Supremacy of the law, or of bi­ased judges?

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - OPINION - Os­car P. Lag­man Jr. has been a keen ob­server of Philip­pine pol­i­tics since the 1950s. OS­CAR P. LAG­MAN JR.

Pres­i­den­tial spokesper­son Harry Roque said, “The Court rul­ing is an as­ser­tion of the supremacy of the fun­da­men­tal law of the land.” Chief pres­i­den­tial le­gal coun­sel Sal­vador Panelo as­serted, “The Supreme Court has spo­ken. We all must bow to the majesty of the law.”

What the Supreme Court rules is to be con­sid­ered the law. But what is the law that the Court has said is the fun­da­men­tal law of the land? Eight of its 15 mem­bers said the chief jus­tice could also be re­moved by a quo war­ranto pe­ti­tion. As they con­sti­tute the ma­jor­ity of the en­tire mem­ber­ship of the Court, their rul­ing is law.

The same eight jus­tices then ruled that the ap­point­ment of Maria Lour­des Sereno as chief jus­tice was in­valid be­cause she had failed to sub­mit all her state­ments of as­sets, li­a­bil­i­ties, and net worth (SALNs) as re­quired by the Ju­di­cial and Bar Coun­cil (JBC) that vet­ted her nom­i­na­tion.

Re­tired chief jus­tice Artemio V. Pan­gani­ban wrote in his col­umn “With Due Re­spect” in Oc­to­ber 2110: “The so­ci­o­log­i­cal school of le­gal phi­los­o­phy holds that to pre­dict how a case would be de­cided [by the Supreme Court], one must con­sider the per­son­al­ity of the mag­is­trate and the var­i­ous stim­uli at­ten­dant to a case per this for­mula: per­son­al­ity times stim­uli equals de­ci­sion (P x S = D). The per­son­al­ity of a mag­is­trate in­cludes in­trin­sic qual­i­ties like up­bring­ing, ed­u­ca­tion, re­la­tion­ships, etc. Stim­uli re­fer to how he/she re­sponds to ex­ter­nals like pub­lic opin­ion, peer pres­sure, re­li­gious lead­ers, med­i­cal con­di­tion, ap­point­ing au­thor­ity, ap­point­ment spon­sor, close friends, etc.”

That ob­ser­va­tion strongly hints that as­so­ciate jus­tices of the Supreme Court some­times de­cide not only on the ba­sis of an ob­jec­tive in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the law and the es­tab­lished facts but on per­sonal con­sid­er­a­tions as well. This would prompt peo­ple to think that some of the land­mark de­ci­sions of the present Court were in­flu­enced by stim­uli that were of the na­ture of per­sonal con­sid­er­a­tions.

Did the eight as­so­ciate jus­tices de­cide to grant the quo war­ranto pe­ti­tion against Sereno on the ba­sis of an ob­jec­tive in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the law and the es­tab­lished facts, or on what suits their per­sonal agenda? Those who ruled Sereno dis­qual­i­fied from and un­law­fully hold­ing her post were As­so­ciate Jus­tices Tere­sita Leonardo de Cas­tro, Dios­dado Per­alta, Fran­cis Jardeleza, Lu­cas Ber­samin, Noel Ti­jam, Sa­muel Mar­tires, An­dres Reyes Jr. and Alexan­der Ges­mundo.

De Cas­tro was short­listed by the JBC for the po­si­tion of chief jus­tice twice, in 2010 and 2012. She lost out to Re­nato Corona in 2010 and to Sereno in 2012. It is well-known in le­gal cir­cles that De Cas­tro was par­tic­u­larly em­bit­tered by the ap­point­ment of the much younger Sereno, as she had hoped to be the first woman chief jus­tice in the Philip­pines. “She should not have been in­ter­viewed, she should have been ex­cluded,” De Cas­tro told the House com­mit­tee on jus­tice in ref­er­ence to the JBC’s nom­i­na­tion of Sereno to the post of chief jus­tice.

Per­alta has an axe to grind against Sereno. The in­clu­sion of his wife, Court of Ap­peals Jus­tice Fer­nanda Lam­pas Per­alta, in the JBC short­list of nom­i­nees to the post of pre­sid­ing jus­tice was ap­par­ently blocked by Sereno, who as chief jus­tice was a mem­ber of the JBC, for her fail­ure to sub­mit sev­eral re­quire­ments on time. Per­alta pointed out to the same House com­mit­tee that Sereno was in­cluded in the short­list even if she had failed to sub­mit the SALNs re­quired by the JBC.

Like­wise, Jardeleza has a per­sonal griev­ance against Sereno. She tried to ex­clude him from the short­list of can­di­dates for Supreme Court jus­tices in 2014 by rais­ing the in­tegrity is­sue against him. Ber­samin has ad­mit­ted to the House com­mit­tee that he was of­fended by Sereno’s sup­posed dic­ta­to­rial at­ti­tude.

Ti­jam, Mar­tires, Reyes and Ges­mundo were ap­pointed to the Court by Pres­i­dent Duterte. Just a month ago, Mr. Duterte pub­licly de­clared Sereno his en­emy and vowed to have her re­moved as chief jus­tice.

Do we there­fore bow to the majesty of the law, or to the supremacy of per­son­al­i­ties stim­u­lated by per­sonal con­sid­er­a­tions?

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