In a “historic undertaking,” legal luminaries, peoples’ lawyers, judiciary employees and law students raised a joint objection to the Aquino administration’s attack on judicial independence.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – An alliance of lawyers and law students criticized President Aquino on his pronouncements that he is open to charter change, a term extension and the clipping of powers of the judiciary.
In a unity statement issued Sept. 26, the Alliance of Lawyers and Advocates for Judicial Independence said that after the first EDSA People Power, at no time had the “judicial independence been under siege than today.”
Such attacks, they added, have caused great concern and alarm to the country’s democracy.
“When judicial independence is under siege, democracy itself is under attack,” the unity statement read.
“The judiciary is the weakest branch of government. In the discharge of its duty, it possesses neither the awesome power of the sword nor of the purse. But it plays a critical role in securing the survival and the blessings of a true democracy.”
In a press conference, convenors of the alliance linked arms as they chanted, “uphold judicial independence, defend democracy and reject charter change.”
President Aquino has said that he is open to amending the constitution, to extend his term beyond 2016 and to clip the powers of the Supreme Court.
His spokespersons, too, have hinted that Aquino may push for a term extension.
Progressive groups said such moves are tantamount to a dictatorship.
Asked if Aquino himself is attacking the country’s democracy, Vicente Joyas, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, said lawyers do not condemn the person but the actions he is taking.
“In a true democracy, nobody stands above the law,” the statement read. “The highest authority is the law itself as it is a means to achieve justice and the common good. To its supremacy must yield both rulers and the ruled.”
The rule of law, lawyers said, “is the paramount check to the temptations and adventurism of power. As a result, those entrusted with its enforcement often seeks its overthrow.”
Lawyers’ groups said the most insidious threat to the rule of law “comes from above not from below.”
“When seized by the opium of powers, rulers often turn into dangerous subversives of the democratic rule, subverting the law to conform to their commands,” their statement read, “And to quell resistance, they proclaim their word as the highest authority of what the law is.”
Though lawyers consider the judiciary as the weakest of the three co-equal branches of the government, “an independent yet socially accountable judiciary” is needed against attacks to the country’s democracy.
This, they said, was demonstrated in the Supreme Court’s “recent head-on collision with the pork barrel system, the stronghold of patronage politics.”
The Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling, declared certain acts done by the Aquino government in relation to the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as unconstitutional.
DAP is a government spending mechanism that declared funds of government agencies as savings even before the end of the fiscal year. The said funds were pooled into a lump sum appropriation, to be spent under the sole discretion of Aquino.
Critics dubbed it as the presidential pork barrel.
In his nationally televised speech, however, Aquino lambasted the said ruling, publicly warning of risks of “potential gridlock” with him.
“The presidential flare-up resonated in the halls of Congress. In a major offensive, the leaders in Comgress swiftly retorted with proposals for the abolition of the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF). The thrust is to enable Congress and the President to exercise greater control over the finances of the judiciary, decapitate its fiscal autonomy, and divest judicial independence of its major pillar,” the statement added.
‘Rule of justice’
In a statement, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said that, in the end, there will be “real democracy” when fundamental rights of those who have less in life are guaranteed, protected, respected and promoted.”
Real democracy, the NUPL added, would be translated into reality only “when our democratic institutions cease to be formalities that basically preserve an unjust status quo; and when the “rule of law” becomes synonymous with the “rule of justice” and is not used as an empty shibboleth to actually give less in law.”
Joyas said the formation of the alliance is a “historic undertaking” on the part of lawyers as they deplore the attacks against judicial independence. He added that this would be the beginning of many more efforts to come.
Signatories of the unity statement include: Joyas of the IBP, Rosario Setias-Reyes, executive vice president of the IBP, Roan Libarios, former president of the IBP, Dean Ernesto Maceda Jr. of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila Law School, Pete Principe, president of the Philippine Lawyers Association, Eligio Mallari, president of the Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution, Jose Pedrosa Jr., covenor of Legal Advocates for Democracy, JV Bautista of AniB, Maria Kristina Conti of the NUPL, Bantuas Lucman of the Muslim Legal Assistamce Foundation, Jose Antonio Rafael Santos, president of the UP Law student Government and Maurino aguilar, vice president of the Judiciary Employees Association.