“Once More — With Feeling”

by Juan L. Mercado

That’s the title of a Broadway 2001 musical on, of all things, vampires.  There are no vampires on our Supreme  Court. But once again, Arroyo justices flipped, then flopped on a decision they’’ve repeatedly declared “final and  executory.”

No. The magistrates didn’t cartwheel again on 16 towns masquerading as cities. In four reversals, the Court whacked 16 towns back into cities. Dizzy?

Get set for more vertigo. In a new reversal on the 14 – that’s right, 14–year old Flight Attendants and Stewards Association case, the tribunal decided to reopen a case it had ruled four times as settted. Justices here cartwheel whenever Marcos former justice secretary sends a postman to know on their door.

The Court directing the case be raffled either to Justices Bersamin or Vicente Peralta. members of the originally division that ruled on the case. PAL’s second motion for reconsideration PAL may now be resolved,

Supreme Court decisions are” final not because we are infallible”, Justice Robert Jackson noted “They are infallible because we are final.” Ah, but in the Arroyo Court, “final” is “tentative”, “decisive” is “changeable” and “terminal” is “incomplete.”

Judicial fickleness “opened a Pandora’s box full of future troubles for Philippine judicial decision-making”  Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno wrote in her 52-page dissent

Backed by the mint-new Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Serreno pointed out thew  majority’s ruling “opened for review a decision on the merits that had been unanimously agreed on”

At least 10 justices, sitting in three differently constituted divisions of this court, affirmed for a staggering third time” the decision as final — only to recall it.

“This (is) extreme ‘flipping’” Worse, it was prompted not even by a formal motion for reconsideration “ by PAL.  Four letters from the airline’s lawyer did the trick. “(They) were  addressed not to the court, but only to the clerk of court.”

“How can a mere letter suffice as a pleading in a Supreme Court case?” Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago snapped in a press conference on the FASAP decision reversal last year. The Court’s rules thumb down any second motion for reconsideration filed without prior permission.

Justices, nonetheless, scrambled to reconsider a “final decision” on the basis of a letter. “You are not allowed to talk to a Supreme Court justice. What credibility would be left (if the Court) declares in one breath that this is final then entertains an ordinary letter?”

Only if judgment was “legally erroneous,” “patently unjust” and “worked irreparable damage,” is a reversal permitted, Santiago added. “Labin tatlong taon iyang (Fasap case) nakabinbin,” she pointed out.

Assume the Fasap decision was issued by the wrong division, that’s a technicality, Santiago said. Will that overturn 13 years of litigation? The Court’s record “is spotty,” It should “take remedial steps” on its rules.

“I am angry because I fear that the citizenry might turn its back on the bulwark of our civil liberties. If the Court loses its credibility, it will be impossible to regain it in a number of years.

(Contrast that with the US Federal Court’s sentencing of former hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam to 11 years in jail, plus a $10-million fine, for insider trading. It took less than two years to bring the case from trial to prison.)

“Mendoza’s letters should have been simply “noted.”, Serreno said. “The circumstances under which this flipping was made are so curiously strange.”

“(Here) five justices voted to deny a second motion for reconsideration. (In effect, they) themselves initiated moves to prevent their promulgated decision from ever becoming final.”

The just thing to do was for the “court en banc (to) revoke the recall of the Sept. 7, 2011, resolution and return the case to the Second Division. There, it should be reinstated for“ finality of the ruling that declared the retrenchments illegal.

The majority wanted to write “finis to the Fasap case, Sereno added. Instead, it“ has opened the floodgates anew for a fourth review of the main case.

“The recall produced the very effect or perception that Justice Brion, speaking for the majority, wanted to avoid: flip-flopping on cases decided with finality on account of a prohibited second motion for reconsideration and personal correspondences by a party’s counsel.

“There can be no surer indication of flip-flopping than the subsequent and sudden denial of the petition in the main Fasap case on a second motion for reconsideration, despite the grant of the petition in three rulings by at least 10 justices,” she said.

The Court is supposed to be a tribunal of last resort. It denigrates that role “if it gives never-ending refuge to parties who obstinately seek to resist execution of our final decisions.

A “counsel’s creativity in re-labelling a prohibited second motion for reconsideration, or changing composition of the three divisions of this court”  are poor excuses.

The alternative is “the court might as well lay to rest in the sepulcher the founding judicial principles of immutability of judgments and res judicata,”

Oh, by the way: In the same decision, the majority absolved Chief Justice Renato Corona of rigging the FASAP rigmalore. Was that the real objective in “once more — with feeling”?

(Email: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)


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