Pawns in the Judicial System


“The SC’s diminution is worsened by the intrigue and infighting.”

We saw it in the preemptive positioning and strategic appointments in key judicial posts where prospective legal suits and charges might be prosecuted during and after Benigno Aquino III’s incumbency. The fear that he and his highest lieutenants might end up behind bars as experienced by Aquino’s own predecessor was compelling enough. The gambit to strategically position pawns across the judicial chess board not so much to advance an army as to protect a flank was a classic play in a game of chess.

In the real-life game of politics however, the employment of pawns diminishes the office to which these are appointed where judicial positions require not simply the highest degrees of independence but the public’s esteem and respect.

The recent quo warranto controversy of the Supreme Court (SC) is a case in point. Forcibly injecting and consequently infecting the SC with someone who has less experience and relatively unqualified averages down and diminishes the High Court’s cumulative experience and credibility. This is important where legal compliance is a measure of integrity. Absent full compliance for one, results in the reduced integrity level of the whole court.

The SC’s diminution is worsened by the intrigue and infighting produced by an illegal appointment leading to alienation and organizational dysfunction. The infallibility of the SC has fallen, we are sure of that. But when did the SC’s fall from grace start, and who deliberately hollowed out the judicial system’s foundations?

Indulge us to quickly retrace how the public had gradually lost respect for the SC following a strategic play by the previous administration to severely weaken it and thereafter position a pawn in its own image – one similarly inexperienced, and now proven unqualified.

Disrespect does not develop overnight. Like excrement it is dropped from higher places. As past is a prologue, let’s recall the year we elected Aquino and his uncomfortable inaugural.

While no law dictates a president-elect’s oath should be administered by the Chief Justice, Aquino chose to disrespect judicial tradition and culture in lieu of partisanship, political patronage and plain puerile proclivity. To administer his oath, he chose a partisan.

Such disrespect degenerated into vengeance. The relationship with the justice before whom he took his oath would be reprised in a landmark conviction that deepened wounds inflicted on the Supreme Court.

As the coup de grace in the Corona impeachment, brandishing before media confidential deposits controversially obtained, Aquino’s appointed ombudsman, acting as a hostile witness, revealed $12 million in five different bank accounts. Never mind the flawed arithmetic that wrongly totalled time deposits matured and redeposited several times over. And never mind the bank secrecy statutes.

The assault on the Chief Justice then worsened. We now know substantial funds for specific needs vetted through public hearings and the budget processes, and eventually identified in the General Appropriations Act (GAA), were hijacked midstream and diverted from the Executive Branch to chosen allies in the impeachment trial, there to fund pet projects outside the GAA.

Aquino’s Disbursement Acceleration Program was eventually declared fraudulent and unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. In retaliation the latter’s budget and operating expenses would be endangered by the Executive Branch. Worse, Aquino threatened to foist the House of Representatives against the High Court.

Threatening the independence of the Supreme Court goes beyond disrespect. Further undermining its integrity, the most damaging might be Aquino’s forced insertion of a hollow Trojan Horse inside its sacrosanct chambers thereby creating internal decay, distrust and dissent.

Hopefully fresh appointments will restore our respect for the SC and the Office of the Ombudsman. It will be a satiric twist of fate especially ironic when Aquino finally faces the same judicial body he intimidated and threatened, and from whom he might eventually beg for mercy and understanding.