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Supreme Court has only itself to blame

Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona’s “unprecedented” diatribe against the executive and the legislative branches (or some members thereof)—accusing them of disrespect and lack of civility—may have earned thunderous applause from the hometown crowd of  judges he was addressing, but it is doubtful whether he will get much sympathy from many others.

Don’t get me wrong. The Supreme Court is a coequal branch of government. It is independent, by constitutional mandate, which means, among other things, that it has fiscal autonomy, and we should all defend it from any and all attempts—by whatever quarter—to undermine that independence.

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But respect has to be earned, it cannot be demanded. (I will say something about civility later.) And if the CJ thinks there has been disrespect, it behooves him to examine whether the behavior of the high court during his watch merits respect in the first place, heeding the Biblical exhortation: “And why do you take note of the grain of dust in your brother’s eye, but take no note of the bit of wood which is in your eye?”

This is not to say that the Executive and the Legislature’s failings are as a grain of dust, but the reader (and it is hoped, the CJ) gets the drift. And since Corona doesn’t seem to think there is any bit of wood/beam/plank (depending on the Bible version) in the Supreme Court’s eye, maybe we can help.

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Let’s start with the appointment of Corona himself as chief justice. That was clearly a midnight appointment, specifically barred by the Constitution. But what is now known as the Corona Court essentially not only chose to distort the letter and the spirit of the constitutional provision against midnight appointments, it also overturned previous high court precedents on the matter, thus giving itself the first blow to its reputation (already not of the highest) and its credibility. The Corona Court started off on the wrong foot.

In the next 17 months, it continued on the same respect-obliterating, public trust-violating course. Some examples:

There’s the case involving former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, where the Corona Court issued a status quo ante order (which stopped Congress in its tracks of impeaching Gutierrez), within one or two days after receiving her petition. The only trouble was that it turned out that the Court voted on it without, it seems, even reading it. How do we know that?  From the routing slips: voting took place in the morning, the documents were received only in the afternoon or the next day. Corona, in defending his Court, wondered why it took six months before anybody complained. The answer is simple: nobody found out until later that a vote was taken without the documents being read.

Then there is the plagiarism (the practice of taking someone else’s work and passing them off as one’s own) case brought up by certain UP law professors against Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo. The Corona Court investigated, and found—disregarding the overwhelming evidence to the contrary—that Justice Del Castillo did not plagiarize (nor, apparently can any justice do so).

To add insult to injury, it vented its ire against the UP law faculty who had supported the complaint. And worse, it also turned on AJ Ma. Lourdes Sereno, the most junior justice at the time. Her “sin” apparently was that she had documented (in her dissenting opinion) the many instances of plagiarism that her colleague had committed. And this is where the lack of civility, which Corona deplored in the Executive and Legislature, came in:  Sereno herself was accused of plagiarism by another justice (Roberto Abad)—an accusation, which was totally baseless, as Sereno herself proved. How can Corona accuse his critics of lack of civility, when he allows it to happen in his own Court? Another blow to the Corona Court’s credibility and respectability.

And then there is the Lauro Vizconde accusation, which made the headlines, that AJ Antonio Carpio campaigned among his colleagues for the acquittal of Hubert Webb. Vizconde was very confident, because he said that this was told to him personally by another justice—who he later identified as CJ Corona. Corona denied it. But Vizconde, who apparently has a witness ready to support him, refused to back down. Interestingly, the Court declared that Carpio did not talk to any justice regarding the Webb case—but stopped short of getting to the bottom of the Vizconde-Corona conversation.

Or how about the Hacienda Luisita case, where the Corona Court revoked the hacienda’s Stock Distribution Plan, with Corona himself going further and saying that it was unconstitutional—and then all but negated the decision by decreeing that the farmers should be asked to vote anyway (with everything that implies bribery and intimidation against easy, hungry targets). Giving with one hand, taking away with the other.

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And last, but not least, is the Corona Court’s flip-flopping. Last Sept. 7, it denied with finality (for the second time) PAL’s motion for reconsideration on the high court decision declaring illegal the 1998 termination of flight attendants and stewards. I took my hat off to the high court—the decision was a step toward the redemption of the Corona Court. But, as we all know, it recalled that decision in less than a month, under the most questionable of circumstances. (My column last Thursday in another newspaper discussed these circumstances.) The resulting rainstorm of criticisms has not abated.

And Corona wonders at the lack of confidence in, and disrespect for, his Court?

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TAGS: chief justice renato corona, featured columns, opinion, Supreme Court
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