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The Supreme Court commits suicide

/ 05:11 AM May 15, 2018

When the complete history of this Supreme Court is written, the role of Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa as the clarion voice of conscience and clarity in the hardest cases will finally be given sharp relief. As I have learned in the Marcos burial case and in the martial-law-in-Mindanao decisions, Caguioa’s dissenting opinion is the right first read after the ponencia. His dissents — in brisk, bracing language — offer a comprehensive, point-by-point rebuttal (or perhaps the more precise term is evisceration) of the majority opinion; they are messages from an alternate universe, where justice prevails over power and reason over force.

He has done it again, in Republic v. Sereno. He begins with an unflinching look at the true stakes: “This quo warranto petition is brought before the Court purportedly to test the integrity of the Chief Justice. However, what it really tests is the integrity of the Court …. By ousting the Chief Justice through the expediency of holding that the Chief Justice failed this ‘test’ of integrity, it is actually the Court that fails.” (That one word, “expediency,” is telling.)

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He summarizes his view by offering six interconnected arguments, a layered approach to the issue that measures the leap in logic the majority decision had to make. Then he responds to every major argument of the ruling, proving without a doubt that the eight justices who used the case to “re-write the Constitution” (Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio), “supplanting the [Judicial and Bar] Council’s determination” (Associate Justice Estela Perlas Bernabe) and birthing “a legal abomination” (Associate Justice Marvic Leonen), committed institutional suicide. “Without honor,” Caguioa adds.

Years from now, as we sift through the jurisprudential debris of the Duterte era, we will find the charred remains of the Peralta ruling on the Marcos burial and the rotting timber of Tijam’s lengthy justification for ousting a chief justice without benefit of an impeachment proceeding—and then we will see, still standing, the true guideposts. We will be reminded, with the full force of regret, of the legal acuity of Carpio’s opinions, the eloquence and superior understanding of Leonen’s dissents, and the compelling clarity of Caguioa’s alternate — that is to say, true — accounting.

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For me, the most crucial (and at the same time characteristic) passage in Caguioa’s dissent directly responds to the majority’s dismissal of the fear that the Solicitor General was being given too much power.

“The ‘fear’ is not founded on the ‘fallacious and cynical view of the competence and professionalism of the Solicitor General and the members of this Court.’ … the ‘fear’ is not even based on any imputation of malice or irregularity on the part of the present Solicitor General. Rather, the ‘fear’ is based on the dangerous power the ponencia grants the present and future Solicitors General without any constitutional support. With such unfettered power, the balance of power between the three coordinate departments unconstitutionally shifts, and the independence and stability of the Judiciary is eroded. This is where the danger lies.”

Then, three paragraphs later, we read: “The present action for quo warranto against the respondent constitutes an institutional attack on the Supreme Court, as it enlists the Court’s participation in the erosion of its own independence through the circumvention of the very document it has been tasked to uphold.”

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Like many others, I am still in shock over the Court’s suicide. It was not unexpected; the signs were there for all to see. Still. I grieve over the role our constitutional law professor, Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza, played in the tragedy—his decision to appear at the impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives had befuddled those of us in the first class he ever taught; but his vote to allow the patently unconstitutional ouster of the chief justice upended everything he taught us in Constitutional Law. I note that in an extensive discussion on Maria Lourdes Sereno’s motion to inhibit six justices who had demonstrated manifest partiality against her, the decision only explained away the conduct of four of the justices; nothing much was said about Jardeleza and about Associate Justice Teresita de Castro. Their damning statements were simply ignored. I read the Tijam decision and see that white is painted as black, and black as white—this is not justice, but, rather, the opposite of it.

It is clear to me and many others that the Court, the one nonpolitical branch of government, must hear back from the people it has failed to serve.

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On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand

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TAGS: Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, john Nery, Maria Lourdes Sereno, Newsstand, quo warranto petition, Sereno impeachment, Supreme Court
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