EDITORIAL: Above politics, above the law

Illustrated by Rens Cruz

President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III’s public castigation of the Supreme Court is something quite unprecedented in the country’s political history. Never before has a chief executive openly criticized the chief magistrate and his justices in the public to the same extent as Aquino did.

On the 30th anniversary of the Makati Business Club, Aquino questioned the High Court’s quick action of granting a temporary restraining order to former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s petition to remove her from the immigration bureau’s watch list.

“When our lawyers all know that it takes the Supreme Court 10 days, normally, to attend to motions, and it decides to issue a TRO for Mrs. Arroyo in three, who can avoid wondering what she did to merit such speedy relief?” he said.

Aquino lambasted the Supreme Court again at the First Criminal Justice Summit where he questioned the constitutionality of Corona as a “midnight” appointee of Arroyo and how he has acted on cases involving the former President.

Supreme Court spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez said it is the prerogative of the President to speak his mind but they find it quite disturbing.

“It is not at all unusual for the executive branch to disagree with the judicial branch. But what is considerably unusual is for the Chief Executive to look down on members of the judiciary in public and to their faces denounce the court’s independent actions,” Marquez said in a statement.

Marquez was right when he called Aquino’s recent tirades against the Supreme Court “quite disturbing”. However, more disturbing are the repercussions of the widening rift between two branches of the government. Aquino acts as if he is above the law. Corona, on the other hand, decides on cases, as if he is not above politics. The Supreme Court, ideally, should be independent in deciding the constitutionality of rules, laws, and orders.

It is understandable where Aquino is coming from. The High Court has done nothing but thwart his reformist agenda. For one, the Supreme Court declared the Philippine Truth Commission (PTC) unconstitutional saying the investigating body violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution. The PTC was supposed to target alleged cases of graft and corruption in the Arroyo administration.

Aquino has all the right to criticize Supreme Court decisions but to publicly denounce the institution, and to the extent that he is doing it, is a display of arrogance. The Supreme Court may have erred in promulgating decisions and constantly ruling against the administration but the High Court deserves a little respect.

The president should take extra caution with his criticism so as not to be misinterpreted as someone who thinks he is above the law.

Corona, on other hand, should not have been Chief Justice in the first place. He was appointed two days after the May 2010 elections – way beyond the constitutional ban on making appointments.

It is irreversible for Corona to be the country’s chief magistrate, but at the very least he should have shown propriety when handling cases involving the former President.

Corona held various cabinet positions under Arroyo. He served as Arroyo’s spokesperson and chief of staff while she was still vice-president. When she assumed the presidency, Corona became Presidential Chief of Staff, Presidential spokesperson, and acting Executive Secretary at various points in Arroyo’s nine-year term. Ultimately, Arroyo appointed him as the country’s 23rd chief justice under dubious circumstances.

The conflict of interest is very much apparent and it has reflected on Corona’s voting pattern as a Supreme Court justice.

As chief executive and chief magistrate of this country, Aquino and Corona swore different oaths to the Filipino people.

Senator Franklin Drilon, a party stalwart of Aquino in the Liberal Party, noted that Corona has a 19-0 record on cases involving the former President. Drilon said Corona has never voted against Arroyo in deciding cases.

If Aquino wants to “preserve and defend its Constitution, execute its laws, and do justice to every man,” he must respect the law he is supposed to enforce and stop acting as if he is above it. If Corona wants to fulfill the High Court’s mandate and let it be, in his own words, the “the last refuge of the people in matters related to law and justice,” he should start acting on cases without prejudice, and with utmost judicial independence free from the clutches of politics.

Author: TNP

The Official Student Publication of the UP College of Mass Communication.