Trusting the High Court
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 (The Philippine Star) - August 18, 2014 - 12:00am

More Filipinos trust the Supreme Court (SC) than either chamber of the 16th Congress. The trust rating has far more significance than meets the eye and may have farther reaching impact on important issues now before the highest court of the land as a whole.

While all three institutions experienced declining trend in public trust ratings, the slip has been more pronounced in the case of the Senate and the House of Representatives. This was according to the most recent results of a Pulse Asia survey. It showed public trust rating of the Senate has gone down from 42 percent end of last year to 31 percent end of June this year. The House of Representatives, meanwhile, slipped from 39 percent to 29 percent during the same period.

The trust rating of the SC also went down from 46 to 42 percent, a significantly smaller drop compared to the two chambers of Congress. The survey of Pulse Asia was conducted when the controversies on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) were at their peak.

Would the trust ratings of these three national institutions affect the eventual outcome of the continuing debate on the DAP which has pit the Palace and its allies in Congress against the SC?

Both the executive and the legislative branches of government appear to have placed themselves in direct confrontation with the judicial branch following the SC’s ruling that declared certain aspects of the DAP as unconstitutional.

These developments seem to be escalating some more with President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III himself being most vocal in questioning the wisdom of the High Court’s decision on DAP.

P-Noy could not hide his obvious irritation up to now on the SC decision on DAP.

Last week, President Aquino raised the ante with his turnaround statement in support of Charter change (Cha-cha) initiatives, to include amendments to clip the powers of the High Court. President Aquino’s change of heart on Cha-cha came at a time he is seen as becoming “lame duck” in his last two years in office. The SC ruling on DAP made matters worse for the Chief Executive.

It’s apparent President Aquino could not accept the fact his four appointees in the 15-man SC, including Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, have not supported him in the unanimous ruling on petitions against DAP. Incidentally, P-Noy could not name yet his fifth appointee to the SC because of ongoing wrangling between Sereno and Solicitor-General Francis Jardeleza.

Jardeleza questioned before the SC his exclusion in the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) shortlist for the vacancy left by retirement of associate justice Roberto Abad last May. The Palace agreed with Jardeleza on the latter’s row with Sereno.

It’s been over a month since the JBC already submitted the shortlist to the President. The President is mandated by the Constitution to appoint from the JBC shortlist and this must be done within 90 days from the time of vacancy. In this case, P-Noy has until August 20 since Abad retired last May 22. 

While these things are happening, P-Noy echoed his wish to push for much wider amendments of the country’s 1987 Constitution, to include political amendments not just lifting the term limits of elected officials but also to check the powers of the SC. 

But the ongoing Cha-cha initiatives being pushed by his Liberal Party (LP) allies in Congress only seek to amend restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution. Now, LP and other allies of P-Noy in Congress themselves are divided.

In a sit-down interview by TV5 at Malacañang last week, President Aquino noted the judiciary seemed to be using the powers of “check and balance” over its two co-equal branches more often than it should and without obvious restraint. “Now as a result, the balance between the three branches appears to be gone,” the President moaned.

While both the executive and the legislative make public their statements of assets, liabilities and net worth, P-Noy bewailed the SC justices do not exercise similar transparency. 

Also, pro-Aquino congressmen upped the pressure on the SC by summoning the Chief Justice to House public hearing on the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF). Then, talks about impeaching SC justices began emanating from some Lower House lawmakers.

Speculations now revolve on whether or not the SC will be able to withstand the pressure from both the executive and legislative branches of government. There are views that the SC has never before been confronted with stinging rebukes in public like what the President has been dishing out lately.

Will the present public trust rating of the SC be enough to help it withstand the pressure? We will see.

Speaking of pressure on the High Court, it looks like the European-based Greenpeace has also intensified its efforts to get the SC to rule on its behalf in connection with the controversy surrounding the use of biotechnology in the country’s agriculture modernization bid.

Our scientists led by agriculture researchers from the University of the Philippines in Los Baños (UPLB) have been studying the application of biotechnology in the development and propagation of crop varieties that do not require chemical pesticides to battle pests. Greenpeace has been blocking this move by the science community in our country. It had earlier gone to the Court of Appeals (CA) to secure a writ of kalikasan.

Our scientists joined by several Filipino farmers have elevated their case before the SC to ask that the writ be lifted and reversed. To counter this move, Greenpeace tapped a group of organic food businessmen reportedly led by an influential Makati socialite belonging to a rich clan. The Makati organic food business group represents a major pressure on the SC.

Many influential personalities are organic food enthusiasts and probably frequent the organic food markets in Makati on weekends that are organized by this group. The group recently organized a rally vilifying our UPLB science community and pressuring the SC to “stop” field trials for biotech crop varieties.

Will the SC be able to withstand pressure from a group of rich Makati businessmen opposing the use of modern agriculture biotechnology to help our poor farmers?

The High Court’s public trust rating should give everyone, including P-Noy, a hint.

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