Rhetoric And The Court

by Juan L. Mercado

“Enough is enough,”  Supreme  Court chief justice Renato Corona erupted: “I mince no words (against) insidious attempts to undermine, destroy even,  independence of the judiciary.” How?

“By forcing us to beg for funds, guaranteed to us by the Constitution,” he said.  There, were also “repeated threats of impeachment, based on a distorted  and power-tripping interpretation of breach of public trust. Under my watch, right will always find a sanctuary and wrong will never find a refuge.”

Corona chose his words well. So, why do they evoke, in many, Saul of Tarsus’ image of a “resounding gong or clashing cymbal”?

Former Senator Rene Saguisag  and others  see Corona as a  “defacto chief justice”. Scandal-tarred President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo skipped more senior  justices to hand his former chief-of-staff a quarter-of midnight appointment.

Deeds, not delicadeza, is the crucial yardstick here.  Nakilala sa gawa ang totohanang dakila, the Tagalog proverb says. (”He who is truly great is known by his deeds”.)  So, how has the Arroyo court performed?

Malacanang rapped Corona of using  budget cuts, already restored by Congress,  to “sidestep” the  Court’s recall of a “final”  ruling that reinstated 1,400 members of the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines. The Court derailed  implementation of said decision.

Philippine  Airlines lawyer  Estelito Mendoza  wrote the Second Division erred in deciding for flight attendants and stewards.  The Special Third Division  was the proper body to handle the case.

“How can a mere letter suffice as a pleading in a Supreme Court case?, “ Senator Miriam  Santiago snapped.  The Court’s own 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 entertain an ordinary letter? 

Only if judgement was “legally erroneous, patently unjust and  worked irreparable damage”, is a reversal is permitted, Santiago added. ILabintatlong taon iyang (Fasap case) nakabinbin. 

(Contrast that with this week’s US Federal Courts sentencing of former hedge-fund manager Raj Rajaratnam, 54 to 11 years in jail, plus a $10 million fine, for insider trading.  Trial to prison on Nov.28  took less than two years.)

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

Unfortunately, the flight attendants and stewards case is not isolated. The Supreme Court cartwheeled four times, in just three years, over 16 towns  elbowing to become cities, Sen. Franklin  Drilon noted.

Here, too, the zigzags were over a “final decision”, repeatedly exhumed from judgment entry book. “Does the Supreme Court play judicial yoyo?,” asked Viewpoint. (PDI/ Feb. 24, 2011)

All flubbed Republic Act 9009’s criteria for population, land area and P100 million income.  So, they opted for palusot in 2007. All 16 laws passed  by  14th Congress  were unconstitutional, ruled the Court. “No further pleadings shall be entertained”, the Court decreed in April 2009.

But in December  2009, justices entertained, as in the Fasap case, a prohibited reconsideration The 16 were cities after all, it ruled — only to order the 16, in August 2010, to haul down city signboards.   End of story?

No. On February 2011, the Court flipped again. The towns were cities after all, it ruled —  after counsel Estelito Mendoza wrote a “For-Your-Eyes-Only” letter” to justices. Sub-rosa letter writing to Supreme Court justices has not substituted for litigation. Not yet, anyway.

But deep unease persists – for good reason “When unfounded reversals happen “the Court’s credibility is put at risk,” Journalist Marites Vitug writes in her book:  “Shadow of Doubt – Probing the Supreme Court.”   “Justices flip-flop because they do not study the case, completely rely on the ponente (or are  lobbied). This is the shorthand explanation for this phenomenon”.

This Court upheld gerrymandering Camarines Sur.  The first district ended up with a population of 176,383 — far short of the constitutional minimum yardstick of a quarter of a million inhabitants.

But that was enough to accommodate then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s son as congressman: Jose Miguel “Dato” Arroyo. “Mama” signed that bill into RA: RA 4264 on Oct.12,2009.

This “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”.

The Court agreed to Eduardo Cojuangco pocketing 16.2 million San Miguel Corp. shares, by dipping into coco levies wrung by martial law bayonets. “The biggest joke to hit the century,” dissented then Justice, now Ombudsman, Conchita Carpio-Morales.

“We are not final because we are infallible” wrote US Supreme Court. Robert Jackson “But (we are) infallible only because we are final.”  Will the Corona Court also remember who said: “Physician, heal  thyself”? 

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.com)

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