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With Due Respect

Five game-changing SC decisions

Last Sunday, I related, via five US cases, how Donald Trump’s populism is eroding American libertarianism. Now, let me take up how five major decisions of our Supreme Court game-changed, for better or for worse, our constitutional, political and social landscape.

First, let me begin with the notorious Javellana v. Executive Secretary (March 31, 1973) that upheld, 6-4, the ratification of the 1973 Constitution through a raising of hands. It also effectively validated the declaration of martial law by Ferdinand Marcos and his power to issue presidential decrees.

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Prior to that decision, and thereafter, up to the present, voting in plebiscites has always been understood to be via paper ballots prepared in secrecy to protect voters from the plagues of “guns, goons and gold.”

Second, Republic v. Sandiganbayan (July 15, 2003) that forfeited, 14-0-1, in favor of the Republic Swiss deposits totaling over US$657 million (as of Jan. 31, 2002), plus interests, as part of the ill-gotten wealth of Marcos, explaining that his and his wife’s total legal income was only US$304,000 and that anything in excess was deemed ill-gotten wealth.

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This decision was followed by several others that also forfeited more of his ill-gotten wealth, like Yuchengco v. Sandiganbayan (Jan. 20, 2006 and Aug. 6, 2006), Marcos v. Republic (April 25, 2012), etc. (The PCGG claims to have recovered over P200 billion via litigations and compromises.) And yet, in a strange turnaround, the Court, in Ocampo v. Enriquez (Nov. 8, 2016), allowed, 9-5-1, the interment of Marcos’ remains at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes Cemetery) in ceremonies befitting a national hero.

Realizing that its decision could stir controversy, the Court concluded, “There are certain things that are better left for history—not this Court—to adjudge… In the meantime, the country must move on and let this issue rest.”

With due respect, I disagree. This issue will not rest; the Marcos saga is not over as the Marcos scions have proven to be politically savvy, if not politically triumphant.

Third, Lambino v. Comelec (Oct. 25, 2006) ruled, 8-7, that the parliamentary system could not be instituted by a people’s initiative (described as a “grand deception” and a “gigantic fraud”). It scuttled any possibility that could have enabled then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to continue governing as prime minister.

It, however, reversed an earlier decision, Santiago v. Comelec (March 19, 1997), which held, 8-5-1-1, that the law crafted by Congress to implement the people’s initiative was “insufficient.” Had it succeeded, this earlier initiative would have allowed the reelection of Fidel V. Ramos, arguably our best president since the 1987 Charter took effect.

Fourth, Bagong Bayani v. Comelec (June 26, 2001) held, 9-5-1, that, as intended by the Constitution, only the marginalized and underrepresented could enter Congress via the Filipino-style party-list system. Moreover, Veterans Federation v. Comelec (Oct. 6, 2000) ruled, 15-0, that the party-list solons need not fill up 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives.

Unfortunately, these cases were reversed by Atong Paglaum v. Comelec (April 2, 2013), which ruled that the party-list was open to all, and need not represent the marginalized; and by Banat v. Comelec (April 21, 2009), which held that the 20 percent constitutional provision was mandatory.

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As a result, per my column on Feb. 7, 2021, “the dynasties invaded the system, the veteran politicians misused it to circumvent the 3-term constitutional limit, the rich owned it as an easy election tool (the richest House member is a party-list rep), and the powerful misrepresented the lowly and weak in Congress…”

Fifth, Republic v. Sereno (May 18, 2018) ousted, 8-6, the then chief justice via quo warranto (QW) “…on account of her failure to file a substantial number of SALNs” as a UP professor.

Lately, the Court seems to view sympathetically Justice Marvic M.V.M. Leonen’s dissent calling the decision a “legal abomination” as it unanimously turned down a request for copies of Leonen’s SALNs, which—if granted—could have led to QW proceedings against him.

The betting now is whether the Court would reverse itself and reinstate Sereno, or, at least, grant her retirement benefits similar to what it did recently for CJ Renato C. Corona. After all, Sereno actually served as primus inter pares for six years—longer than Corona’s two.

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TAGS: Artemio V. Panganiban, SC landmark decisions, With Due Respect
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