Duterte court, irresponsible press

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag (The Freeman) - March 3, 2021 - 12:00am

I find it very irresponsible for the press to refer to the Supreme Court as the Duterte Court if its only reason for doing so is because Duterte happens to have appointed most of its current members. This practice actually goes a long way back but is more pronounced in the Duterte administration just because the president happens to be a controversial man.

To refer to the Supreme Court as the court of whoever is the sitting president, especially in stories that deal with how the court may vote or may have voted on certain issues is most unfair both to the president and the Supreme Court itself. It seems to snidely and contemptuously imply that the president is dictating the way for the court to go with certain decisions or that the court is willing to be dictated.

The fact that a court may be filled with appointees of a particular president during his tenure has absolutely nothing to do with the president beyond his duty to make such appointments. It is not the fault of a particular president that vacancies may arise during his term in such numbers that when he appoints new justices to fill them in compliance with his obligations as sole appointing power, the court ends up packed with his appointees.

That it is possible, remote but possible, for no vacancies to occur in a presidency, thereby giving a particular president neither reason nor obligation to make any appointment, does not seem to give the press occasion to pause and ponder on the fact that it is purely chance and circumstance that dictate the making of these appointments.

I find it uncomfortable to sometimes get lumped with such a scurrilous press who would just go ahead with a story without giving it context just because it happens to be a story that attracts readers, never mind if the attraction is for all the wrong reasons. It will be a 13-2 Duterte Court by the time the president steps down in 2022, says one such story.

The story seems to imply that given the controversies hounding the man during his presidency, he will likely step from the frying pan into the fire by the time he steps down but that the Supreme Court, filled with his appointees, will be ready with their fire extinguishers to save their master. That is not only irresponsible and unfair, it is contemptuous and malicious.

Neither Duterte nor any president for that matter ever yanks out justices just to create vacancies and then fill them up with personal appointees. Vacancies happen without any president having to do with such vacancies occurring. They happen when a justice retires, resigns, or otherwise gets incapacitated and a president is bound by law to appoint a replacement, even those so-called midnight appointments close to the end of his own term.

The case of Maria Lourdes Sereno who got ousted was the exception. But it was the fault of nobody, least of all Duterte. Sereno was responsible for her own ouster by failing to comply with important requirements that the previous president who appointed her chief justice either deliberately overlooked or was criminally negligent to dig up and discover.

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