The Potent Difference

What the Supreme Court eventually chooses to do will certainly be determined not only by what takes place in the judicial arena. The hard-earned lesson for us in countless battles against anti-people state policies, malfeasance in office and intractable abuse of authority: the people cannot simply rely on Congress, even with a marginally oppositionist Senate, nor the “court of last resort” to provide the sufficient and effective check to an imperviously autocratic Chief Executive like Mrs. Arroyo.

Streetwise / Business World
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 11, April 20-26, 2008

Under the present republican system holding sway in the Philippines, including its considerable distortion, corruption and aberrations in practice, the cards are heavily stacked in favor of the executive branch. Thus, the real “check-and-balance” among the three branches of government can only be achieved through dynamic interaction and engagement of either one or both branches (legislative and judicial) with other sectors of society, including or not the least, the democratic mass protest movement.

Last Tuesday, 200 protesters, including around 120 who traveled in a caravan of vehicles all the way up to Baguio City from Manila, were pleasantly surprised that they were allowed to march up to the entrance to the Supreme Court compound instead of being immediately dispersed by the hundreds of policemen deployed to secure the Court against them. Their representatives were earlier ushered into the office of Chief Justice Reynato Puno by the assistant Clerk of Court after being informed that Mr. Puno had announced to the mass media that he was ready to receive a delegation from the protesters.

I, representing Bayan, together with Fr. Joe Dizon (Solidarity Philippines) and RC Constantino, delivered an Open Letter to the SC justices ( initially signed by 36 individuals reflecting a rainbow of political colors such as protestant bishops Felixberto Calang (Iglesia Filipina Independiente), Alex Wandag (Episcopal Church in the Philippines), Roman Tiples (United Church of Christ in the Philippines) and Filomeno Ang (IFI); Maita Gomez (Action for Economic Reforms); Bro. Armin Luistro (Lasallian Justice and Peace Commission); Rafael Mariano (Anakpawis); Betina Legarda (Concerned Citizens Movement); Leloy Claudio (Ateneo de Manila faculty); Prof. Ramon Guillermo (UP faculty); Attorney Adel Tamano (UNO); Raymond Palatino (Kabataan Party List) and Netty Sillacos (Citizens for ConCon).

The letter called on the justices to reconsider the 9-6 majority decision upholding former National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Director-General Romulo Neri’s claim of executive privilege over three questions asked of him by senators investigating the scandal-ridden national broadband network (NBN) deal. In addition, three justices who had voted in favor of Mr. Neri, namely Justices Brion, Velasco and Corona were asked to inhibit themselves from voting on the Senate’s Motion for Reconsideration since their independence from Malacanang had been placed under a cloud of doubt and therefore their votes on the Neri case, compromised.

Ellen Tordesillas, a journalist who was able to join us in the unexpected brief meeting with Mr. Puno, recalls that when asked about the possibility of the justices reversing their decision, Puno replied tersely but meaningfully, “Who knows? We might.”

Dire warnings abound that the Senate’s MR is an exercise in futility given the demonstrated clout of Malacanang on the majority in the Neri case consisting of Justice Teresita de Castro as ponente and Justices Leonardo Quisumbing, Renato Corona, Dante Tinga, Minita Chico Nazario, Presbitero Velasco, Eduardo Antonio Nachura, Ruben Reyes and Arturo Brion. (All of them except Mr. Quisumbing were appointed by President Arroyo and the last one was a Cabinet member who supported Mr. Neri’s refusal to answer the Senate’s questions on the NBN scam shortly before joining the Court and voting to uphold Mr. Neri’s invocation of executive privilege.) Opposition senators who had been hot on the heels of the national broadband network anomalies appeared more anxious than upbeat and even unsure if not reluctant about the MR.

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