The taint in the judiciary’s integrity stems not only from the CA scandal; it likewise emanates from the questionable decisions of the courts, as well as the obvious influence of the Arroyo government in its decisions. But, of course, there are, once in a while, some few exceptions of judges and justices who upheld the independence of the judiciary. The fact that they are few makes the quest for justice a game of chance.
BY BENJIE OLIVEROS
Vol. VIII, no. 32, September 14-20, 2008
The swift investigation and decisive action of the Supreme Court (SC) regarding the scandal rocking the Court of Appeals (CA) have earned praise by many. Most people believe that the removal of Justice Vicente Roxas was well-deserved. But concerned groups such as the Integrated Bar of the Philippines think that no less than the resignation of all justices who were involved in the Meralco mess, including suspended Justice Jose Sabio, would clean up the appellate court and restore the public’s trust in the judiciary.
But it would take more than that. The taint in the judiciary’s integrity stems not only from the CA scandal; it likewise emanates from the questionable decisions of the courts, as well as the obvious influence of the Arroyo government in its decisions.
Just recently, the Supreme Court, in a 9-6 majority decision, affirmed its earlier decision upholding the right of former National Economic Development Authority Director General Romulo Neri in invoking “executive privilege” in refusing to answer questions regarding the involvement of Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the graft-ridden National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with ZTE of China. It also upheld the right of the executive to keep the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) negotiations away from public scrutiny.
Earlier the Court of Appeals (CA) dismissed two writs of habeas corpus: one filed by Edita Burgos to compel authorities to produce her son Jonas and another writ filed by the families of missing UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño. In both cases, the CA ruled that the petitioners failed to prove that the military had their kin in its custody, despite the evidences and eyewitness accounts produced by the relatives.
The fact that Supreme Court justices are appointed by the president already politicizes the judiciary, especially under the Arroyo administration, which has the propensity to dispense political favors and cash in exchange for the protection of its interests. That is why Francis de Borja’s claim that Justice Sabio told him that he was offered a promotion as Supreme Court justice if he decided in favor of the position of Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) Pres. Winston Garcia, could not be simply dismissed.
But, of course, there are, once in a while, some few exceptions of judges and justices who upheld the independence of the judiciary. The fact that they are few makes the quest for justice a game of chance: for the attainment of justice depended not on the justness of the position or the soundness of arguments but on the courage and independence of the judges or justices handling the case.
CA Associate Justice Martin Villarama, acting on a petition filed by Rev. Berlin Guerrero’s lawyers, ordered his release September 11 because of the failure of the military to produce evidence to justify his continued detention and trial on murder charges. Judge Edwin G. Larida of the Cavite Regional Trial Court Branch 18 ordered the release of the Tagaytay 5 – peasant advocates Axel Pinpin, Aristedes Sarmiento, Riel Custodio, Enrico Ybanez, and Michael Masayes – August 20 after ruling that the arrest and detention of the five were illegal.
Who would forget Judge Benjamin Pozon of the Makati Regional Trial Court who, in December 2006, convicted Lance Corporal Daniel Smith for raping a Filipina Nicole at Subic despite the pressures and probable favors he might have received if he acquitted the American soldier? What has happened to Smith who was spirited from jail through the conspiracy of the US embassy and the Department of Justice is something worth looking into.
A most notable exception is Chief Justice Reynato Puno, who upon assuming the position of chief justice of the Supreme Court, asked not to be judged hastily by the public. His appointment was met with much skepticism not because of his record but because of the administration that appointed him on December 8, 2006. The Arroyo government was then issuing and implementing executive orders such as Exec. Order no. 464 and the Calibrated Preemptive Response policy that effectively constrict civil liberties. The spate of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances were also at its peak. Some suspect that the new chief justice would merely justify the Arroyo government’s patently unconstitutional and illegal acts.
But Chief Justice Puno surprised everybody with his independent positioning and judicial activism. He organized human rights summits to make the judiciary more responsive to the needs of the people, which resulted in the promulgation of the writs of amparo and habeas data.
However, when the Arroyo government began exerting its influence especially in controversial cases such as on the issue of “executive privilege”, Chief Justice Puno was left writing erudite dissenting opinions.
Dismissed CA Justice Vicente Roxas claimed that an “unseen hand” manipulated the findings of the SC investigating panel. Roxas questioned why he was the one dismissed while Justice Sabio, who admitted to talking with an “emissary” of Meralco who allegedly offered him a P10 million bribe and to his brother Presidential Commission on Good Government Chair Camilo who tried to influence him to take the side of GSIS Pres. Garcia, was merely suspended. Some quarters may dismiss this as sour-graping; but his claims are not without basis because the Arroyo government is not far from committing such manipulations.
The problem plaguing the judiciary is not merely caused by corrupt justices; it is caused more by the Arroyo government. Not even a “covenant” of CA justices nor a revision of the Internal Rules of the Court of Appeals could restore the public’s trust and confidence in the appellate court and the whole judiciary, neither could the planned “integrity development review” of the Supreme Court. For as long as the Arroyo government is in power, the Supreme Court would find it difficult to insulate the decision-making process of the judiciary; and justice would still elude the Filipino people.
But all is not lost. The Filipino people, through its display of political power, was able to counter the pressure of the Arroyo government on the Supreme Court on several occasions. The abuses committed by the administration when it declared a “state of national emergency” was judged as unconstitutional; the Cha Cha train was stopped in its tracks and exposed for what it is: a political maneuver by the Arroyo government; and the Calibrated Preemptive Response policy was junked. However, it would take no less than a formidable display of the people’s will to effect such pressure. (Bulatlat.com)