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COMMENTARY

A damaged institution

12:07 AM February 07, 2017

In view of the retirement of several justices and the appointment of their replacements by President Duterte, retired chief justice Artemio Panganiban is often asked whether the Supreme Court can be relied upon to uphold constitutional rights and democratic ideals. In a recent column (“SC stood tall in crucial cases,” 1/29/17), Panganiban wrote that while he could not predict how the Court would decide specific cases and how each justice would vote, he was confident that when needed, the justices (or most of them, anyway) would uphold the national interest regardless of their perceived loyalty to the appointing authority, or their prior personal or political relations.

I am confounded as to what gave the eminent jurist that confidence as the Supreme Court of contemporary times has handed down many controversial, if not patently biased, rulings. There was its recent decision to allow the burial of Ferdinand Marcos’ remains in the Libingan ng mga Bayani for such reasons as that he was a bemedalled war veteran and that he was not convicted of moral turpitude.

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There was its bizarre ruling in 2015 that Juan Ponce Enrile’s fragile state presented a compelling reason for his being granted bail. Several justices dissented, saying the decision was contrary to the rule of law, and Enrile did not even present his feeble health as argument for his release from detention. Associate Justice Marvic Leonen remarked that the ruling was “specially tailored” for Enrile. I say it was custom-designed for Gloria Arroyo.

Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, who wrote the decision, proposed the grant of bail to Enrile because of the latter’s “solid reputation in his public and his private lives, his long years of public service, and history’s judgment of him.”  Only Arroyo among the many ailing elderly prisoners could be described similarly. The Court set her free sans legal blather when the political climate became congenial.

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In 2011, the Court ruled that 20 percent of San Miguel Corp. shares belonged to Eduardo Cojuangco, saying that the government had failed to prove that he acquired the shares because he was a “Marcos crony.” That claim is as ridiculous as the assertion that Marcos was not guilty of moral turpitude.

In 2010, the Court affirmed Arroyo’s appointment of Renato Corona as chief justice, in contravention of the Constitution which provides that the president shall not make appointments two months before the next presidential election.

That same year, the Court dismissed the disqualification complaint against Arroyo’s son Mikey, who ran as a nominee of the party-list group of tricycle drivers and security guards, saying that the case was outside its jurisdiction. In contrast, the Court stopped the impeachment proceedings against then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, a close friend of Arroyo and her husband, when impeachment is well outside its jurisdiction.

The Court also upheld Congress’ breakup of the first district of Camarines Sur into two to allow Arroyo’s son Dato and Rolando Andaya, a former three-term representative of the district, to run in separate districts. The split of the district resulted in that district formerly represented by one congressman being represented by two, in blatant violation of the Constitution that says representative districts shall be apportioned in accordance with the number of their respective inhabitants.

The Court ruled in 2008, 2009 and 2011 that the retrenchment of 1,423 Philippine Airlines employees in 1998 was illegal and ordered their reinstatement. But in late 2011, in response to a letter of PAL lawyer Estelito Mendoza, who served as Marcos’ minister of justice, the Court en banc issued a memorandum recalling the Court’s resolution.

I am not at all optimistic about the Supreme Court that would be composed of Mr. Duterte’s appointees. I expect them to be like Justice Secretary Aguirre, Solicitor General Calida, Legal Adviser Panelo and Senate and House justice committee chairs Gordon and Umali—compliant to the President’s dictates and wishes.

Oscar P. Lagman Jr. has been a keen observer of Philippine politics since the 1950s.

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TAGS: Artemio Panganiban, Commentary, Duterte, justice, marcos, opinion, Supreme Court
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