Saturday, September 12, 2015

FULL COURT PRESS: What your 2016 vote will mean for the Supreme Court

By Siesta-friendly

The next Philippine President is constitutionally set to hold office for 6 years from 2016 – 2022.   And within her/his term, 11 Supreme Court justices are constitutionally mandated to retire once they reach 70 years.
Already potent as it is, the president’s power to appoint will be most significant when it comes to appointing Supreme Court justices as the new Chief Executive will be able to pack the court.
Judicial review
With the 1987 Constitution’s power of judicial review, to wit -

“Judicial power includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.” (Section 1, Article VIII, 1987 Constitution)

citizens have appealed to the Supreme Court on issues seemingly strictly within the jurisdiction of the executive or legislative departments.

Where pre-1987 Constitution, the Supreme Court could cite the doctrine of “political question” as a valid excuse in refusing to settle certain executive or legislative actions, that is no longer the case. With the 1987 Constitutional provision on judicial review, any act of a government official/s can be questioned on constitutional grounds if done in “grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction”.

So, if the next President chooses well, we can have a Supreme Court that can provide an effective check on executive or legislative excesses. If not, we end up with a Supreme Court rubber-stamping any questioned abusive executive or legislative action. Or possibly worse, an activist Court that indirectly legislates through its decisions.

And we indirectly have a hand in shaping the composition of the Supreme Court when we choose the person authorized to appoint its members.

Soon-to-retire SC justices

Here are the names of the 11 justices and their respective retirement dates:

  1. Martin S. Villarama, Jr. - April 14, 2016
  2. Jose P. Perez - December 14, 2016
  3. Arturo D. Brion - December 29, 2016
  4. Bienvenido L. Reyes - July 6, 2017
  5. Jose C. Mendoza - August 13, 2017
  6. Presbitero J. Velasco - August 8, 2018
  7. Teresita Leonardo-De Castro- Oct. 8, 2018
  8. Mariano C. Del Castillo - July 29, 2019
  9. Lucas P. Bersamin - October 18, 2019
  10. Antonio T. Carpio - October 26, 2019
  11. Francis H. Jardeleza - September 26, 1949

We note that 10 of the 11 are Gloria Arroyo appointees, so while we look forward to the diminishing Arroyo court, we are wary that the next President would appoint justices lacking independence, integrity and morality thereby forming another President’s court which will unabashedly issue decisions favoring their appointer.

Thus, we need a President with independence, integrity and morality to get a Supreme Court of the same character.

So this campaign season, let us encourage debates on governance issues, and not politics. Let us set high standards for our leaders, and not settle for popularity. Let us look for the leader who will have the people’s interest – not his, nor his family, cronies or party’s – at heart. And let us vote wisely. It is not only the membership in the Court that is at stake but our very future.
“A world is supported by four things ...
the learning of the wise,
the justice of the great,
the prayers of the righteous
and the valour of the brave.
But all of these are as nothing ... without a ruler who knows the art of ruling.”
- The Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, in Frank Herbert’s “Dune”


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