‘Honorable’ Supreme Court?
Reader, let us take a closer look at our Supreme Court. First, the Court as an institution, then at the 15 men and women who comprise its membership. We may learn a few things in the process that would shed light on why, in my (humble) opinion, this Court has lost the right to be called “Honorable.”
As an institution, it is supposed to be the last bastion of democracy, in the sense that if a citizen opines that the Executive or the Legislature has done her wrong, her last recourse is to go to court, and eventually to the Supreme Court.
Obviously, the Court has failed miserably in this regard—at least, the majority of the Court. And the leaps of logic it has taken in justifying its recent decisions give the rule of law a bad name. This Court, “honorable”? My sainted ass.
President Duterte, early on in the game, called the Constitution “a piece of paper.” Congress, surprisingly not so crass, nevertheless decided to misread it. And the Supreme Court went along with it. Just look at what happened on the issue of martial law in Mindanao. What did the Filipino people do to deserve this?
And whose fault is it that the Court has failed as an institution? Unquestionably, the prize goes to its members. So let’s look at its 15 members (yes, I am including former chief justice Meilou Sereno), in their order of seniority.
Maria Lourdes Sereno was appointed by President Benigno Aquino to the Court, and two years later, as chief justice. There is something unique about this appointment, Reader. She was not a kaibigan, a kaklase, somebody’s kamag-anak. Her appointment to the Supreme Court was based solely on merit. She was appointed associate justice (AJ) in 2010 and then chief justice in 2012, having passed muster with the Judicial and Bar Council both times.
Antonio Carpio is the senior associate justice. His credentials are probably the best among all the justices. His decisions speak for themselves. And he has no backlog. His independence may have led President Aquino to bypass him in favor of Sereno, just as Gloria Arroyo bypassed him in favor of Corona.
Presbitero Velasco’s credentials are also unexceptionable. But his reputation since he became an AJ has been checkered.
Teresita de Castro, like the preceding three justices, is also a UP law graduate. She had 34 years of experience in the judiciary before Arroyo appointed her. Her deep personal antagonism against Sereno was obvious in her testimony in the House impeachment proceedings. As vice chair of the Supreme Court Committee on Ethics, she should have known better than not to recuse herself from the quo warranto case. That is her black mark.
Diosdado Peralta is a UST law graduate. His academic background is mediocre. But his law career was not. He was outstanding prosecutor in Manila, and outstanding Regional Trial Court judge. Pity—how power corrupts.
Justice Lucas Bersamin, a UE law graduate, won Judicial Excellence Awards (best decision in both civil and criminal law). But his reputation in the Supreme Court is not of the best.
Mariano del Castillo is an Ateneo law graduate. His claim to fame is that his wife is dean of the Ateneo Law School. I salute him because, although he was accused of plagiarism by Sereno, he did not let that influence his vote in the quo warranto case.
Justice Estela Perlas Bernabe, Ateneo Law, literally rose from the ranks in the judiciary—from Metropolitan Trial Court to RTC to Court of Appeals to Supreme Court. Her reputation is spotless.
Justice Marvic Leonen came from the academe (UP) directly to the Supreme Court. His decisions speak for themselves. No leaps of logic anywhere. Also spotless.
Justice Francis Jardeleza’s appointment was a surprise. Grace Pulido Tan had been told she was to be the next Supreme Court justice. Jardeleza is a UP law graduate. To me, it is obvious that his personal grudge against Sereno influenced his judgment, which had previously been spot-on.
Justice Alfredo Caguioa, although a kaibigan and kaklase of President Aquino, has shown his mettle as an Supreme Court justice.
The last four justices are appointees of President Duterte: Samuel Martires and Noel Tijam (both San Beda, and both with only two years left before retirement), Andres Reyes and Alexander Gesmundo (both Ateneo). Martires, who was Mr. Duterte’s first appointment, is the most controversial (see Rappler, March 2017) because of his previous decisions.
Only six out of the 15, Reader, can be considered spotless. As Publilius Syrus once asked: What is left when honor is lost?
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