Friday, February 6, 2015

When the Chief Justice loses in her own turf

When the Supreme Court rules against its own chief, it’s not only worthy of notice in the media. It’s remarkable.
And it’s a balm for public cynicism toward government in our country.
We refer here to the High Court’s resolution dated January 21, 2015, which ruled against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno in her questioning of the nomination and appointment of Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza to the tribunal.
In its six-page resolution, the Court junked a motion for reconsideration of the seating of Jardeleza filed by Sereno and the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC).
Chief Justice Sereno fought tooth-and-nail to exclude Jardeleza from being considered and appointed by the President. She did it all because she had her own candidate for the vacant seat, Commission on Audit chairman Grace Pulido-Tan, who in her bid for a seat in the tribunal had exhibited a lack of grace.
Jardeleza matched her with his many defeats as solicitor-general and bizarre arguments in defense of government policies.
Sereno blocked Jardeleza through a “unanimity rule” in the JBC. But the justices declared that her action was an abuse of discretion as JBC chairman.
While the Chief Justice can invoke the rule as the head of the council, the Court said it can be misused and abused over the collective will of the majority. It then said that the JBC should revise and review its internal rules.
The case is nothing earthshaking or precedent-setting. But we believe it deserves to be commended to the attention of the public, and to students of the law and government, because it shows that under our system of government, the chief of a government institution or agency is not always right or supreme. Rules and regulations sometimes prevail, as they should.
This is a point worthy of reporting to our people, because in recent years—under the Aquino administration and with the eager collaboration of Congress—rules and principles have been thrown out of the window. In many instances the Constitution was violated and shunted aside.
Such disregard of rules and the Constitution has been so open and frequent that government today has become the most distrusted institution in our society. The executive and the legislature have contributed the most to this low public regard.
For sheer ignominy, the Senate is the least trusted among government agencies.
Alone among the three branches of government, the Supreme Court has held the line for the rule of law and constitutional supremacy.
Its ruling against the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) placed a needed roadblock to President Aquino’s lawless presidency. It brought the Constitution back from exile.
With its companion ruling outlawing the Priority Development Fund (PDAF), it earned high praise from the public and was arguably the first victory of the people against pork barrel politics.
But sometimes, the High Court takes an excruciatingly long time to reach a decision on cases of surpassing and urgent importance.
One such case concerns the motion for reconsideration filed by the Office of the President against the landmark DAP ruling. Resolution was suspended for so long, untoward developments took place. While the court was deliberating, Congress and the Palace sneaked in a new definition of “savings.” Budget secretary Abad made hay once again.
Then last Monday, our Supreme court reporter alerted us to the likelihood that the tribunal would issue its decision during its en banc session yesterday.
This was a lady-or-the tiger situation for the public and the media, because the High Court could change its mind about the DAP. It did not.
If the tiger sprang out, it would have been another Mamasapano massacre.

No comments: