FVR respected the Supreme Court | Inquirer Opinion
With Due Respect

FVR respected the Supreme Court

Much has been written, heard, and spoken about Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) — his legendary workaholic habits, demand for CSW and UST, metaphorical “bibingka” approach, passion for democratic reform (matched only by his abhorrence of autocratic shortcuts), doable legislative agenda, and vision for “Philippines 2000” but not about his relationship with the judiciary. My aim in this column is to fill that void — how he greatly respected the Supreme Court and unflinchingly followed the rule of law via two decisions as models.

THE FIRST IS ALEX DAVID V. COMELEC (April 8, 1997) in which the pivotal issue was: How long was the term of office of barangay chairmen and other barangay officials who were elected on May 9, 1994? Was it three years as provided under Republic Act No. 7160 (Local Government Code) or five years as contained in RA 6679?

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The main petitioner, the then president of the Liga ng mga Barangay sa Pilipinas, claimed it was five years and petitioned the Court to cancel the barangay election scheduled by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on May 12, 1997, and to reset it two years later, on May 10, 1999.

Prior to the filing of the petitions, there was a lot of media buzz, not denied by the Palace, that FVR wanted the postponement allegedly to consolidate his hold on local governance. In fact—instead of defending its client, the respondent Comelec—the Office of the Solicitor General (the government’s counsel) opted to side with the petitioners.

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Nonetheless, the judgment, which I had the honor of writing for the Court, unanimously denied the petitions “for being completely devoid of merit,” emphasizing that “[t]he Constitution and the laws do not support them. Extant jurisprudence militates against them. Reason and common sense reject them. Equity and morality abhor them. They are subtle but nonetheless self-serving propositions to lengthen governance without a mandate from the governed. In a democracy, elected leaders can legally and morally justify their reign only by obtaining the voluntary consent of the electorate. In this case however, petitioners propose to extend their terms not by seeking the people’s vote but by faulty legal argumentation. This Court cannot and will not grant its imprimatur to such untenable proposition. If they want to continue serving, they must get a new mandate in the elections scheduled on May 12, 1997.”

Though the decision was couched in rather strong language, FVR did not balk or complain but simply asked everyone to obey it—even those who disagreed with it—for the Court had spoken. Neither did he hint, much less express, any regret or disappointment in my authorship of the verdict.

MUCH MORE CONTROVERSIAL THAN THE FIRST IS THE SECOND CASE, Defensor-Santiago v. Comelec (March 19, 1997), in which the Court held that RA 6735, the law regulating the people’s right of initiative, was “inadequate to cover the system of initiative and … failed to provide sufficient standards for subordinate legislation.”

Written by Justice (later Chief Justice) Hilario G. Davide Jr., the decision was supported by seven members (CJ Narvasa, JJs Regalado, Romero, Bellosillo, Kapunan, Hermosisima, and Torres), a total of eight against a total of five dissenters (JJs Melo, Puno, Mendoza, Francisco, and me). J Padilla inhibited while J Vitug wrote a separate opinion to grant the petition but “the Temporary Restraining Order earlier issued by the Court did not proscribe the exercise by the Pedrosas of their right to campaign for constitutional amendments.”

We, the dissenters, vehemently attacked the majority’s novel theory of “insufficient or inadequate law” stressing that a law is either constitutional or unconstitutional but never inadequate or insufficient. No precedent and no legal or judicial treatise here, in the US, or elsewhere had ever theorized, proposed, or defended this type of attack on a law duly passed by the people’s representatives.

NOT SATISFIED WITH THE COURT’S RULING, the respondents filed separate motions for reconsideration (MRs). Six members of the Court (CJ Narvasa, JJs Davide, Regalado, Romero, Bellosillo, and Kapunan) voted against them. Another six (JJs Melo, Puno, Mendoza, Francisco, Hermosisima, and I) voted to grant them. (J Padilla on sick leave and J Torres inhibited while J Vitug maintained his separate opinion). Having failed to secure a majority of seven votes, the MRs were “denied with finality.”

Observe that if all the appointees of FVR lined up their votes solidly, the respondents could have succeeded in their advocacy to amend the Constitution via a people’s initiative and enabled FVR to run for and win reelection in 1998. Though his political partisans supported the respondents in the raging debates in the public fora, FVR never asked his nine appointees (who outnumbered the six other members) to vote one way or the other. Indeed, he respected the independence and dignity of the Court and its members to decide freely in accordance with its/their constitutional mandate.

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