Kangaroo Court
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - April 16, 2018 - 12:00am

There was a time when I held our Supreme Court in high esteem. The justices were reputable, erudite, and invisible. They more or less stayed out of the public limelight. Their opinions are heard only in the decisions they make.

The Supreme Court, once upon a time, stayed above the political fray. The justices may have their political opinions, but they took pains to present a public image of independence. Their only loyalty is to the Constitution and the delivery of justice.

But that was so long ago. Martial law politicized the Supreme Court. Perhaps out of self preservation, the justices kowtowed to Mr. Marcos. It became so bad that a chief justice didn’t think it was awkward for him to hold an umbrella to shield Imelda Marcos from the sun.

After EDSA, there was a justice who was caught plagiarizing in a decision he wrote. It took a language expert to show that the justice lifted the words of one of the litigants. I recall the justice resigned in shame.

I don’t think the Supreme Court justices today, except for a minority of them, think it is important to protect the court’s image of integrity. It doesn’t help that I often hear lawyers talk of justices in terms of how much it would take to get them to see things their way.

Investigative reporter Marites Vitug had a series of books documenting corruption in the Supreme Court. The books revealed nothing that surprised me. Indeed, I thought that was just the reality of life in our country.

I covered the courts many years ago. I am familiar with the “kalakaran” even in those days. But at least, once the case moved from the Court of First Instance to the Supreme Court, one had a good chance of getting justice.

Not any more, it seems. Just read the books of Marites, well researched and documented. One simply gives up on our country’s system of justice. Up until the Arroyo administration totally politicized the Supreme Court, there were feeble attempts to present the high court as impartial. She even appointed a congressman to the high court.

A functioning judicial system that can be trusted to deliver justice is important not just for the preservation of our civil rights, but also for our economy to flourish. Investors, local and foreign, will think twice if they feel only the well connected and the highest bidder can have justice.

What is happening now is probably the worst ever for the Supreme Court. That quo warranto case against the Chief Justice is a spectacle with at least five justices acting as complainants, prosecutors, and judges at the same time. That describes a kangaroo court.

In olden times when justices had more sense of shame, the five justices would have automatically inhibited themselves because they have publicly made their positions known about the Chief Justice. A Facebook meme describes them appropriately: The Shameless Five.

Without going into the merits of the case, it just looks clearly awkward and absolutely wrong for the five justices to sit in judgment of someone they have publicly admitted they hate with a passion. I am not a lawyer, but my innate sense of justice makes me believe that surely, their Code of Ethics must require them to inhibit.

Their publicly aired grievances against the Chief Justice disqualify them in the eyes of an impartial public from deciding the quo warranto case before them. For some of them, their complaints sounded like mere rants after a new and younger colleague was appointed Chief Justice.

“I will never forgive you for accepting the chief justiceship. You should not even have applied in the first place,” Sereno recalled being told by De Castro on her first day as chief justice.

This was confirmed by De Castro herself when she told the House justice committee that Sereno should not have been included in the shortlist of applicants for chief justice issued by the Judicial Bar Council (JBC).

“She should not have been even interviewed. She should have been excluded,” De Castro declared.

Peralta, on the other hand, was bitter because his wife, Justice Fernanda Lampas-Peralta of the Court of Appeals, was not included in the shortlist.

“If they allowed Sereno to be voted as chief justice, why did they not allow my wife?” Peralta hurtfully asked.

Justice Bersamin, on the other hand, claimed he is offended by Sereno’s attitude as a leader.

Hindi naman siya reyna na titingnan, titingalain at susundin,” Bersamin said.

Jardeleza, for his part, accused Sereno of acting “disloyally to the country” for using classified information in blocking his nomination as member of the Supreme Court.

Tijam, an appointee of President Duterte and reported to have been assigned to write the decision in the quo warranto petition, blasted Sereno’s refusal to appear in the hearings of the justice committee.

The Code of Judicial Conduct provides that “impartiality is essential to the proper discharge of the judicial office. It applies not only to the decision itself but also to the process by which the decision is made.”

More specifically: “Judges shall disqualify themselves from participating in any proceedings in which they are unable to decide the matter impartially or in which it may appear to a reasonable observer that they are unable to decide the matter impartially.”

The way it looks, the Supreme Court is about to about to shoot itself in the foot by allowing obviously biased justices to participate in the proceedings.

It will take a long time and a lot of effort to resurrect the image of the Supreme Court after it had been terribly dragged through the mud of self interest and bruised egos by the very people entrusted to protect it.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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