Like It Is

What has the Supreme Court done?

/ 12:09 AM February 19, 2015

The Supreme Court has disappointed again. It seems to see its role as that of a judge, of a strict interpreter of the word of the law. But I see that as the role of lower courts. The Supreme Court stands above that with its role as the final arbiter of the health of society, of what is best for the country.

A pardon exonerates you of a crime and gives you full civil rights again because one person says so. One person who has not studied the case in the detail that the courts do is not deciding on informed judgment, but on political considerations. It raises the question: Is this country a democracy, or a dictatorship? Because allowing one uninformed person to overrule the judgment of an established court of law is what is done in dictatorships. If it’s allowed in the Constitution, then the Constitution needs to be changed. Or presidents need to be far more circumspect. The Constitution doesn’t mandate you give pardons, only that you can. So it shouldn’t be done for political reasons, but only for genuinely deserving or compassionate reasons.


Sadly, the Supreme Court allowed adherence to strict interpretation of the words of the law to overrule good common sense and what is best for society. A man convicted and found guilty of stealing the people’s money (it’s reported that he still owes the government over P400 million) should be in jail, not in public office. No matter what the high court said, Joseph Estrada was found guilty of plunder, a crime that used to be punishable with the death penalty (now a lifetime in jail suffices).

As Justice Marvic Leonen said, “[He] is a man who, tormented with recriminations of massive corruption and failing to exculpate himself in the eyes of the Filipino people, was left with no recourse but to leave the Presidency. He stood trial for and was convicted of plunder: a conviction that endures and stands unreversed.”


In the pardon given to Estrada, there’s a “whereas” clause that says he “had publicly committed to no longer seek any elective position or office.” Eleven of 14 justices put this aside, saying that the dispositive section of the pardon was what must be interpreted, and this said “he is hereby restored to his civil and political rights.” They felt that restoration of civil and political rights meant everything, including running for public office again. But if so, why was that “whereas” clause there at all? It should have been deleted as irrelevant. And why wasn’t the word “full” put in front of “civil…” if running for office again was intended?

My interpretation is that because he’d agreed to not run for public office anymore, he could in all other ways be treated like a normal citizen, but only if he kept his word and didn’t run for public office.

An inexplicable pardon doesn’t say Estrada’s innocent; it only says that he doesn’t have to suffer the penalty of which he’s charged. He’s still guilty. What doesn’t the Supreme Court understand about that?

And Justice Leonen agrees with me, as (although I’ve not yet read their decisions) do the other two justices I respect: Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno herself and Associate Justice Tony Carpio.

Justice Leonen said: “The person convicted of plunder now walks free among us. He did not spend a single day in an ordinary jail.” He went on to say: “This is a template for our political elite at the expense of the masses who toil and suffer from the consequences of corruption. It is hope for those who occupy high government offices who commit crimes as they await a next political term when the people’s vigilance would have waned. It is the denouement in a narrative that will explain why there is no effective deterrent to corruption in high places.”

He said much more in the same vein, lambasting, if I may use the term, his fellow justices for not considering the wider, more important picture. Which is not only that a guilty man has been allowed to assume an office of public trust but also that others can feel free to do so, too. It reopens the gates of corruption that President Aquino has been trying so hard to close.

As a Mr. Carlos Isles stated so well in a letter to the editor in the Inquirer (1/28/15), “My professional education in one of the highest institutions of learning in this country has taught me that what is legal may not always be moral. And that if big decisions, like the recent act of the Supreme Court removing all obstacles for Joseph Estrada to continue as mayor of Manila, then it is not hard to understand why this country is what it is at present—without a moral compass. As a senior citizen still struggling and hoping for a better future for the Philippines, I think the decision of the Supreme Court is disgusting, to say the least.”


What’s worrisome is that the people don’t seem to care.

As the Inquirer editorial of Jan. 23 said, “Indeed, Estrada tests the limits of Philippine democracy, and it is hard to guess how long it will take for the Filipino voter to vote wisely, or, until then, whether our courts will have the gumption to defy the political winds.”

The main question, to my mind, is this: Should the justices who favored Estrada’s continuation in office base their decision only on legal grounds? Every human being is not only a legal construct. He is also a moral one and the high court should have an equal eye on moral reasons for every decision it makes. For the sake of society’s future, it should reconsider.

* * *

Can someone tell me why it’s wrong to accept the help of the US government to catch an international terrorist? Shouldn’t we welcome any help we can get?

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TAGS: Carlos Isles, Joseph Estrada, Maria Lourdes Sereno, Marvic Leonen, plunder, Supreme Court, Tony Carpio
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