A Supreme Court worthy of public trust
Never in a long while has a law generated more controversy than Republic Act No. 11479, the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 (ATA). Comforting, though, is the trust reposed by both the pros and the contras in the Supreme Court’s impartiality and fairness to rule on the petitions challenging its constitutionality.
The pros, especially its main sponsor Sen. Panfilo Lacson, are so confident of the ATA’s validity that they readily welcomed the suits filed by the contras. For his part, President Duterte assured law-abiding Filipinos that they have nothing to fear because the ATA will be used only to neutralize terrorists.
On the other hand, the contras, led by lawyer Howard Calleja, Br. Armin Luistro, FEU law Dean Mel Sta. Maria, ConCom’s Christian Monsod and Felicitas Arroyo, minority solons, and others are asking the Court to neutralize the terror in the ATA by upholding the people’s constitutional rights.
No longer will I dwell into the litigants’ arguments for they have been extensively discussed in media. In my limited space, I will just focus for now on the admirable unanimity of the protagonists, especially the petitioners, to defer to the Court. I believe the magistrates are as important as, if not more so than, the litigants and their positions.
In fact, that the petitioners want to overturn the provisions authorizing executive officials to arrest and detain suspects for as long as 24 days, and would rather trust judges to do so (after personally determining probable cause), is the enduring proof of their faith in the judiciary.
Moreover, if the petitioners had doubts in the highest court of the land, they should not have prayed for its intervention. They could have just refused to sue or defend, like what the martyred Ninoy Aquino did when he declined to participate in any manner in the military tribunal convened by then President Ferdinand Marcos on the plain ground that he did not expect fairness and justice from an alter ego of the dictator.
In turn, it behooves the Court to exert every effort to be worthy of the trust reposed by the parties by resolving the petitions on their merits, not by dismissing them on legal niceties and procedural defects, like lack of cause of action or prematurity of the suits, given that though the President signed the ATA on July 3, 2020, the law — by its own Section 58 — “shall take effect  days after its complete publication in the Official Gazette or in at least two… newspapers…”
By ruling on the constitutional issues head-on, the Court will show its determination to safeguard truth, fairness, and accountability, and its imperviousness to what I call the plague of “ships: kinship, relationship, friendship, and fellowship.”
Yes, this is a great opportunity for the justices to be on the right side of history. Our people deserve a forthright decision that upholds the common weal and avoids perplexing dictums, like the raising of hands in barangay assemblies to ratify a Constitution (Javellana v. Executive Secretary, March 31, 1973), the opening of the party-list to every Juan, including the rich and the powerful (Atong Paglaum v. Comelec, April 2, 2013), the identification of the main plunderer to sustain a prosecution for plunder (Arroyo v. People, July 19, 2016), and the ousting of a chief justice via quo warranto (Republic v Sereno, May 11, 2018).
As I wrote in my book “Leadership by Example” (Supreme Court Printing Press, 1999), “The Court, as Justice Frankfurter once said, is the ‘conscience of society.’ In this light, the test of the magistrates’ mettle is their capacity to stand by their convictions when the mob rages against them, threatens their families, and chants slogans of hate. For that is the nature of our conscience—it prevents us from doing the wrong thing just because it is easy, convenient and pleasurable; but it impels us to do what is right, no matter how painful and difficult.
“Such is the role of the Supreme Court—to uphold the basic norms of society and to defend the fundamental rights of the people…, notwithstanding tyrants, lynch mobs and even the best-intentioned but ill-informed crusaders. The Court does not lust for the brute power of the executive. Neither does it desire to have the patronage of the legislature. It prays only for courage, integrity and sagacity, for these are its only tools with which to fulfill its work and to deserve the people’s trust.” (P. 6)
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