreme Court the ultimate authority to interpret the laws. But both the Constitution, which is made by men, and the Court, composed of humans, cannot be sacrosanct in all respects. The power to interpret can be abused and made to support ends opposite to the letter and spirit of the law.
Take the Marcos dictatorship. It was considered constitutional by the Supreme Court, though it ran counter to the Constitution itself, which guaranteed the liberties of the people.
Were the people wrong in defying the Supreme Court by rising against the dictatorship that had been declared constitutional by the Supreme Court? History and generations of Filipinos say no. Was it not betrayal by the Supreme Court of the public trust to legalize the dictatorship? There is nothing sacred in the interpretation or even in the execution of laws by the authorities if, in the eyes of the public, they are patently unjust, biased, nonsensical and discriminatory.
The people are not bound to respect the courts, even the highest tribunal, if in their minds the judiciary had twisted and distorted the letter and spirit of the Constitution and the laws to suit the justices’ and the judges’ interests and those of powerful individuals who had appointed them to office.
There is a higher court than the Supreme Court. And that is the Court of Public Opinion.
—MANUEL F. ALMARIO, spokesman, Movement for Truth in History, firstname.lastname@example.org