Supremacy of the law, or of biased judges?
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said, “The Court ruling is an assertion of the supremacy of the fundamental law of the land.” Chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo asserted, “The Supreme Court has spoken. We all must bow to the majesty of the law.”
What the Supreme Court rules is to be considered the law. But what is the law that the Court has said is the fundamental law of the land? Eight of its 15 members said the chief justice could also be removed by a quo warranto petition. As they constitute the majority of the entire membership of the Court, their ruling is law.
The same eight justices then ruled that the appointment of Maria Lourdes Sereno as chief justice was invalid because she had failed to submit all her statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALNs) as required by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) that vetted her nomination.
Retired chief justice Artemio V. Panganiban wrote in his column “With Due Respect” in October 2110: “The sociological school of legal philosophy holds that to predict how a case would be decided [by the Supreme Court], one must consider the personality of the magistrate and the various stimuli attendant to a case per this formula: personality times stimuli equals decision (P x S = D). The personality of a magistrate includes intrinsic qualities like upbringing, education, relationships, etc. Stimuli refer to how he/she responds to externals like public opinion, peer pressure, religious leaders, medical condition, appointing authority, appointment sponsor, close friends, etc.”
That observation strongly hints that associate justices of the Supreme Court sometimes decide not only on the basis of an objective interpretation of the law and the established facts but on personal considerations as well. This would prompt people to think that some of the landmark decisions of the present Court were influenced by stimuli that were of the nature of personal considerations.
Did the eight associate justices decide to grant the quo warranto petition against Sereno on the basis of an objective interpretation of the law and the established facts, or on what suits their personal agenda? Those who ruled Sereno disqualified from and unlawfully holding her post were Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Francis Jardeleza, Lucas Bersamin, Noel Tijam, Samuel Martires, Andres Reyes Jr. and Alexander Gesmundo.
De Castro was shortlisted by the JBC for the position of chief justice twice, in 2010 and 2012. She lost out to Renato Corona in 2010 and to Sereno in 2012. It is well-known in legal circles that De Castro was particularly embittered by the appointment of the much younger Sereno, as she had hoped to be the first woman chief justice in the Philippines. “She should not have been interviewed, she should have been excluded,” De Castro told the House committee on justice in reference to the JBC’s nomination of Sereno to the post of chief justice.
Peralta has an axe to grind against Sereno. The inclusion of his wife, Court of Appeals Justice Fernanda Lampas Peralta, in the JBC shortlist of nominees to the post of presiding justice was apparently blocked by Sereno, who as chief justice was a member of the JBC, for her failure to submit several requirements on time. Peralta pointed out to the same House committee that Sereno was included in the shortlist even if she had failed to submit the SALNs required by the JBC.
Likewise, Jardeleza has a personal grievance against Sereno. She tried to exclude him from the shortlist of candidates for Supreme Court justices in 2014 by raising the integrity issue against him. Bersamin has admitted to the House committee that he was offended by Sereno’s supposed dictatorial attitude.
Tijam, Martires, Reyes and Gesmundo were appointed to the Court by President Duterte. Just a month ago, Mr. Duterte publicly declared Sereno his enemy and vowed to have her removed as chief justice.
Do we therefore bow to the majesty of the law, or to the supremacy of personalities stimulated by personal considerations?
Oscar P. Lagman Jr. has been a keen observer of Philippine politics since the 1950s.
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