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MANILA, Philippines - Government officials who resigned during the Arroyo administration, a senator, and a legal expert have joined in criticizing the Supreme Court particularly the justices appointed by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during her presidency.
"We regret the evident partisanship in the Supreme Court’s November 15 en banc decision on the TRO. The eight votes in favor were all appointees in Arroyo’s second term. Of the five in contra, only Justice Jose Mendoza was appointed in that Arroyo term," said the Former Senior Government Officials (FSGO)in a statement issued on Monday.
"Public servants must be reminded that no one is divinely appointed. The same holds true with the Court and its members. Furthermore, the Supreme Court, as with other lower courts, is expected to be a servant, not the master, of the people and certainly not beholden to the appointing power," the group added.
Eight justices, all Arroyo appointees, ruled in favor of the former president's medical treatment abroad. The high tribunal issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the travel ban issued by the Department of Justice against Arroyo.
The eight are: Chief Justice Renato Corona, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Roberto Abad, Martin Villarama, and Jose Perez.
The five who dissented are: Mendoza, Senior Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Justices Maria Lourdes Sereno, Bienvenido Reyes, and Estela Perlas-Bernabe.
The high court affirmed the TRO on November 18 but the ruling became moot and academic after the Pasay Regional Trial Court Branch 112 under Judge Jesus Mupas on the same day issued an arrest warrant against Arroyo over charges of electoral sabotage.
After announcing the TRO's effectivity, Court administrator and Supreme Court spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez got a scolding from Sereno for allegedly "interpreting" court rulings.
According to Sereno, Marquez already announced that the TRO had become effective despite the fact that Arroyo had not yet complied with the second requirement of having a legal representation, thus making the ruling not yet executory.
For the TRO to be executory, the high court ordered Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel to fulfill the following conditions: 1) post a P2-million cash bond with the high court; 2) appoint a legal representative who will receive all documents and court processes from the high court and 3) inform the government through a Philippine consulate of their arrival in the country of their destination.
“The Court Administrator cum Acting Chief of the PIO [Public Information Office] is hereby advised to be careful not to go beyond his role in such offices, and that he has no authority to interpret any of our judicial issuance, including the present Resolution, a function he never had from the beginning," said Sereno in her dissenting opinion.
Whimsical exercise of judicial authority
In a separate statement also issued on Monday, Senator Francis Pangilinan said that the Supreme Court "in quite a number of recent decisions most unfortunately, has not helped much in restoring faith and respect for our justice system."
"In fact, it has courted insubordination and disrespect for its almost-whimsical and arbitrary exercise of judicial authority in a number of recent cases," said Pangilinan.
Taking the cudgels for Department of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima who is being accused of defying the TRO issued by the high court, Pangilinan said that those who want to see "sweeping change and reforms," need to be "bold and daring...bordering on near-recklessness if we wish to effect genuine change for our nation."
"Arbitrary and whimsical court orders that show utter disrespect for a co-equal, whether the executive or the legislative branch of government, will be faced frontally," the senator said.
"In fact, both the executive and the legislative branches must come together and ensure that a wayward judiciary is put in its proper place," he added.
Moral authority problem
For Rudyard Avila, political and constitutional law professor at the University of the Philippines, the solution lies in appointing justices "of the highest caliber and integrity"
"Ang number one source ng power ng Supreme Court ay yung kanyang conscience and moral authority. Kung malakas ang moral authority ng isang Supreme Court maski pa hawak ng presidente ang pulis, siya'y magba-backdown...Pero kung mahina 'yan, wala siyang panlaban," said Avila.
[The number one source of power of the Supreme Court is its conscience and moral authority. If its moral authority is strong, even if the President has control over the police, the court would back down. But if its moral authority is weak, it will have no weapon.]
Avila said that in a mature democracy, justices can decide even against the person who appointed them.
"Pag mature ang democracy mo, maski na sino pag nag-appoint sa 'yo. Tingnan yung nangyari sa Watergate crisis, justices who voted that Nixon turn over the tapes which doomed him, were his own appointees," he said.
[If your democracy is mature, it doesn't matter who appointed you. Like in the Watergate crisis, justices who voted that US President Richard Nixon turn over the tapes, which doomed him, were his own appointees.]
History of dispute
The Palace and the Supreme Court have been at loggerheads since last year even before Benigno Aquino III assumed the presidency.
The dispute started in May 2010 when then President Arroyo appointed senior associate justice Renato Corona as chief justice. Corona served as chief of staff and spokesperson of Arroyo when she was still vice president. He later became Arroyo's presidential chief of staff.
Aquino, then the leading presidential candidate, criticized Corona's appointment as chief justice, saying it was a violation of the constitutional ban on midnight appointments.
In June 2010, during his inauguration, President Aquino broke the tradition by taking his oath of office not before the chief justice but before another magistrate, Conchita Carpio Morales, who was later appointed by Aquino as ombudsman.
In December 2010, the high court declared the Truth Commission unconstitutional. Aquino assailed the high tribunal's ruling, asking "those who are pretending to be blind and passing themselves off as deaf, please don’t stand in the way of my task."
The commission, which was created through Aquino's Executive Order No. 1, was supposed to investigate allegations of corruption during the Arroyo administration.
Aquino won a landslide victory in the 2010 polls on a strong anti-corruption platform aimed mainly at his predecessor who was linked to the P728-million fertilizer fund scam and the allegedly overpriced $329-million NBN-ZTE deal, among other scandals. She was also accused of rigging the results of the 2004 and 2007 elections.
The dispute between Malacanang and the high court worsened after Corona last October blasted the Palace and its allies in Congress for allegedly trying to impound P4.97 billion of the judiciary budget, saying that it was an "insidious attempts to undermine and destroy the independence of the judiciary."
On November 15, the dispute was further exacerbated by another ruling of the Supreme Court. Voting 8-5, the high tribunal issued an order favoring Arroyo's November 8 appeal to stop the government from preventing her to seek medical treatment abroad.