Once upon a time, it was good manners to address justices as “Your honor,” and to refer to them in correspondence as “Honorable.” Today, I would find it distasteful to address them the same way. Both the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court have rendered decisions that have exposed their pettiness, lack of foresight into the implications of their momentous decisions, irresponsibility and, I am sorry to say, possible corruption.
Except for the minority of six justices, who explained their dissent brilliantly and lucidly, many among the majority justices had already debased themselves by revealing their largely petty and personal issues to a committee in the House of Representatives, (a separate branch of government) against then Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Ignoring their earlier televised resentments against the Chief Justice, which then Chief Justice Sereno’s lawyers had cited as reason to inhibit themselves, the majority nonetheless voted to dismiss the Chief Justice as quo warranto “having no right” to be a member of the Court. The main reason they cited was her failure to submit her SALNs for the time she was a professor at the University of the Philippines. As it is difficult to amass great wealth as a professor in a public school, this was a resort to a technicality, expediency, and manifestation of clear pettiness.
But perhaps all is not lost.
The minority justices justified their dissent soberly and very rationally, citing for example, that disliking then Chief Justice Sereno was not adequate grounds for her dismissal on quo warranto technicalities. Justices Alfredo Caguioa and Marvic Leonen referred to the majority’s validation of the Solicitor General’s quo warranto case a virtual surrender to the executive department, and therefore in Leonen’s words, “institutional suicide,” which Caguioa describes as seppuku “without honor.” Justice Antonio Carpio focused on the fact that the proper venue for the case to dismiss Sereno was the legislature through impeachment, as provided by the Constitution, which is fundamentally what the Supreme Court is duty bound to uphold. Sereno has vowed to file a motion for consideration. Let us pray that at least two of those who voted for dismissal listen to reason and reverse themselves.
The case can then move to Congress where it belongs. The subservient House under Speaker Alvarez who is known to have a bone to pick with Sereno from the controversial Piatco (airport) case where he was a participant, and in which then Atty. Sereno was the victorious prosecutor is likely to pass the motion to impeach. The case then moves to the Senate which has the constitutional power to impeach; and where the issues can be publicly debated. This scenario allows us to still retain a semblance of civilization and a rule of law.
The Court of Appeal’s dismissal of the Ombudsman’s decision to dismiss Jejomar Binay, Jr. from his post as then mayor of Makati City, and of his right to hold any public office in the future is possibly even more shameful. The Ombudsman had exercised her power provided under the Constitution and dismissed then Mayor Binay from his post in 2015 on the basis of clear evidence of overpricing of the Makati City hall’s office and parking buildings.
The Court of Appeals’ rationale for the dismissal of the Ombudsman’s decision is an abomination. They cited the Aguinaldo doctrine, which provided that cases of graft committed by elective officials are condoned when the voters re-elect the convicted politicians. The Court of Appeals ignored the Ombudsman’s position that since major Binay, Jr. had signed check payments for the overpriced buildings even after his re-election, the Supreme Court’s earlier decision disallowing the condonation doctrine was not applicable in Binay, Jr.’s case.
What are the implications of these decisions by the Supreme Court in the quo warranto case vs. Sereno and the condonation doctrine on behalf of Binay, Jr. by the Court of Appeals?
The future looks grim.
The executive department’s solicitor general can use the quo warranto precedent to remove officials from the judiciary, and who knows, the legislature as well in future cases. The Ombudsman’s power and decision to dismiss corrupt officials is rendered moot because the voters have the power to forgive politicians for crimes of plunder by just re-electing them! Still another case of institutional suicide! Unbelievable. Politicians can now comfortably assure themselves that they can commit plunder. Anyway, they can use the money to get re-elected, and their sins are forgiven!
We are supposed to ensure that future lawyers are among the best and brightest by requiring them to pass difficult and rigorous bar examinations. How can we ensure that they are also ethical and responsible, and respectful of the Constitution? Are “the best and brightest of our lawyers” truly reflected of our national ethos? Is this consistent with our national character?
The justice system in our country is truly going to the dogs! We cannot allow these shameful and irresponsible decisions to remain unopposed! Our children and grandchildren deserve better.
Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and an independent development management consultant.