Sad history of the ‘Supremes’
Time was when the Supreme Court and the magistrates who belonged to it — known by the cheeky designation of the “Supremes” — was beheld with utter respect if not outright awe by the common people.
Known as the final arbiter of law and justice, the Supreme Court was a destination every lawyer eyed with moist eyes, the pinnacle of every law student’s and lawyer’s ambition. To sit in the Supreme Court was to belong to the elite of elites, to preside over one’s peers in the same profession with the stature of a demigod, an unimpeachable, blameless superior being.
Unfortunately for us Filipinos, the record of the “Supremes” has been spotty. There is the edifying example of Jose Abad Santos, who was chief justice at the outbreak of World War II. Choosing to remain behind while President Manuel Quezon and Vice President Sergio Osmeña established a government-in-exile in the United States, Abad Santos served as caretaker of the national government. As such he was constantly besieged by the Japanese military command to swear allegiance to the Japanese flag.
Fleeing the encroaching Japanese, Abad Santos was caught in Lanao where he was threatened with execution if he continued to refuse to swear loyalty to them. When Abad Santos stood steadfast, the Japanese ordered his execution in 1942. But before he died by musketry, Abad Santos was able to talk to his young son, Jose Jr., with the parting words: “Do not cry, Junior, show to these people that you are brave. It is an honor to die for one’s country. Not everybody has that chance.”
In the years since the reestablishment of the Republic after the war, the Supreme Court has been looked upon with general respect, even if at times its decisions seemed to favor the elite and foreign interests greater than the general public welfare.
But the nadir of the Supreme Court’s stature in the public mind was during martial law, when it became little more than a rubber stamp for the dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ edicts. While there were a few stalwarts shoring up the rule of law even in the face of dictatorship (Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma comes to mind), the rest of the “Supremes” were deemed little more than minions of the Marcoses. Indelible are memories of a former chief justice displaying such obsequiousness he would himself wield an umbrella over Imelda Marcos to shield her from the sun’s rays.
But it wasn’t until early in the term of former president Benigno Aquino III that no less than a chief justice, the late Renato Corona, would formally face the House of Representatives and the Senate in an impeachment trial. Found guilty for falsification and errors of omission in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, Corona was ousted from
office and replaced by a junior associate justice, Maria Lourdes Sereno.
In many ways, the tribulations of Corona can be seen as lying at the root of the troubles that now bedevil Chief Justice Sereno.
The House seems bent on finding her culpable for impeachment, but strangely they are, along with officials of the executive branch, moving mightily to stave off a hearing in the Senate and instead force her to either resign or be ousted by her
colleagues in the high court.
From this layperson’s view, the charges being hurled against Sereno (by a two-bit lawyer) seem far from “impeachable” and are flimsy at best. But one wonders why many of her colleagues, many of them appointed by P-Noy’s predecessor, to be sure, seem so bent on ousting her or convincing her to step down. What was that stunt of a “March of Red” last Monday for?
The Chief Justice is not being asked to swear fealty to a foreign power or threatened with execution. But like Abad Santos, she is confronted with a difficult, painful choice. We can only pray she makes up her mind on the side of right, or of higher principles for which her being “Born Again” seems to have prepared her.
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