Last of two parts
Will the Supreme Court stand up against President Benigno Aquino 3rd and his administration’s violations of law and constitutional democratic institutions?
In fact, it has done so more than once — prompting Aquino to launch the first of his assaults on the law and democratic institutions. The magistrates ruled against Executive Order No. 1, issued on June 30, 2010, singling out the past government for investigation and thus violating equal protection under the law. Then in November 2011, the High Court voided Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s travel ban on the former First Couple.
Within days of the travel ban voiding, Arroyo was under arrest without bail on rushed electoral sabotage charges. Two weeks later on December 7, Chief Justice Renato Corona was impeached by the House of Representatives, with little reading of the charges and lots of pork barrel disbursements.
From the foregoing episodes as well as the anger of Aquino and his allies over last year’s rulings against pork barrel and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), the Supreme Court almost surely faces virulent excoriation and attack if it again rules against the administration.
Hence, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), and other national and sectoral institutions and groups advocating rule of law and republican democracy must even now make clear and tangible their support for the High Court in its duty of setting legal limits on government.
Without this unequivocal and unrelenting support, the justices are on their own, and some could falter under pressures from the Palace, its impeachment-brandishing allies, and pro-Aquino segments of maintstream media. Hence, the call on the Supreme Court to defend democracy and law, is also a trumpet blast for the IBP, the CBCP, and other advocates of justice and freedom to defend the Judiciary.
EDCA: Illegal and unfair?
Pressures will be aplenty when petitions questioning the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the Bangsamoro Agreements and Basic Law, and the automated elections of 2010 come up for judgment. Already, there are moves to spare Aquino another unconstitutional ruling by just referring the defense deal to the Senate.
Last time we checked, the Supreme Court is supposed to rule on issues raised before it, such as whether EDCA was concluded in a constitutional way or not. Referring the deal to the Senate does not resolve the question of the legality of EDCA’s forging.
Plus: referring the deal to the Senate may usurp a presidential prerogative. Only the Executive can decide what to do with its treaties and agreements, including those ruled illegal, not the Judiciary. All the latter can and should do is affirm or void the pacts.
So bottom line: The Supreme Court should decide whether EDCA was forged in the manner laid out in the Constitution. That’s part of the separation of powers and checks and balances — the same paramount principle violated by pork barrel and DAP. And the Supreme Court must make doubly sure that this tenet is clearly affirmed and stressed in the EDCA ruling.
Sacrificing the law for ‘peace’
If the Aquino camp may go ballistic over decisions suspending suspect pork in the 2015 budget or voiding EDCA for lack of Senate ratification, expect multiple warheads raining down on the High Court if the Bangsamoro law and agreement as well as the 2010 automated elections are struck down.
The administration would blame the Supreme Court if fighting resumes in Mindanao over a voided Bangsamoro pact. Malacañang would also lambast as irresponsible and destabilizing a decision declaring the polls that elected Aquino null and void for failing to comply with key provisions of the Election Code governing them.
The argument that would sway many, if not most Filipinos is that the justices should allow some liberties with the law to avoid political conflict and instability. The very same thinking behind DAP: The end justifies the mincemeat that key statutes are reduced to.
Except that letting Bangsamoro and automated elections issues through without serious review would grind not just crucial provisions of the Constitution, but the Republic’s sovereignty, security and suffrage themselves — all foundations of our nationhood.
Dubious provisions in the Bangsamoro pact could give secessionist elements the door to breakaway and belligerency, especially the provision stripping the Armed Forces of the Philippines of its law enforcement function in the region and scaling the AFP down.
If the future regime declares independence, protected by its police, that would give separatists the belligerency and international recognition they crave. That would be a far greater security threat than even a resumption of hostilities with Muslim rebels.
As for elections, the Supreme Court must declare automated polls invalid if indispensable and legally mandated safeguards are voided. Otherwise, they would be set aside again and again, knowing that results would be affirmed for fear of disorder.
No, the justices must rule that dispensing with basic safeguards would void the polls, especially procedures absolutely necessary to ensure that only valid returns are counted and votes are correctly tabulated,.
Even the 2010 and 2013 elections? Sure. Those polls may be declared void, while allowing officials proclaimed in good faith to exercise full authority till the end of their terms. Much like the decision voiding DAP, but letting its ongoing projects continue.
That messy resolution is far better than allowing the voiding of election safeguards that are as fundamental as canvassing only verified tally sheets and tabulating votes as written in ballots in manual polls.
Backed by the IBP, the CBCP and other civil society, the Supreme Court must not allow potentially fatal blows against the body democratic, blackmailed by Palace and Congress warnings of war and instability.
Our forefathers braved those very threats to bequeath a free, democratic, constitutional Republic of the Philippines to us. We must protect our nation, our Constitution and our institutions — even if we must fight more battles. Especially against the abusive elites burdening our people since time immemorial.
(The first part was published two days ago.)