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Umali’s threats a bid to manipulate the judiciary

/ 12:57 AM April 03, 2014

Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali should stop terrorizing the judiciary with his reckless public threats to impeach the justices of the Supreme Court. His “blind item” threats only demean our country’s justice system and diminish our people’s faith in the judiciary. More so because the grounds for his impeach plan are more political than legal/constitutional—an election case involving his party mate and issues that concern the position of his political party.

The justices cannot be charged with “betrayal of public trust” when it sustained the people’s vehement objection to the irregular allocation of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to our lawmakers. These lawmakers were the ones who “betrayed the public trust” when, since time immemorial, they wittingly or unwittingly allowed the misappropriation or mishandling of the PDAF and similar pork barrel funds.  For not fighting for the people’s right, the lawmakers betrayed the trust and confidence reposed upon them by the voters.

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Umali’s accusation—that “the judiciary, headed by the Supreme Court, is acting like the three branches of government rolled into one”—is downright baseless and misleading. The Supreme Court, as a collegial body, only decides cases brought to it based on its interpretation of the law, and as part of its constitutionally mandated function to determine if any branch of government has acted with grave abuse of discretion in the performance of its duties.

While I understand that Umali’s position in several cases varies from the decisions of the Supreme Court, he must maintain respect for the Court, and remember that he is a politician who does not view issues objectively or with the “cold neutrality of an impartial judge.” As a politician, it is natural, and almost a given, for Umali to take the side or position advocated by his political party. But he cannot expect, much less coerce, the Supreme Court to decide in accordance with his biases or as he would want the justices to.

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Although it is true that Congress may move for the impeachment of erring Supreme Court justices, it is also the right of justices to be protected from harassment suits. Thus, complainants in a baseless harassment suit against magistrates may be liable for damages, and may be penalized for contempt of court. And if the complainants are lawyers, they may be disbarred from the practice of law.

Threats such as those made by Umali are veiled attempts to manipulate the judiciary. We must not forget that one of the basic foundations of our democracy is the independence of each branch of government, such that one department cannot impose control over another. The last thing that this country needs is a judiciary under the gun; that is, a judiciary afraid of displeasing the administration or politicians. Once this happens, our country will be a failed state as there will be no respect for the rule of law. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that we protect the judiciary’s independence against any form of political pressure.

—ROMULO B. MACALINTAL,

Las Piñas City

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TAGS: judiciary, Oriental Mindoro, PDAF, pork barrel, Priority Development Assistance Fund, Reynaldo Umali, Supreme Court
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