If there is a constitutional crisis in the Republic, the Supreme Court of the Republic of the Philippines (SCORP) has brought it upon the country- it has only itself to blame. It is all right for an individual to have an ego as huge as the Himalayan trenches, but if an institution like the SCORP succumbs to this basic flaw of human character and injects itself in any perceived “constitutional issue” in every public debate that confronts this nation, then this judicial egoism could lead to a serious constitutional debacle. These magistrates can resign to avoid this looming constitutional crisis and usher in a fresh start for an institution that had been damaged.
With the SCORP’s zero public approval rating, making public its annoyance over the decision of the lower house to proceed with impeachment complaint against the unpopular Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez despite its temporary restraining order (TRO), conjures up a clear public image, rightfully or wrongly, that the SCORP is the protector of the most corrupt public official. It fuels an ugly perception that one which has the impudence to halt a proceeding to remove a misbehaving public servant, must be corrupt too. The public is not interested in the debate over legal niceties for even if legal niceties have to be at the forefront of this debate, the SCORP can easily lose. Other than this legal quicksand the SCORP is in, its predeliction to seek the media and allow its spokesman, Midas Marquez to wage a battle in the public mind as to its position on the issue, is a clear indication that the SCORP had lost its sobriety, its poise, its moral advantage. It had sunk into the abyss of public rejection and scorn.
The first time the SCORP intervened in the 2001 impeachment of Joseph Estrada, it has to invent a malicious doctrine of “constructive resignation” so it can usurp the function of Congress which had earlier concluded that some of the alleged damaging evidence against Erap cannot be opened in Congress. The second time was in 2003 when it had tried to interpret the rule of one-year limitation, which many considered a convenient excuse to protect one of its brothers, CJ Hilardio Davide, Jr., from congressional inquisition. In both situations though, the robes of the SCORP were singed from public perception that the SCORP can invent any constitutional doctrine that suits its fancy and whims.
Why has the SCORP, in the first place had to halt the impeachment of Ms. Gutierez?
It is judicial activism in its zenith. The SCORP could have simply allowed Congress to interpret its rules rather than interfere with them, for after all, impeachment is a political process the basic postulate of which is number of proponents against the number of those who were against it, otherwise, impeachment proceedings should have been required to be filed in court.
Not every conceivable public fracas can be resolved in the judiciary and the SCORP should recognize this one truism in the life of every nation. The executive department and congress are two branches of the government with public functionaries directly empowered by the sovereign. To posture that the SCORP members, who are appointed for life and therefore outside the regular recall of the sovereign are better situated in terms of probity and wisdom to steer the nation towards safe harbor is the greatest constitutional hype of all times. Court members, as Thomas Jefferson said, are only as good or as bad as the members of the two other branches. But the edge of the two other branches over the court, is their occupants having to seek fresh mandate from the electorate regularly, while the court members are safely ensconced in ivory towers safe from every political tempest despite their occasional betrayal of public trust and their perversion of the constitution. It is under these higher constitutional ideals why the judiciary should be more circumspect and avoid every possibility of a constitutional clash with the other branches of government. And being without an army and reliable enforcers of its orders, but only relies on the goodwill of the executive and a favorable public opinion to carry out its orders, it should have been at least armed with the foresight that its orders can be disobeyed that could result to irreversible damage to the institution which the court should have, in the first place, zealously guarded against.
As one constitutionalist said:
“ x x ought the Court, rather, to eschew any unnecessary voluntarism, recognizing that all participants in government are as bound as the Court to observe the Constitution and that the very insularity of the Supreme Court from representative government is a powerful reason to avoid the appearance of constitutional arrogance or constitutional monopoly? In brief, what degree of strict necessity should the Supreme Court require as a condition of examining the substantive constitutionality of government acts or government practices?”
“Similarly, if the relief requested should require the Court to consider an order against the Congress itself, an order the Court cannot be confident would be obeyed and which it is without resources otherwise to enforce, it may refuse to consider the case. Identically, if an adjudication of the constitutional question, though otherwise imperative to the litigant’s case, might involve conflict with the President respecting decisions already made, communicated to, and relied upon by other governments, the case may also be regarded as non-justiciable.”