Are we still a democracy? Is there still respect for democratic institutions?
As the nation’s highest court, the Supreme Court is supposed to be the vanguard in safeguarding our sacred and inviolable principles and institutions, among them the rule of law, the principle of separation of powers, the bill of rights, freedom of speech, government accountability and integrity.
Lately, however, we seem to be moving toward a totalitarian government without checks and balances. No less than President Rodrigo R. Duterte violated the erstwhile sacred constitutional guarantee of separation of powers. On April 9, just before he left for China, he ranted at Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno. “I’m putting you on notice that I’m your enemy and you have to be out of the Supreme Court.” The President then ordered House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to speed up the impeachment process against Sereno.
Duterte’s seething anger at Sereno arose out of her accusation that Solicitor General Jose Calida could not have filed a quo warranto case against her without the President’s imprimatur. The quo warranto case is bad enough, but the President’s direct threat to oust CJ Sereno and the Supreme Court’s acceptance of the case are certainly greater cause for alarm.
Akbayan’s Tomasito Villarin said, “The President is playing ‘god’ and arrogating unto himself powers over Congress.” He warns that Duterte’s call clearly manifests his totalitarian nature and abhorrence of democratic values.
Injustice from justices
A statement from members of The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service, of which Sereno is a member, said in no uncertain terms that: “The Supreme Court trampled on the Philippine Constitution and betrayed its primary duty to the Filipino people when it violated Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno’s right to due process.”
The Supreme Court itself has abandoned its mandate to ensure an independent judiciary. It accepted the validity of the quo warranto petition Calida filed for the reason that Sereno’s appointment was void from the beginning because she supposedly failed to comply fully with the requirements needed for the position. In accepting this farcical petition, the tribunal has crushed constitutional checks and balances.
The bigger problem is, the Supreme Court also refuses to inhibit the five openly biased associate justices: Teresita De Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza and Noel Tijam. The five had testified against Sereno in the congressional hearings. Now, they will be among the judges who will hear the petition. Sereno has petitioned the high tribunal to recuse the five from the hearing because, she said, they have already prejudged the matter.
The Judiciary’s Code of Conduct decrees resistance against attempts to subvert judicial independence. It orders judges to be impartial. As the statement from the Ateneo de Manila University said, “It should alarm us when several justices who will decide on whether the Chief Justice has sufficiently complied with the requirement are among those who have accused her of wrongdoing in that regard, during hearings conducted by Congress, thus effectively prejudging the matter. How will justice and fairness now prevail?”
Sereno said in her interview that her number one nemesis, De Castro, has warned her from day one that she would regret accepting the Chief Justice position. De Castro and the other magistrates have been deprived of their chances to be Chief Justice. Sereno, only 42 when she was appointed, will be Chief Justice for 20 years, or till 2030, her mandatory retirement. This gives credence to the belief that politics is the main reason behind Sereno’s ouster case.
It is gross injustice to the Filipinos if we have justices who cannot act with justice. There is no way the Supreme Court can protect itself except by dismissing outright the illegal quo warranto petition!
As I emphasized in my previous column, give Sereno her day in court, before the Senate impeachment tribunal.
Changing rules midway
It comes as a complete shock that the Presidential Electoral Tribunal has suddenly decided to adopt a 2010 rule that sets the threshold of shading at 50 percent before it is counted as a valid vote.
This is inconsistent with the rules used during the 2016 election, which states that ovals shaded or marked at least 25 percent are counted as legitimate votes.
Such threshold ensures that the markings are not accidental but, at the same time, counts even the votes of those who might be aged or might have learning problems, among others.
I, for one, have an arthritic right hand, I cannot shade the oval completely. Our maid asked the election officer at the precinct if her vote would be counted if she shaded beyond the oval. The officer advised her to make sure it didn’t but that it was all right to partly shade the oval in the center. That was what my maid did.
With the PET’s move, her vote will be considered invalid. It is like setting rules for a contest but changing them when the contest has begun. What’s the reason behind the PET decision? We, the citizens, will fight to protect our votes. We join Vice President Leni Robredo in asking the PET to reconsider its decision to apply the 2010 rule.
Declining rule of law
Solita Collas-Monsod in her recent column (Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 14, 2018), confirmed that the Philippines’ non-observance of the rule of law is indeed a cause for alarm. Monsod cited the Rule of Law Index published annually by the World Justice Project, an independent, multidisciplinary organization working to advance the rule of law around the world.
According to the WJP website, its index “measures rule of law adherence in 113 countries and jurisdictions worldwide based on more than 110,000 households and 3,000 expert surveys. Featuring primary data, the WJP Rule of Law Index measures countries’ rule of law performance across eight factors: Constraints on Government Powers, Absence of Corruption, Open Government, Fundamental Rights, Order and Security, Regulatory Enforcement, Civil Justice, and Criminal Justice.”
Monsod said, “The overall Philippine score in the Rule of Law Index in 2017 was 0.47 (for comparison, the highest ranking countries were Denmark and Norway with 0.89). We ranked 13th out of 15 countries in East Asia and the Pacific, and our global rank was 88th out of 113 countries. We are at the bottom 25 percent in the world, and lower than 20 percent in our region.”
In 2015, our overall score was 0.53, and our rank was 51st out of 102 globally (we were right in the middle) and ninth out of 15 regionally. Our global rank dropped in the first two years of Duterte’s administration, down 18 notches from the previous year (we ranked 70th in 2016), mainly because our overall score dropped to 0.47 from 0.51.
We have sunk to the bottom 25 percent globally from being in the middle just three years ago. What does that say of us, our attitudes toward what is lawful, and our tolerance for what is not?