On crooked judgments
At a recent forum, Securities and Exchange Commission chair Teresita Herbosa, an aspirant to a Supreme Court seat, expressed optimism that under the stewardship of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, decisions of the courts will henceforth “be based on the merits…” (Inquirer, 9/20/12) She obviously believes in the new chief justice’s moral ascendancy, springing from the latter’s deep faith in God, to inspire such hope. Indeed, to paraphrase US Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, the merits of the case provide a clear guide to predicting how courts will decide cases. That is a desideratum anyone should be able to take to the bank!
As far as memory serves, lawyers have often found themselves in a quandary about the outcome of their cases. Believe it or not, they know their law and when a decision sticks in their craw. Often enough, just when they thought there was no way they could lose their cases in light of the applicable law and prevailing jurisprudence, judges somehow managed to find ways of screwing them up. “Court whisperers” have descended upon the courts of the land like a plague! These are the demons that dictate how judges should “weigh the evidence.” The saddest part is, many judges have no qualms accommodating them and giving the genuine merits of cases no more than short shrift. For even if found “blatantly reckless” (at worst, because it is almost impossible to prove them as products of corruption), their decisions are only reversed and nothing much else is meted out by way of sanctioning them for their egregious errors. Thus undeterred, they go on with their perverted ways and the cycle goes on and on.
Take the case of a Metropolitan Trial Court (MTC) judge who issued a hold-departure order (HDO) against a person charged with violating the “bouncing checks” law—undoubtedly upon the instigation of a sleazy private prosecutor. Thus, when the accused went to the airport for a business trip, immigration authorities shoved the HDO in his face and stopped him dead in his tracks. Despite arguments by his lawyer who immediately came to his rescue, the airport officials insisted on the usual protocol—only the court concerned could recall the HDO and render it of no effect. (The Supreme Court’s injunction is crystal clear: No MTC judge can issue an HDO!) That incident may well be the ace of the argument in this piece; but it illustrates what everyone has come to realize about the extent to which magistrates take liberties with their sense of “justice.”
The sheer unpredictability of so many court decisions has no doubt helped erode the people’s faith in our judicial system. By dint of common sense, the people know white is white or black is black, and one can never be the other.
Here’s earnestly hoping then the new chief justice will succeed in instilling fear of God in the hearts of many a wayward magistrate. And to those who mock her for being so “prayerful,” only this need be asked: Does not conscience come from fear of divine wrath?
—STEPHEN L. MONSANTO,
Monsanto Law Office,
Loyola Heights, Quezon City,
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