Atty. Dodo Dulay
Crass and raffish. That’s how I would describe President Aquino’s recent tirade against the Supreme Court (SC) and Chief Justice Renato Corona during the First National Criminal Justice Summit hosted by the Department of Justice. In what was supposed to be a gathering of stakeholders of the justice system to collectively forge strategies towards the enhanced delivery of justice, President Aquino said nothing about improving the Philippine criminal justice system and all about how the SC and the Chief Justice had supposedly frustrated his efforts to hold accountable those implicated in corruption allegations against the Arroyo administration. President Aquino’s use of his bully pulpit to attack and insult the Chief Justice who was seated a few arms length away, leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It is undignified, un-presidential and un-Filipino.
Throughout the President’s diatribe, the Chief Justice remained stoic and impassive. And rightly so. Because unlike ordinary citizens, members of the Bench are prohibited by ethical rules from publicly responding to attacks or criticisms because any response to critics of a judge’s actions or motives places that judge in a potentially adversarial position that may cast reasonable doubt on his capacity to act impartially as a judge. That is why the Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges from making any public comments that may be perceived as affecting the outcome or fairness of the legal proceedings before him.
Supreme Court Administrator and Spokesman Midas Marquez was right when he said President Aquino’s tirade was unnecessary, saying the statements made by the President only undermined the independence of the Court. “It’s not unusual for the Executive branch to disagree with the Judicial branch. But what is considerably unusual is for the Chief Executive to look down on the members of the judiciary in public at a Justice Sector Coordinating Council session, and to their faces denounce the Court’s independent actions, as the Chief Justice sat speechless, motionless and expressionless because of the requirements of protocol,” Marquez added.
Even administration allies seem to agree. Senator Ping Lacson warned that the President’s attitude toward the Supreme Court could be replicated at the local level and “lead to anarchy.” “If this is what they witness in the national level, a governor might be encouraged to defy the local judge and not implement his decision. Or a mayor can defy a metropolitan trial court regarding an ordinance. The situation could get worse,” Lacson says. Even Senator Gregorio Honasan warned against continued attacks on the High Tribunal: “It is not good for our people and the international community to witness the protracted tension among branches of government. If we erode the credibility or impartiality of the highest court of the land, what are the alternatives? Where do we run to for resolution?”
Unfettered criticism of the Supreme Court, in general, or the Chief Justice, in particular, regardless of motive, severely diminishes the public’s confidence in the judiciary and hinders the efficient administration of justice. It is even more dangerous when demagogic politicians like President Aquino mobilize popular sentiment against the Supreme Court. Politically, these incessant and confrontational attacks and criticisms on the High Tribunal have the cumulative effect of diminishing or regulating the powers and independence of the judiciary as a whole.
If the Aquino administration is to preserve our democratic system of government, it must learn to observe the delicate balance between the executive and judicial branches of government as enshrined in our constitution. That means the President must accept the Supreme Court’s ruling as correct even if he believes it is wrong – moreso because he has sworn to uphold the Constitution, and not just those parts he agrees with. If he deliberately refuses to enforce a Supreme Court ruling, he may be impeached or removed from office for failing to uphold the constitution. So the threat of impeachment hangs over the President’s head as a means to enforce all of the laws, including the ones which he may not like. That is the essence of democracy.
True, the President has every right – as does every Filipino – to express his views and concerns. But his right to free speech and expression must be tempered by the civility and decorum expected of his office – a protocol seemingly lost on the President during the summit. On the other hand, by being so gracious and well-mannered despite the President’s boorish behavior, Chief Justice Renato Corona showed why he deserves to be Chief Justice of the Philippine Supreme Court.