Do Filipinos know how to judge ‘Chief Justice Idol’?
So is President Aquino Steven Tyler or Randy Jackson? More importantly, does the home audience have any clue at all how to vote?
“Chief Justice Idol” is more obnoxious than “American Idol,” “The Buzz” and “Willing Willie” combined. When nominated to the US Supreme Court, Harvard Law Dean Elena Kagan was grilled by senators on constitutional philosophy, down to her opposing US military recruiting in Harvard due to its discriminatory policies. In the Philippines, the Judicial and Bar Council asked Securities and Exchange Commission chair and star litigatrix Teresita Herbosa why she was single.
The initial 71-candidate “nomination circus” entertained us with everything from U2’s “Moment of Surrender” to Aerosmith’s “Dream On.” After proclaiming “I have an advantage over all the other people because I personally experienced all in the system itself,” Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares bowed out. Former Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla made a dignified request that the most senior justice be appointed for the sake of tradition and objectivity. Former Solicitor General Frank Chavez questioned why there are two legislators in the JBC when the Constitution provides for only one, sparking a congressional boycott. Silently removed was “Chief Justice of the Universe” Florentino Floro, an ex-judge who claimed to consult dwarves regarding cases.
The “Chief Justice Idol” metaphor is apt for a citizenry that has reasserted itself. “The King’s Speech” begins with King George V cautioning how radio has transformed the English monarchy: “Now we must invade people’s homes and ingratiate ourselves.” Similarly, then Chief Justice Renato Corona’s televised impeachment trial stripped the mystique shrouding the Supreme Court. Televising the chief justice selection was inevitable and the public will again let its vote be known.
The mystique stems from our conditioning to blindly accept the high court’s pronouncements. Stanford Dean Larry Kramer wrote: “A judicial monopoly on constitutional interpretation is now depicted as inexorable and inevitable, as something that was meant to be and that saved us from ourselves.”
“Get up, stand up: Stand up for your rights!” but we rarely ask Bob Marley what these rights mean. For all the indignation sparked by the impeachment, no one wished to argue that Corona was an unconstitutional midnight appointee and that the high court’s grammatical acrobatics used to legitimize his appointment were likewise wrong. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile proclaimed that only the military could stop the impeachment trial, yet the Senate accepted a restraining order regarding dollar deposits.
Like a national artist, Chief Justice Idol’s primary duty is, in deciding cases, to articulate our defining values and renew their moral force. Yale Dean Eugene Rostow described how “the justices are inevitably teachers in a vital national seminar.” We all have an opinion on whether the President should be firmer in Scarborough Shoal and whether “Pare Ko” was the anthem of the ’90s, but strangely not how a chief justice should shape our society’s soul.
For example, where are religion’s boundaries in society? When may religious values drive government action, when is there an improper religious imposition? May government facilitate a person’s free religious exercise or must it stay away altogether? Does the Constitution mandate atheism?
Should Chief Justice Idol sing John Lennon or Joan Osborne? Is it “Imagine there’s no heaven/ It’s easy if you try/ No hell below us/ Above us only sky/ Imagine all the people living for today” or “If you were faced with Him in all His glory/ What would you ask if you had just one question”?
Chief Justice Idol, unfortunately, has focused on everything but the singing, and not even Simon Cowell let loose at a contestant before the song. Each rare snippet on deciding cases in the JBC interviews was glossed over, from former UP Law Dean Raul Pangalangan boldly opining that “judicial aggrandizement” under the 1987 Constitution should be wielded with restraint 25 years later, to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s bombshell that obedience to court orders is “always on a case to case basis.” Retired Justice Regino Hermosisima complimented, “Most of the decisions written by Justice Tony Carpio brought accolades, but in some cases, Justice Carpio was misunderstood. According to Emerson, to be great is to be misunderstood.” The longest serving justice, however, was given no venue to be misunderstood in-depth.
The media were complicit in all this, reporting a mere debate on clogged dockets, the week’s seeming least common denominator. Does no one believe that we will ever fully unravel the mystique and understand Supreme Court decisions for ourselves. Is our democracy’s next evolution after impeachment for naught?
So will Chief Justice Idol be a true artist who touches the marrow of our lives or will he/she be a mere craftsman? Our society must take the chance offered by modern media to weigh in intelligently, to ensure that the new Idol is truly capable of decisions worth immortalizing and to tune out the gossip surrounding the selection. As the great philosopher Lennon wrote, “You say you’ll change the constitution/ Well, you know/ We all want to change your head/ You tell me it’s the institution/ Well, you know/ You better free your mind instead.”
And to quote Ely Buendia, “Bago maniwala mag-isip-isip ka muna/ Marami ang namamatay sa maling akala.”
Oscar Franklin Tan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an international corporate lawyer and president of the UP Alumni Association (Singapore).
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