Persistent Change

by Juan L. Mercado

Remember the  1955 pop  song “Something’s Gotta Give”?  Fred Astaire danced on to the  stage as the song began:  “When an irresistible force, such as you / Meets an old, immovable object, like me…..”

Will an “irresistible” Supreme Court collide with an “immovable”  House of Representatives over impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez? The House committee fractured  the constitutional ban on hearing two impeachment proceedings against the same official within a year, Ms Gutierrez groused.


Freeze, the high court ordered House Justice Committee members. Submit a memorandum to clarify if prohibited overlapping charges occurred. The Committee earlier slotted hearings, for September 28 and 29, to determine if  “sufficient grounds” existed to start plenary debates.

Commiittee members bristled. “This is a dangerous precedent,” the low-key Deputy Speaker Erin Tanada snapped. “If we allow this to happen, anybody can seek a Temporary Restraining Order against action taken by the House.”

Hearings would proceed, unless Speaker Sonny Belmonte directed otherwise, Committee chair Niel Tupas Jr. said. The court muscled into the House’s exclusive constitutional mandate.

“Men of good will are often all that is between us and the devil”, an old Irish proverb says.  Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile counseled  co-equal bodies can coordinate. Belmonte postponed hearings — for now.  “Let us look at the clarifications,” the Speaker said. “We’ve  not crossed hard barriers yet.”

Was that a pointed flashback to the brutal November 2003 teetering-on-the-edge constitutional  crisis?. 

Tycoon Eduardo Cojuangco then unleashed a “Brat Pack” of congressmen to impeach Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr.  Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) “gunslingers” included: Gilberto Teodoro, Wimpy Fuentebella, Ace Durano, Darlene Custodio, among others.

The notorious coconut levy, extorted thru martial law bayonets, were public funds, the Davide Court ruled Cojuangco and other cronies insisted the loot were private funds. Theirs.

“Nothing in recent memory  divided us more than…this reckless charge,” a Sun Star editorial noted.   “It shoved, to the brink of chaos, a country still haunted by a Marcos legacy: the specter of jackbooted military intervention.”

Transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate,  demanded  the “Brat Pack”.  But the better angels prevailed. In a stormy session, Speaker Jose de Venecia, backed by majority House members,  refused.

No one today has the stomach for a brawl that shoves all back to the brink of constitutional cliffs. Nonetheless the unease persists. It stems from widely-held  perceptions.

One is an Ombudsman who battles amnesia. She forgot the institution, whose Scandinavian roots go back to year 1241, is supposed to be  a trusted defender of people.

Ms Gutierrez served as legal flak jacket for former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the First Gentleman against  graft cases. These include $329  million ZTE broadband contract to the P728 million fertilizer scam,

The other is about a Court crammed with  rroyo-appointed justices. Their cups runneth over with  utang-na-loob for their judicial robes.   

From flip-flop-flip on 16 cities, “midnight appointees to gerry mandering in Bicol, most of Ms Arroyo’s appointees…have shown allegiance to her,” writes Journalist  Marites Danguilian Vitug in her book: “Shadow of Doubt – Probing the  Supreme Court.”

The Court backed chain-sawing congressional districts of Camarines Sur thru RA 4264. President Arroyo signed that into law on Oct. 12, 2009 – although the first district had a population of only 176,383’

That fell short of 73,617 inhabitants of the constitutional minimum yardstick of a quarter of a million inhabitants.  But  “it created a playground in Bicol for young  Dato Arroyo,” noted  constitutional scholar Joaquin Bernas SJ.  “This is a direction which makes the independence of the Supreme Court suspect.”

“Here is a quote from Asian Studies Review on the Supreme Court,” we  told four editors on the sidelines of a Cebu Press Freedom Week conference. “Is it fair?. Tell me.”

The quote:  “In all major challenges, the Supreme Court favored the…regime. Although the court eventually did decide against (the President)  in a number of cases, the Supreme Court never presented any real threat to (her) rule.

“By the end of (her term) , the reputation and prestige of the Supreme Court had decreased dramatically. It was perceived as subservient to ( the President )  and incapable of or unwilling to limit the effects of  (her  decisions}.

”But not only was the prestige and popularity of the Supreme Court declining precipitously; so was that of (the Presiden}. She destroyed the role of the court as a true arbiter of political conflict in the eyes of the population at large…”

The editors concurred with that assessment. So did we.  Now, for the caveats, we revealed to the editors.

First:  The quote is not a description of the Arroyo Court. Rather, it sketches “The Marcos Court.” Louisiana University’s Stacia Haynie wrote the analysis.   Second:  The  study  appeared  12 years ago, namely in the December 1998 issue of  Asian Studies Review.  The full title of the Haynie article is: “Paradise Lost — Politicization of the Philippine Supreme Court in the Post Marcos Era.”

Third – and more basic – is a question. Given the Court’s past, and experience up to now, can we say that one of President’s Arroyo legacy has been to recreate the Marcos  Court, albeit in her image?

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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