According to his communications secretary, clipping the powers of the Supreme Court is “the top-of-mind” concern of President Aquino today.
When he declared in an interview with TV5 that he has three objectives today – charter change, a second term, and the trimming of the high court’s powers –it is the last that is keeping him awake these days and nights.
No goal obsesses him more. Because it is the SC decision on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) that will send him to court and to jail once his term expires on June 30, 2016. My colleague Bobi Tiglao mischievously calculates that the prospect before him is not winning a second term but over a hundred jail terms.
The memory of government is long. Once you run afoul with the law in the administration of public funds, the operation of the law and the court system is relentless and unceasing. That is why you can have court cases that go on for decades before resolution, even for lowly public officials.
Aquino is hoping that by reducing the Supreme Court’s powers through charter change, the change can be made retroactive, to exonerate him of scores of crimes he has already committed under DAP.
He and Butch Abad have also sent proposed legislation to Congress, particularly to the ever-loyal Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, that would legalize the DAP and all the acts committed in its implementation. They want the application of the law to be retroactive so that crimes that have already been perpetrated will be forgiven, and the loot already stolen is written off.
This is unbelievably brazen and shameless. In all the annals of the republic, no president has ever attempted this kind of selfish and crooked maneuver. No one has ever attempted to amend the Constitution, and pass a law that would exonerate him of a crime.
Coloma also said that reducing the powers of the Supreme Court would help the President in serving the nation.
In the interview with TV5, Aquino said the 1987 Constitution empowers the Supreme Court to step into political questions, unlike the High Court during the Marcos regime that refused to check the executive when martial law was declared in 1972.
He said there are those who wonder whether the SC of today is overstepping its powers in checking its co-equal branches.
This is an absurd claim, and lawyers encouraging or directing Aquino in this view are second-rate or are just angling to be appointed to top judicial positions in government.
A system of checks and balances
Our system of government calls for the separation of powers among three co-equal branches of government –the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. No one is supreme among the three. Each branch enjoys a degree of power over the others.
Under the system of checks and balances ordained by the Constitution, the president can veto congressional legislation, which can be overridden only by two-thirds vote of each house. Congress can impeach the president and the members of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court can declare a law passed by Congress and signed by the president as unconstitutional, as well as certain acts of the president.
The branches are designed to work in harmony, not at cross-purposes with each other. When they all work according to their respective duties, the interests of the nation are served.
Powers of each branch are limited
The other key point is that the powers granted by the Constitution to each branch of government is limited. The powers of each are specific (definite and explicit), enumerated (listed individually), and delegated (assigned).
President Aquino is banking on his cohorts in Congress and the Liberal Party to accomplish this grand strategy of constitutional amendment and exoneration of administration wrongdoing.
This is politics at its most cynical. And it is nothing less than contempt of the Constitution.
If they think our people will only watch while they perpetrate these dark deeds against the Constitution and the nation, they are totally mistaken.
Attempts in the past to amend the term limits set in the Constitution miserably failed. This one will have an even more spectacular defeat because this time, the entire nation will be roused to action. The administration and members of Congress will have nowhere to hide.
The truth is, by advancing this delusional project, President Aquino has pushed quite a number of legislators, including some of his own partymates, to support one or several of the impeachments complaints against the President that are set for hearing in the House.
Congress and the President have to realize that having the numbers in the legislature does not empower them to do whatever they want. Tyranny of the majority is no less repugnant than one-man rule.
The tyranny of the majority
On this point, I commend the enduring words of the political philosopher Walter Lippmann to remind them of the foolhardiness of their enterprise. They cannot win on this.
“Free institutions are not the property of any majority. They do not confer upon majorities unlimited powers. The rights of the majority are limited rights. They are limited not only by the constitutional guarantees but by the moral principle implied in those guarantees. That principle is that men may not use the facilities of liberty to impair them. NO one may invoke a right in order to destroy it. The right of free speech belongs to those who are willing to preserve it. The right to elect belongs to those who mean to transmit that right to their successors.
”The rule of the majority is morally justified only if another majority is free to reverse that rule.
“The constitution deliberately denies that the opinion of a temporary majority is to be regarded as the will of the people. The ultimate authority of course is in the people.
“But the will of the people is not to be confused with the opinions of fifty-one percent of the voters at any particular election
“The authors of the Constitution were interested not only in what 250 congressmen think ought to be done, not only in what fifty-one percent of the voters think on election day, but in what these politicians and voters will think when they have cooled off and learned more. The founders were equally interested in the forty-nine percent.
“This is the purpose of checks and balances and of constitutional supremacy. It is based on a refusal to believe that a true democracy means the dictatorship of transient pluralities.”
Hitler also got support of Congress
Lippmann ends his eloquent defense of constitutionalism by saying that Adolf Hitler was also elected in 1933, and that he got the support of the German legislature. Then he started planning to have the Nazis rule Germany for a thousand years.
Our man in Malacañang must decide whether this is where he wishes to go.