‘Coura­geous judges’: Did lower courts show guts the SC did not?

The Inquirer also rec­og­nized four judges as its 2018 Filipinos of the Year. Few are cheer­ing for the judges. Maybe be­cause they don’t hear judges be­ing thrashed pub­licly and re­peat­edly by the Pres­i­dent.

Sun.Star Cebu - - OPINION - PACHICO A. SEARES [email protected]

Asuc­ces­sion of Supreme Court de­ci­sions-– uphold­ing se­rial mar­tial law dec­la­ra­tions in Min­danao, us­ing “quo war­ranto” in­stead of im­peach­ment to evict chief jus­tice Ma. Lour­des Sereno, al­low­ing the burial of Mar­cos at the he­roes’ ceme­tery – has con­vinced many peo­ple we must have a “craven” high tri­bunal.

It was a num­ber of rul­ings in the lower courts, specif­i­cally the Re­gional Trial Courts, that met the na­tion’s “clamor for jus­tice.” The na­tional news­pa­per Philip­pine Daily Inquirer rec­og­nized four “coura­geous judges” who some­how made up for peo­ple’s dis­ap­point­ment in the high­est court of the land.

‘Filipinos of the Year’

Named as the Inquirer’s Filipinos of the Year 2018, along with the three “brave bish­ops,” in the pa­per’s Jan. 6, 2019 is­sue were:

■ Caloocan RTC Judge Rodolfo Azu­cena Jr., who con­victed three po­lice of­fi­cers of mur­der­ing teenaged Kian de los San­tos;

■ Makati RTC JudgeAn­dres So­ri­ano, who ruled that the amnesty that ben­e­fited Sen. An­to­nio Tril­lanes III was prop­erly ap­plied for and granted;

■ Tagum City Judge Ar­lene Pal­abrica, who or­dered the re­lease of for­mer Bayan Muna con­gress­man Satur Ocampo, ACT party-list rep­re­sen­ta­tive France Cas­tro and 16 oth­ers from de­ten­tion in Davao del Norte for kid­nap­ping and hu­man traf­fick­ing charges; and

■ Malo­los RTC Judge Alexan­der Ta­mayo, for con­vict­ing re­tired Army ma­jor gen­eral Jovito “Ber­dugo” Pal­paran on charges of kid­nap­ping and se­ri­ous il­le­gal de­ten­tion re­lat­ing to the dis­ap­pear­ance of U.P. stu­dents Karen Em­peno and Sher­lyn Cada­pan.

‘Of­fen­sive’ rul­ings

A com­mon el­e­ment in the four de­ci­sions was that they of­fended peo­ple and in­sti­tu­tions in power: Pres­i­dent Duterte, in the Tril­lanes case; the po­lice as well as the Pres­i­dent, in the Kian case, for his prom­ise to pro­tect law en­forcers charged in con­nec­tion with the war on il­le­gal drugs; and the mil­i­tary, for the blow against in­sur­gents and left­ists al­lied with them, in the Pal­paran case.

Those who hail the judges be­lieve they de­cided ac­cord­ing to the law and the facts. It was prob­a­ble, and yet were not swayed by it, that (a) they would anger pow­er­ful per­sons and groups, (b) it could af­fect pro­mo­tion or a higher rank in their ca­reer, or (c) their rul­ing might be seen as work­ing against the in­ter­est of the state.

We don’t hear judges, ex­cept Lour­des Sereno be­fore she was evicted as SC chief jus­tice, be­ing pub­licly hu­mil­i­ated. Yet a lot of courage and risk-tak­ing must have played in those de­ci­sions. The four judges could’ve taken the eas­ier path: rule in fa­vor of the es­tab­lish­ment and re­ject the side of those sus­pected or ac­cused of sub­vert­ing the gov­ern­ment.

They could be wrong

The Supreme Court may re­view the de­ci­sions and can strike them down as con­trary to law and/ or the facts. That would hurt the judges’ con­fi­dence in their ca­pac­ity to do their job well. And that might mark them, at least in the re­main­ing ten­ure of the Pres­i­dent, as judges who made bad de­ci­sions and didn’t go along with the Duterte gov­ern­ment.

As ob­served by a re­tired SC as­so­ciate jus­tice, the judges in lower courts, such as the Inquirer’s four “coura­geous judges,” are “work­horses” in the ju­di­ciary. Ap­pel­late judges in the higher courts re­view the law and the facts: they spot the er­ror or ex­cess in author­ity. The work of sort­ing out usu­ally mas­sive and com­plex data and ap­ply­ing them to the law falls on judges in RTCs and other lower courts.

Just do­ing their job

Aside from the work load, judges on the lower level of hi­er­ar­chy are more vul­ner­a­ble to the pow­er­ful peo­ple or their sur­ro­gates who some­how tele­graph which way they want the rul­ing to go. And all that amid the glare of pub­lic­ity as the cases, be­ing high-pro­file, grab the na­tion’s at­ten­tion.

There might be other rea­sons, we did not know and they would not tell, to ex­plain their course of ac­tion. In ac­cept­ing the dis­mis­sive “we’re-just-do­ing-our-job” an­swer, an ap­pre­cia­tive pub­lic sees mostly what? The judges’ courage.

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