‘Bravo, Supreme Court’
‘Bravo, supreme Court!” it’s been a long while since we heard the highest judicial body of our land lauded by a prince of the church, Bishop Pablo virgilio David of Caloocan, for upholding the rights of a drug suspect to due process. The accused was arrested without a warrant following an illegal search and seizure based solely on an unverified and anonymous tip.
Bishop David, one of the most acerbic critics of the present administration, once referred to his diocese comprising Caloocan, Malabon and Navotas, as the “killing field” of the drug campaign. His diocese has become notorious, as it has been the site of relentless killings of drug suspects who are mostly poor residents of the area since the war on drugs was launched by the Duterte administration. Bishop David, who is one of the most acerbic critics of the present government, has praised the Court for its decision acquitting a drug suspect from Tabuk, Kalinga because he was arrested without a warrant following an invalid search or seizure based on an anonymous tip. Bishop David has said: “Now the words are written by our Supreme Court justices, who thankfully are mustering the courage to behave as an independent and co-equal branch of government in a supposedly democratic nation.” The SC voted 11-3 in upholding the rights of the accused to due process. The bishop added that the time has come when
judicial authorities should hearken to the muffled voices of the disadvantaged poor around us when they say: “We can’t breathe” or “The lives of the poor matter.” In its decision, the SC emphasized that it will not allow the Constitution to be added to the mounting body count in the war against drugs. It stressed: “A battle waged against illegal drugs that tramples on the rights of the people is not a war on drugs; it is a war against the people” Brave words from our SC magistrates, majority of whom were named by President Duterte. In fact, out of the 15 current members of the SC, only the chief justice and three associate justices were not appointed by the President. Barring any impeachment, resignation or removal by way of quo warranto, by the time President Deterte completes his term in 2022, only two—justices Marvic Leonen and Benjamin Caguioa—will be nonduterte appointees. The President could pack the SC with his men who share his judicial philosophy, if not his politics, with all due respect to the esteemed members of the Judicial and Bar Council.
If the subject case is of any indication, an appointment by the President is not an assurance that the Court’s decision will always be supportive of the President’s policy or position. It is heartening to note that in this particular case, the current SC under Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta showed exceptional courage to uphold the so-called “fruit of a poisonous tree” doctrine and rejected evidence that was obtained illegally. Simply stated, if the source of the evidence is tainted, then anything derived or gained from it is tainted as well. We should credit the 11 justices for not allowing our legal system to be dishonored. It is the first time in recent years that the Court has veered from the conventional practice of supporting a government action either through technicality or sheer disregard of the merits of the case. The Court should be able to say “no” to the Executive and demonstrate that it is not a stamp pad of the President; that it is capable of exercising its judicial power to protect the Constitution from the onslaught of overzealous law enforcers. We expect an activist Court to be able to fulfill its role as the ultimate guarantor of the people’s freedom. It would be unhealthy to our democracy if it is passive and just kowtowing to the Executive in its decision-making. The merits of the case, not political consideration, should be the Court’s ultimate guide in reviewing and deciding a case before it. Through its power of judicial review, the SC should be able to assert its independence and supremacy when it comes to interpreting the law, particularly those involving the so-called individual rights cases. Of late, the SC appears to have shrank from a position of leadership and reduced as a mere adjunct of the more powerful Executive branch. It’s true that only minority justices are holdovers from previous administrations but this is not an ironclad indicator of how the justices will vote. The rule of law is anathema to arbitrary power and police state and assures anyone who displeases political power gets a day in court. Only an independent and uncompromising Court that does not act merely as a mere functionary under the control of the political leadership can give the people a fair shake.
CJ Peralta is one of the holdover justices. He rose from the ranks, starting as an Assistant City Prosecutor of Laoag City and later appointed as RTC Judge of Quezon City in 1994. He served as Sandiganbayan Justice in 2002 and was promoted as Presiding Justice in 2008. He was appointed to the SC by former President Gloria Macapagal-arroyo and as Chief Justice by President Duterte on October 23, 2019. He is a product of the UST Faculty of Civil Law, which awarded him the highest decoration that his school could bestow.
It takes an equally courageous man to recognize and praise a daring act. May Bishop David’s praise serve as the SC’S epiphany and embolden the Court to be undaunted in deciding cases that come before it. Much is expected of the Peralta Court and may it live up to our people’s hope that the SC remains the bulwark of justice and the rule of law.