The Shame of Padre Faura


It isn’t true that the course of our history is charted within that building along the polluted banks of the Pasig river. Malacañang may point the direction towards which the ship of state is headed, but the captain cannot pull out of port without clearance from higher authority. The voyage gets underway only when a collegiate body of 15 men and women holding office in a Greek revival-style building along the smog-smothered stretch of Taft avenue says “Anchors aweigh.” And yesterday, that body, the Supreme Court, charted a course that will have ruinous consequences for millions of Filipinos.

In De Castro v. Judicial and Bar Council, the Supreme Court settled once and for all Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s power to appoint the next Chief Justice following the retirement of Reynato Puno on May 17. Critics of the decision say that De Castro is Javellana v. Executive Secretary, the infamous decision which left a considerable stain on the Supreme Court’s reputation, all over again. Javellana, it will be recalled, was the Supreme Court decision that enabled Ferdinand Marcos to impose a disastrous regime of martial law on the country, the after-effects of which are still being contended with today. I will not be so melodramatic in my assessment of De Castro; it has far-reaching implications, undoubtedly, but the decision was, allow me to say, a foregone conclusion and also proof that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is a much better schemer than Ferdinand Marcos ever was.

Strictly speaking, there exists no pressing need for Arroyo to appoint a Chief Justice upon the retirement of Justice Puno; the position of the Chief Justice, while considered primus inter pares or first among equals, possesses no practical powers aside from the dignity of his office. Unlike the presidency, the Supreme Court is a collegial body and when it comes to voting, whether by division or en banc, the Chief Justice has only one vote, and his vote does not carry more weight than the others in the sense that his vote can trump that of the majority, and the majority are Arroyo appointees. Accordingly, even if the next president has dibs to appoint the next Chief Justice, that appointee will be the lone non-Arroyo designate, the lone voice in the wilderness, shall we say. Indeed, there is more than one reason – fourteen, in fact – to describe the High Tribunal as an “Arroyo Court.”

To put Arroyo’s genius in perspective, it will be helpful to see her as someone who thinks of the long term. She does not treat her tenure as a basketball game to be won by quarters – her eyes are cast not only on the trophy but on the lucrative deals that are every winner’s due post-championship. Let it be said, first, that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is the luckiest vice-president in Philippine history, but what she did with that stroke of good luck is truly awesome. As President, she bends the executive department to her will. As the figurehead of the dominant party in Congress, she bends the legislature to her will. Is it any surprise she has done the same with the judiciary?

The death in office or retirement of Supreme Court justices is something beyond even the control of the most controlling president, and it was due to both fortune and circumstance (with a little help from Garci) that vacancies in the highest court of the land fell within Arroyo’s tenure. And what does she do? She packs the Court with her appointees (though this cannot be begrudged her because it is her duty to fill in the vacancies per the Constitution) and she appoints young ‘uns who, barring death or impeachment, will sit in power for decades to come. Arroyo obviously has given thought to what could happen to her and her family if they are knocked from power: cases left and right, criminal and civil, will be brought against her. Eventually, all these cases will reach the High Court. She has hedged her bets, that is, she is counting on the Justices owing a debt of gratitude to her for their high stations in life, to clear her of wrongdoing. Unlikely, you say? I will agree with you if you can point out even one instance of conviction re Imelda Marcos, her family and cohorts.

But even that safety blanket wasn’t enough. Arroyo greatly increased the number of Court of Appeals Justices, thereby increasing the number of magistrates beholden to her (which body will be the breeding ground for future Supreme Court Justices); equally telling, she has elevated the Court of Tax Appeals to the rank of the CA (in anticipation of government calling on her post-presidency for unpaid taxes). Already, some colleagues tell me, things are different at the CTA after Arroyo dipped her fingers into the pie.

De Castro is only another instance of a Court that has lost its way. A judiciary insulated from politics – humbug! Read the majority opinion then follow it up with Justice Carpio-Morales’ dissent and decide for yourself whether or not the present tribunal is an “Arroyo Court” as much as the Javellana Justices were a “Marcos Court.” (

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