NO JUSTICE IN THE HIGH COURT
In terms of watershed appointments in the Supreme Court, nothing beats the watch of Cory Aquino. She approximated the standard of excellence observed by her predecessors from MLQ, Sergio Osmena, down to FM. Imagine a Supreme Court without a Jose P. Laurel or a Jose Bambino Luis Reyes. JBL went to the HIgh Court with the singular appointment from a man named Diosdado, which literally means “kaloob ng Maykapal.”
When Cory tapped the old man Conrado Vasquez who was backstopped by his peer, the legendary Justice Jose Colayco, every body was sound asleep.Our collective nights however were ruffled when FVR rammed us his military soul mate as Ombudsman. Since then, ours lives were never the same again. His constitutional appointments were impregnable levees against the onslaught of corruption investigations on day one of retirement.
FVR used his power of appointment as hanging swords against recalcitrants or hold outs or political nemesis unconvinced of his vision. Locals and political warlords think twice before crossing FVR. He stacked the Supreme Court of friendly nominees short in grey matters. While FM made sure that his appointee is a confidante, he tapped his contemporary intellectual giants.
FVR blazed dangerous precedents. Erap followed the trail, but fluked, when in a drunken binge, named Hilario Davide Chief Justice.After Erap, GMA was on his heels, filling up all imaginable vacancies in the judiciary with blue collar lawyers. She betrayed her perception of the legal profession as dignified fixers. That was how the members of the Firm approached her, their clients’ statements of account to boast of nothing but influence peddling. The Firm made sure that all nominees in high profile departments and the courts pass their scrutiny.
OLD-FASHIONED UTANG NA LOOB
From Marcos to GMA, appointing powers have the false notion that the designation of a nominee, by plucking the latter out from obscurity, flows from their celestial destiny. With any other occupant, there will be no appointment. The appointee remains in anonymity or penury.
It is different in the High Court however. Remember that the government is constantly the respondent in every imaginable case, thanks to the taxpayer suit doctrine and controversies with transcendental issues, what ever that means. With the Filipinos’ litigious bent, every government functionary is brought to court. Legislators who could not accept defeat on the floor bring the issue to the High Tribunal on the doctrine of justiciable controversy. There, on oral arguments, the records of the court immortalize their legal regurgitations.
But there are cases that involve the pocket. Contractors and private individuals are haled to court for violation of public information privilege, or rules on public bidding or sequestrations, for example. We have the Amari-PEA reclamation cases. The PhilComSat, the Comelec P1.2B computers, the Coco Levy/UCPB/San Miguel Corp. cases, and the Lucio Tan tax evasion cases, among other 12-digit cases. Or the most notorious exoneration cases involving lawyer-client privilege penned by an equally infamous Marcos hold-out. The blue chip lawyers were exculpated notwithstanding the confession of the late Raul Roco that he, together with his colleagues, were used as fronts by their client. This latter case is an example of judicial collateral.
ENJOYING THE LOOT IN PEACE
Let us not stray too far. Cases that involve private individuals close to the tenants in the Palace. They dread losing their cases and they have to prevail in whatever means, fair or foul. Counting these cases, they number into hundreds clogging the dockets of the High Court. Not 10, 20, or 50 but hundreds of them gathering dusts that cause allergy. Remember there is no timetable for the High Court to decide their cases. Their TRO is in perpetuity beyond their life expectancies.
Cases are classified into academic, imbued with national interest, novel issues, and the hanapbuhay or what they dismissively call pera-pera laing.
Academic cases are those with issues on standing like taxpayer cases or the posterity cases where minors were granted personality to sue on some esoteric environmental issues that to these days remain on the textbooks while the rape of forests, the seas, and the air goes unabated. Brandishing the well-entrenched political doctrine or presumption of constitutionality, the Supreme Court invariably upholds executive or legislative discretions. Nakabayad na ako kay Boss, ika.
Those imbued with national interest are the interpretation of executive privilege of extending permission to cabinet subalterns before going to the Senate to take embarrassment pills from the grandstanders. Or the interpretation of the power of the MMDA to dismantle billboards or whether General Palparan should explain and locate the corpses of missing militants. Or whether the Philippine embrace on the WTO-GATT-TRIPS, and other globalization issues, are consistent with the Charter provisions on national patrimony.
There are those that involve non-payment realty taxes on power generation plants in billions of pesos. While the issues are of transcendental importance, some hit men in the High Court are on the prowl for the fixing. High calibre lawyers earn multi-millions in success fees, while the fixers pocket commissions on savings.
Since we are still feudal, some real estate or haciendas are auctioned off by the banks, and the former owners cry, not lack of redemption fund, but lack of due process. Given the sloth of the clerks in ministering the records, the petitioner gains a decade or more in holding on to the vassal. These are the types of cases classified as pera pera lang. Or election cases, or acquittal cases, or administration of estate cases most prominent are the Aguirres, the Potencianos, the Crespos, the Tambuntings, and the Silverios. These are the new status symbols. One doesn’t claim arrival onto the social apex if the family wealth is not a court issue.
KEEPING THE SCORE
The appointee in the High Court has a score card. He knows the number of cases he has so far gifted the benefactor to humour him. The appointee has a false notion as well on the level of patriotism of the patron. The Justice thinks that any favourable decision, whether on the majority or the minority, counts. What the patron hates is when the beneficiary begins tinkering with his own brain.
Appointment to the High Court is irrevocable. They leave the Court at age 70. Or only Congress can fire them thru impeachment. Unlike the coterminous alter egos, they are sustained by the pleasure of the appointing power.
The privilege of tenure security is not lost on the appointee. With this blank check, ingratitude is not far behind.
The appointing power therefore looks for an underling, an intellectual lightweight, to do his biddings all thru out his incumbency in the High Tribunal.
DON’T GET MAD GET EVEN MADDER
Nothing is surprising when Sandiganbayan Justice Gregory Ong gets the nod of GMA. With the furor from Kilosbayan that the appointee is an alien, Secretary Eduardo Ermita defended the appointment as valid exercise of executive privilege and therefore beyond the province of judicial scrutiny. Ermita’s theory was put in brief with all the legalese by the Solicitor General who looks forward for a lucrative law practice after GMA is gone. Not to be outdone, Secretary Ignacio Bunye went on print to say that Justice Ong is a natural born citizen from night one and he has no legal duty to set his birth record aright (citing a column of his Ateneo mentor Fr. Joaquin Bernas).
Bunye’s tirade is directed at Ex-Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban’s column indirectly questioning the appointment of Ong to the High Court and even dropping as shocker the Bar rating, 76.45%, of the appointee. Bunye still grates after all these years since Panganiban’s coalition with the majority of Tony Carpio in the People’s Initiative cases.
Truly, success has many fathers. With so many godfathers on record, the beneficiary expects lifelong repayment what ever it takes.
How old is Justice Ong? He is 53 years old, Class ’79 of the San Beda College of Law. He looks forward to outliving the sitting justices when he expects to retire in 2024, when the Solicitor General is over 70 years old, a private practitioner by then. The same is true with Bunye and Bunye Law Firm. Did I tell you that the GMA’s husband also has a law firm in LTA? The hubby once boasted that by his legal acumen he was able to cause the reversal of a Court of Appeals’ decision sentencing the family of one Vicky Toh to pay a commercial bank in millions of unpaid debts before the Supreme Court.
By all indications, Justice Ong need not gain the friendship of the 14 incumbents. Who needs their camaraderie? They’ll all be out of the High Court sooner or later.
GMA goes to spiting erstwhile ally Justice Antonio Carpio, the Charter Change garbage incinerator and the liberator of Crispin Beltran and Vicente Ladlad , when she finally appoints Justice Ong vice CJ Reynato Puno in 2009 as Chief Justice until 2024, five years before Tony Carpio retires in 2019.
GMA does a George W. Bush when the US President appointed the 50-year old conservative outsider John Roberts, Jr. as Supreme Court Chief Justice. As there is no age retirement in the US Judiciary, its Justices serve during good behaviour, meaning they essentially serve for life and can be removed only by resignation, or by impeachment and subsequent conviction. Roberts expects to outlast, in all probability, most of the incumbents. Not a whimper was heard from the sitting magistrates. With the Senate as confirming body, the crevices of Roberts persona were already passed upon.
For the first time in our history, and probably in any legal order, the High Tribunal reviews the qualification of a colleague freshly designated by the Executive.
Where the appointment is struck down as unconstitutional and therefore grave abuse of discretion, the sitting President earns the repute of mangling a coordinate hallowed institution.
Incidentally, Ong’s appointment was handed by a little wisp named Gloria, a curious word in the immortal phrase, Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.