Sunday, October 21, 2018
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At Large

Grave injustice by the justices?

Rarely in the news is the Supreme Court, which only occasionally figures in the public consciousness.

But these days, the “Supremes” appear on news reports with dismaying regularity. Currently on the front burner is a case filed by workers’ groups petitioning the Court to halt the closure of Boracay. Two days ago, tourists and nonresidents were ordered to leave the island on the eve of the implementation of a planned six-month rehabilitation program. Because thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of formal and informal workers as well as small entrepreneurs and investors will lose their livelihoods, the petitioners seek judicial intervention on their behalf, especially since government agencies have yet to share in detail exactly what the “rehabilitation” of Boracay would entail.

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The justices are also currently embroiled in proceedings involving no less than Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who is on leave. The Court is being asked to decide on a petition for a quo warranto to be applied to the Chief Justice which, if it succeeds, would oust her from her post without going through the process of impeachment, the penalty prescribed for officials of independent bodies such as the Court.

At the same time, the Supremes, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, are presiding over the protest filed by losing vice-presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos who alleges cheating on the part of Vice President Leni Robredo in the 2016 elections.

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The PET is in the news these days because of a recent decision decreeing that the shading on the blank circles for vice president should cover at least 50 percent of the area. Ballots with less than this “threshold” would be set aside and counted as “stray” ballots. Because the ballots being recounted are from Robredo’s bailiwick of Camarines Sur, she rightfully feels she is being unduly penalized.

It must be noted that for the 2016 elections, the threshold used by the Commission on Elections was 25 percent, affirmed by a memorandum issued in September 2016. The electoral tribunals for the elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate—where six Supremes sat—affirmed and used the 25-percent requirement. Why change that now?

In a public statement, 58 members of the TOWNS foundation, consisting of winners for the past 30 years or so of the biennial The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service awards, aired their “grave concern” about this “injustice.” Said the women: “We believe that indiscriminately and arbitrarily changing the rules in the middle of the game is tantamount to stealing the votes of the Filipino people.”

Saying they “want to have our voices heard,” the TOWNS women are asking the PET “to respect justice and fair play and protect the votes of the ordinary Filipino by rescinding its new rule” and reverting to the previously observed threshold.

Unfortunately, the reputation of the Supreme Court—as an independent branch of the government and also as individual jurors whose membership in the tribunal is deemed to be the height of any lawyer’s ambition—now teeters in the balance.

The behavior of some justices, especially in the House hearings on the impeachment complaint against Sereno, has put in grave doubt their reputation for probity and legal mastery.

The eagerness with which some of them testified in the House hearings regarding the Chief Justice’s shortcomings; their eagerness to give leeway to the quo warranto petition despite the scoffing of most lawyers; and their move to reverse the rules in the middle of hearings on the protest against the Vice President—all seem indicative of their willingness to violate the very laws they are sworn to defend.

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Groups of lawyers and law students, law schools, church groups and even citizens’ organizations like the women of TOWNS have made their thoughts, feelings, apprehensions and, yes, disappointment felt. They would not be disappointed if in the first place they did not have such high expectations of the men and women of the Supremes. Let’s hope the robed ones live up to all our high hopes.

Clarification: In my column last Wednesday, it should have been stated that a friend from college, Sister Gina Kuizon, RGS, was part of the jubilee celebrations of the Good Shepherd sisters, and not part of our group that visited the Pinto Art Museum.

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TAGS: Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, closure of Boracay, Supreme Court
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