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Overrating the Supreme Court

So far, there seems to be no public accounting as to how the SC spends the Judiciary Development Fund.

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At least 31 petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court (SC) questioning the constitutionality of the controversial anti-terrorism law recently enacted by Congress.

A retired chief justice (CJ) of the SC recently stated in a newspaper (not the Daily Tribune) that the numerous petitions against the anti-terror law filed in the SC reveals the public’s trust in the tribunal. That statement is self-serving as it is contestable.

By praising the SC of his time, the retired CJ ultimately praised himself as one its helmsmen, despite having been appointed to the SC without any prior judicial experience on his part.

The retired CJ’s praises for the SC are also contestable because the large volume of cases filed in the SC does not necessarily mean that the people trust the tribunal.

He should know that the petitions against the anti-terror law were filed in the SC because there is no other forum for them. The petitioners have no other choice under the law.

Events of very recent vintage likewise dispute the retired CJ’s one-sided assessment.

When the SC en banc granted the petition for quo warranto filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida and, in the process, kicked out de facto CJ Maria Lourdes Sereno from office, many lauded the action taken by the SC. There were, however, many anti-administration personalities who denounced what the SC did. Their unflattering remarks against the SC were all over the news media.

SC justices should keep their personal quarrels private. The personal animosity between Sereno and Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro was, however, an open secret.

When he was still a member of the SC, Justice Antonio Carpio went around town delivering a lecture on Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea, during office hours. Whether he did so on official leave, SC personnel refuse to disclose.

So far, there seems to be no public accounting as to how the SC spends the Judiciary Development Fund, which consists of money paid by all court litigants. The fund is supposed to augment the salaries of low-income judicial employees.

The retired CJ knows that there was a time when the SC refused to allow the public and the media access to the luxurious cottages SC justices use in Baguio City during their so-called “summer sessions” there. Because the SC does not need to hold sessions in Baguio, analysts say those cottages are vacation villas for the justices, maintained by public funds.

Further, the retired CJ is aware that there was a time when the SC refused to let the public and the media access the justices’ individual statements of assets and liabilities (SALN). He should also be aware that the current Ombudsman, ex-SC Justice Samuel Martires, recently banned public and media access to the SALN of top government officials.

Ex-Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., a die-hard follower of President Corazon Aquino and her son, President Benigno “PNoy” Aquino III, gave the lame excuse that allowing public access to the cottages and to the SALN undermines the independence of the judiciary.

How the exercise of the constitutional right of public access to public property and public documents can actually undermine judicial independence, Davide did not explain.

Davide was one of the authors of the defective 1987 Constitution. According to former Senator Ernesto Maceda, Davide also wrote Executive Order 1 for President PNoy. That EO, which created the short-lived Truth Commission to investigate anomalies allegedly committed during the term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was declared unconstitutional by the SC.

The retired CJ should be reminded that his ex-colleague Sereno was twice sued in the SC when she was the de facto CJ. One case against Sereno was filed by then Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, who later became a justice of the SC. The other case involved Sereno’s meddling with nominations for judicial posts. Sereno lost in both cases.

Finally, the election protest filed by ex-senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. against Vice President Leni Robredo has been pending in the SC sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal for over four years now. The case is assigned to Justice Alfredo Caguioa, a PNoy appointee, whose wife was with the campaign camp of Robredo.

There are other stories that the public should know, but that will be for another occasion.

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