I do not only understand but also have tremendous sympathy for those who feel that judicial reform, starting with the Supreme Court, is long overdue.
The reader may recall that two months ago, in a speech before the Philippine Judges Association, Chief Justice Renato Corona launched a diatribe against the Executive and Legislative branches, accusing them of “so much disrespect and lack of civility” in their treatment of the Judiciary (read: the Supreme Court) and for their attempts to undermine its independence.
I wrote in this column that respect had to be earned, not demanded, and that the Corona Court in its existence thus far seemed to have embarked on a respect-obliterating, public trust-violating course.
I cited five of the Corona Court’s decisions (one cannot call the decision upholding Corona’s midnight appointment as a Corona Court decision) to bolster my point: one was the case involving former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, where the Court, apparently even without most members reading her petition, issued a status quo ante order to stop proceedings on her impeachment; the second was the plagiarism case against Justice Mariano del Castillo, where the Corona Court, disregarding all documentary evidence (compiled by another justice, no less, who was then subjected to disrespect and incivility by her peers) to the contrary, declared that Del Castillo did not plagiarize—and had to redefine plagiarism in order to justify its decision.
The third had to do with the accusation of Lauro Vizconde that Justice Antonio Carpio had lobbied among his colleagues for the acquittal of Hubert Webb, with Vizconde citing Corona as his source. The Court passed a resolution absolving Carpio of the accusation, but, significantly, made no mention about Corona’s possible culpability in the matter.
The fourth had to do with its original decision on the Hacienda Luisita case (just recently reversed), where the farmworker-beneficiaries were still given the option to choose the stock distribution option plan, which it had revoked.
And the fifth was its truly mindboggling flip-flop—recalling, within less than a month, its decision (with finality)—on the case of PAL’s flight attendants and stewards.
Personally, I believe that the Court would be better off without say, Corona (who, in my opinion, has no sense of delicadeza, but that isn’t an impeachable offense) and at least one other justice who, I am morally certain, is as corrupt as they come. But moral certitude can and should never be a substitute for hard evidence.
Unfortunately, there is no way to prove that the above-mentioned decisions can be attributed solely to Corona. And yet that is exactly what the impeachment charges against Corona, lodged by 188 members of the House of Representatives, seem to imply.
Even more unfortunately, in the rush to impeach Corona, both the House of Representatives and the Executive branch have committed exactly the same offenses that they find Corona (more accurately, the Corona Court) guilty of.
Item: The Corona Court is accused of a rush to judgment in its issuance of the status quo ante order in the Gutierrez case, and for that matter, in its issuance of a TRO on the GMA travel ban. What do we call the House’s rush to judgment in the impeachment of Corona, or for that matter, the Comelec’s (under the Executive’s orders), rush in filing charges against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regarding her so-called electoral sabotage?
In the Corona impeachment charges, the members met in caucus in the early afternoon. Rep. Niel Tupas says he gave a PowerPoint presentation of the eight articles of impeachment, and when two House members wanted to ask questions, they were essentially overwhelmed by the other members’ desire to just sign the complaint. So 188 members had signed by early evening.
But here’s the rub (as pointed out by a legal beagle friend whose name is available on request): complainants are by law required to sign an affidavit to the effect that “I have read the contents thereof and the facts stated therein are true and correct according to the best of my knowledge and /or on the basis of documents and records in my possession.” In other words, the congressmen shouldn’t have signed if they had not read the 57-page document.
The same thing can be said of the Comelec commissioners who signed the formal charges without reading the complete documents: a rush to judgment, based on the fear that GMA would “escape,” totally ignoring the fact that since the beginning of P-Noy’s term, she had left the Philippines seven times and returned seven times.
Item: Then there are the charges of bias or partiality shown by Corona/the Corona Court in favor of GMA. What does one call the arrest and detention of GMA for electoral sabotage based on the single testimony of the most dubious of witnesses?
Item: Corona/the Corona Court is charged with not submitting the required statements of assets, liabilities and net worth. Aside from the fact that the policy of the Court on not releasing the SALNs of the justices is a policy that was in effect before Corona’s time, there is also the reality that, as the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s Malou Mangahas has reported, the biggest non-implementors of the release rule are the Office of the President and the Office of the Ombudsman.
In effect, the pots are calling the kettles black. Or, more relevantly, one cannot solve a problem by creating an even greater problem. Two wrongs can never make a right.