“There have been instances when the Supreme Court has legitimized official action offensive to human rights and disruptive of Constitutionalism. Hence, as we await the decision of the current Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the gag rule in Executive Order 464, and of Proclamation 1017 and the various official actions it occasioned, as well as the uses of BP 880, it might be salutary to review how our Supreme Court has sometimes, to our national regret, played around with sacred constitutional principles”. (Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J.).
The sins of the Supreme Court are in the pages of its court register and the volumes of SCRA and run through the pages of Metro Manila newspapers and in the 2003 impeachment complaint against the Chief Justice. If one would think that not only once, but several times, the Supreme Court had been embroiled in scandals, then it must not be seen as a dispenser of censures but as a receiver; it must get the dosage of its own medicine and instead of dishing out censures and reprimands to lawyers, judges, sheriffs and judicial employees, it should be able to prescribe one for itself or the public must dish it out forthright to the court in return.
An accusation was made against the Supreme Court or its Chief Justice that it has illegally disbursed the Judicial Development Funds which was earmarked for the cost of living allowance of judicial employees. The accusation went on to say that judicial employees’ entitlement to P527 Million had not been paid. Funds for cost of living allowance were disbursed instead to renovate the Supreme Court Session Hall for P64 Million; Renovation of Baguio vacation houses for justices, their families and friends, P34 Million; construction of SC-CA Multipurpose Building, P100 Million; Acquisition of Luxury cars, P31 Million, and subsidy for the CA printing press, P5 Million.
The Supreme Court has a misplaced sense of values and priorities. Ordinary court employees who were reeling from the effect of the astronomical cost of living expenses throughout the country could hardly afford, let alone dream of a vacation, and yet the Court has spent, among others, the funds earmarked for them for the jurists’ luxury cars and vacation houses for their families and friends in Baguio City.
There was this not too recent bar scandal too where two associate justices got sacked because one had asked the other to work on the bar grader to adjust the grade of a candidate who happened to be the son of the other magistrate.
In another yet befuddling scandal, a jurist had conveniently retired from the Supreme Court to avoid further public scrutiny over a decision which was allegedly “ghost-written” by the lawyer of a big telecommunication involved in the case before the court.
But the most grievous sins of the Supreme Court were committed during the martial law years. A chief justice ran errand for Imelda Marcos and held her umbrella so the First Lady would not be exposed to sunlight and ruin her flawless skin.
And on referendum cases, except for two of its members: Justices Claudio Tehankee and Calixto Zaldivar, most of its members considered the “Marcos constitution” ratified by “viva voce” in the barangay meetings held throughout the country in 1973.
President Marcos was a brilliant and an astute politician. When he declared martial law on September 21, 1972, he immediately ordered the closure of Congress and the various mass media outlets and ordered the arrests of those whom he cannot control. Mr. Marcos knew that he could not contain the irrepressible spirit of Senator Aquino, the oratories of Senators Tanada, Sumulong and Soc Rodrigo, and the depth and wit of Senators Jose W. Diokno, Jovito Salonga and Gerardo Roxas.
Mr. Marcos cannot use the carrots to silence Congress, thus, he used the stick and brute force to quell congress. The President cannot silence the press too with carrots so he used the stick instead. He ordered the closure of the Free Press Magazine by the Locsin’s and the Manila Times by the Roces family, Manila Chronicle by the Lopez’s as well as other media outlets.
Mr. Marcos did not touch the Supreme Court. He knew that these aging magistrates were pliant and malleable. He saw the Court as an effective ally which on subsequent years had proven to be true as the Court had virtually pledged undying loyalty to the President by ratifying his every act and giving him the authority to rule by Presidential Decrees when these decrees were challenged before the Court. Thus, it has clothed Mr. Marcos’ dictatorial regime with color of legitimacy and validity. Mr. Marcos must have used the carrots, or it was possible that the justices’ intellectual predilections have perfectly dovetailed with Mr. Marcos’ agenda hence there was no need for the carrots. But who knows? As a newspaper columnist had aptly said during the bar re-grading scandal: “If a member of the Court can do someone a favor for the sake of his own “brethrens” in the bench, imagine what he can do for money?”
During this re-grading bar scandal, a newspaper columnist wrote that of all the members of the Supreme Court, only one has the balls intact to speak about the truth and it was possessed uncharacteristically by a woman jurist. Obviously, he was referring to Justice Ameurfina Hererra who was instrumental in blowing off the lid wide open about the bar scandal.
Justice Hererra must have been outraged by this dishonesty and she thought it unfair to her and others who have taken the bar exams without any illicit external aid from those who are supposed to fight against it. She was after the integrity of the process which her distinguished “brethrens” did not care so much about and they would wish to keep the scandal hidden from the public and sealed under the court’s well-manicured rugs.
AQUINO V. ENRILE
The discussion of the Supreme Court of the Aquino v. Enrile case went at length on the existence of the threat of subversion from both the Maoist New People’s Army and the secessionist Moro National Liberation Front from Mindanao, (MNLF). The threat from the NPA and the MNLF, however, can be easily contained by the Army which remained loyal to the institution of the government. The deference the Court made to the President to declare martial law on account of his control of various agencies which monitored the activities of the “enemies” of the state has blunted the Court’s right to inquire into whether such state of insurrection existed or not, and considered his determination of the state of emergency a political question therefore beyond the power of the court to inquire. Thus it has conveniently failed to inquire into the motives of the executive about those claims in the light of the fact that Mr. Marcos in 1973 can no longer run for President and even if he could, the faltering economy and the unpopularity of his government made the “Boy Wonder” from Tarlac a shoo-in for the Presidency. Martial law was an excuse for perpetration to power and the Supreme Court was nothing more than a willing accomplice of the repression that follows. The Aquino case was a plethora of 448 pages of legal dissertations and historical events designed to distort the crucial period of our history itself. Those moments in our history where two political titans have tried to compete for one political firmament and one was about to outshine the other had not his opponent beckoned the institutions of power and used those institutions to outclass his competitor. But in the minds of the historians, and the generations to come who are willing to see through the fog of distortions made by the Court, Senator Aquino has outclassed his nemesis; he died a glorious death – his blood rekindles the Filipinos’ love for freedom, while his tormentor died a silent death, felled by sickness in a strange and far away soil.
Early in the game, the late Senator Jose W. Diokno, whose arrest was made on suspicion that he might join the “rebellion” had petitioned the Supreme Court for habeas corpus through his wife Carmen, but later he had withdrawn his petition and abandoned Senator Aquino, accused as a murderer and countless other prisoners who were considered participants in the rebellion because he had seen the Supreme Court neutered by Mr. Marcos’ power-grab and was rendered spineless by his shadows. He refused to join the masquerade firmed in his belief that the Supreme Court cannot perform its solemn duty to uphold the law and dispense justice for everyone.
Incisively, Senator Diokno told the Court: “that the decision in this case by the Court, what ever it may be, will be cited in history books many, many years from now. And it will be quoted wherever lovers of freedom ask the question, What did the Court do in that difficult hour?”
The nation knows the answer too well. Treason!
“Thus the grievous treason and subversion committed against the motherland was perpetrated not by the murderous thugs and misguided elements of our society, but by the very people in the corridors of power, who paradoxically, were sworn to uphold the law and be the zealot guardians of its citadel”.
The termites of our society were having a field day.
“The nation has not been forewarned of the Ides of March and even if she was, just like Julius Caesar, she too was helpless in the face of determined assassins’ intent to do her harm. So, in those dark years, she has not only been ravaged and plundered but her institutions had been defiled. The vicious dagger slid through her side and she was caught off-guard. The Brutus and the Cassius of our nation were in place and hailed the tyranny in the name of liberty. The nation lay prostrate from economic ruin but its linen soaked in blood of betrayal had overshadowed the debauchery of its coffers, and as she struggled to get up, she caught a glimmer of an imposing structure lined with 12 people in fine judicial robes and in a faltering voice she managed to whisper: Were you in it too?”
We do not have the sage and the judicial temperament of US Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor who said: “A state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens.”
And as the magistrates retreat in their chambers and reflect on the fate of the nation or the plight of a convict facing the lethal injection, one could only wish that they suffer not from the maladies that seem to lurk and haunt every corner of the court’s expensively renovated halls.