Attila the Hun torched much of Eastern Europe between 434 to 451 AD. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo exits from Malacanang with a scorch earth policy that gutted institutions from the Ombudsman to the Civil Service Commission. The outgoing regime will lob every obstacle against the incoming administration, Inquirer’s Manolo Quezon and friends write in their paper on looking beyond the 2010 elections. Atilla tactics would ensure Benigno Aquino “wins a palace that has no value other than the title home of “President of the Philippines.”
That forecast unreels in Ms Arroyo’s midnight appointments from gardener to manicurist. How many jobs did she sign away? No one knows so far. President Carlos Garcia fobbed off 350 nominees. Her father Diosdado Macapagal tripled that to 1,717.
But hackles bristled when she anointed Justice Renato Corona to succeed Supreme Court chief justice Reynato Puno. “It takes two to tango.” Don’t disco, counsel a score of voices.
Consider former Chief Justice Manuel Moran’s delicadeza, Inquirer’s Solita Monsod suggested. After serving as ambassador, Moran waved away a midnight re-appointment. Leave that to the incoming President, he demurred.
“My soul, be satisfied with flowers/ With fruits, with weeds even; but gather them/ In the one garden you can call your own.”, Cyrano de Bergerac wrote.
“Do a Moran”, former President Fidel Ramos told his protégé. Ramos was the first to endorse Corona for the Court. Decline, if only to save the Court, suggested the Philippine Bar Association and the Supreme Courts Appointments Watch.
The Court reels from questions of integrity and serial reversals of “final decisions” Justice Lucas Bersamin wrote the ponencia that entertained a “third motion for reconsideration” to favor 16 towns seeking to become cities via the backdoor.
“This is unheard of in Court annals”, notes the book: “Beyond A Shadow of Doubt”. Justices Roberto Concepcion, JBL Reyes or Cecilia Munoz Palma would have retched at such aberrations.
Moran’s self-denial was institutionalized into the rule that an outgoing president is a caretaker, not a plunderer. The 1987 Constitution explicitly barred midnight appointments. No exceptions.
”Our Constitution was not written in the sands to be washed away by each new wave of judges blown in by each successive political wave”, Justice Hugo Black wrote in 1970.
Crammed with Arroyo appointees, the Court instead handcuffed incoming President Benigno Aquino. In a 9-3-1 vote, the tribunal exempted a chief justice from the ban. The Constitution’s no exception rule is not what it really means, insisted Justice Lucas Bersamin’s cloying ponencia.
Justifications offered “were anchored on trivialities of draftsmanship,” snapped Justice Conchita Carpio Morales. “They have the weight of helium.” That’s a prohibited amendment of the constitution by judicial tinkering, observed Ateneo’s Joaquin Bernas. Justices Antonio Carpio and Morales yanked back their applications from the Judicial Bar Council.
Bernas and ex-Senator Rene Saguisag earlier declined appointment to the Supreme Court. Such refusals are rare. “To be honest, as this world goes. Is to be one man picked out of ten thousand,” Hamlet mused.
Like most lawyers, Corona itched to don the chief justice’s robes. So, did he exclude himself from Hamlet’s ten thousand count? Other midnight appointees clung kapit-tuko to their sinecures. “Delicadeza has been long weakened,” Saguisag wrote. “(But we) seem to have completely lost (this virtue) in the last decade.”
Bernas and Saguisag earlier noted that Corona , like Justice Moran, could refuse to tango. “Rene should decline, out of delicadeza, and Noynoy may reappoint him,” Saguisag wrote. “Or Noynoy may name (Conchita) Chit Carpio-Morales as the first woman chief justice. She is due, to retire after a year.
Did Justice Corona blush on hearing counsel from his main backer as well as those who also have deepest values of the Court at heart? “Shame may restrain what law does not prohibit”, the Stoic Roman philosopher Seneca wrote.
But history shows Atillla and cronies often collude. Wala ng bingi ditto sa mundo gaya ng ayaw makinig, the old proverb says. “None so deaf as those who refuse to hear.”
Aquino meanwhile said he’d take his oath of office before a barangay captain. “I still don’t have a formal barong,” wailed village chief Edgardo Aguas of Tarlac .
Who hit history’s replay button? Corazon Aquino spurned the dictatorship’s Supreme Court. She fired the Marcos justices. She took her oath of office before the junior but independent Justice Claudio Teehankee.
The Corona appointment is Arroyo’s ”declaration of war “against Aquino, Senator Aquilino Pimentel commented. Rep. Mikey Arroyo opened a second front saying: His mother would seek to become Speaker of the House. — and beyond. Atilla will ride again!
Richard Rich betrayed his mentor Thomas More, history tells us. As a reward, Henry VIII, named Rich to rule Wales. Before More’s execution, Thomas saw Rich’s medallion and wondered: “Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. But for Wales?”
Today’s rampaging Attilas can bestow, like Wales, a chief justice’s upholstered bench. But the decision to be a Thomas More or play ball with Atilla rests with Justice Corona. No one else.