Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Under threat of downpour, hundreds filled the SC Quadrangle, all dressed in black, and released black balloons into the sky to protest House high-handedness and rally in support of embattled CJ and Supreme Court; a good time to reflect on pastor Martin Niemoller’s stirring passage on pitfalls of political apathy.

Last Wednesday, Dec. 14, two days after 188 members of the House shamelessly railroaded the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona in one hour’s signing without questions, hundreds of the CJ’s and the Supreme Court’s sympathizers trooped to the SC Quadrangle in Padre Faura, despite the threat of a downpour, to show support for him.  They all came in black attire, both the men and the women (the following  Monday judiciary personnel across the country showed up in their offices this time in blazing red!). The SC rally crowd included justices (a number of Corona’s SC colleagues stood behind him as he spoke), judges, various court employees, lawyers, law students and other professionals.
One could tell they were a quality, thinking crowd--- so unlike the small noisy group of demonstrators outside the SC premises, who were shouting invectives at CJ Corona and waving identical banners and placards (someone sure is spending a lot of money on these demonstrators).  Before 2 pm. the SC Quadrangle was packed and the CJ, standing on the uppermost step of the SC entrance and surrounded by his wife and children, obviously drew inspiration from the crowds lustily cheering him on at every turn.


Speaking in Filipino described by some media as “maanghang,” Corona vowed, in his role as primus inter pares of the SC, to defend the Court as the last bulwark against the “creeping dictatorship” of President Aquino who, he warned, now controls the executive branch and the Lower House of Congress, and has set his eyes on controlling the judiciary.  He sought to tackle the main issues leveled against him in the House impeachment complaint, stressing that his is only one vote in the Court so that he couldn’t dictate his views on his colleagues, and that on various issues he has found himself on the side of the majority and at other times with the minority.
Corona obviously saw the need to defend himself from accusations of his partiality to the appointing power, former President Macapagal Arroyo, by stressing that while the Court does not lean toward anyone, it also has the mandate to protect above all the human rights of individuals against the abuses of a power-hungry administration, especially if there is yet no case against the individual. These principles operating for anyone high or low under the Constitution, CJ stressed, are the presumption of innocence and respect for human rights.
 “Isampa ang tamang kaso sa loob ng wastong oras, na may tamang ebidensya, para walang magawa ang korte kung di hatulan at ipakulong ang nagkasala sa lipunan,” he thundered. “Panagutin natin ang dapat managot, pero idaan natin sa wasto at tampang proceso sa ilalim ng Saligang Batas. Ano po ba ang napakahirap intindihin sa bagay na ito?”


As more cheers rose from the crowds on this assurance of equal justice, Corona’s reference to the undeserved blame the SC reaps from thumbing down defective cases filed by the executive department was unmistakable.

 A glaring case in point was President Noynoy’s Executive Order No. 1 (said to have been penned by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa), creating the Truth Commission last July 2010, which was challenged in the SC by House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman.  The SC ruling on it was very decisive, with ten justices, including Corona, voting it down as UNCONSTITUTIONAL. 
The majority argued that the concept of the Truth Commission was wrong as it violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution, in singling out for investigation reports of graft and corrupt practices only in the previous administration. Significantly the ten magistrates were all GMA appointees, but so were FOUR of the five justices who DISSENTED and upheld the VALIDITY  of the Truth Commission. These were the two Carpios, Justices Roberto Abad and Eduardo Nachura---ALL GMA APPOINTEES, with Nachura a staunch ally of GMA during the congressional canvassing of presidential votes in 2004, yet he voted for the Truth Commission that would have investigated cases against GMA.  The fifth dissenter was P-Noy’s first appointee, Ma. Lourdes Sereno. 
Apart from stressing the CONSTITUTIONAL INFIRMITY OF this Palace concept, the Truth Commission case also shows a verity in the SC that Corona sought to stress, but which the administration seeks to malign: the independence of the magistrates. That case was a good example of how the justices would vote, at times with the majority but at times also with the minority, as their conviction moves them---regardless of whether they are GMA appointees or not.  

This was also recently demonstrated in the Hacienda Luisita case that ordered full distribution of its lands to its tenants, where Justice Sereno joined in the SC’s unanimous decision, with only Justice Antonio Carpio abstaining.


After the singing of the National Anthem and the SC Hymn, the crowds let loose a bevy of black balloons, as though to implore the heavens for justice and protection of this final bulwark of citizens’ rights, to cheers all around. For yours truly, a veteran of street marches in the post-Ninoy assassination days, it was a case of déjà vu, and as I teased former Antique Gov. Sally Perez, who was among my constant companions in those marching days leading to the EDSA Revolution:  aren’t we already a trifle too old for this sort of thing?  We agreed with a big laugh that at our age now, we ought to just enjoy romping around with our grandchildren and “pa-mahjong-mahjong or pa-lunch lunch na lang;” but there we were with the young law students, rallying in defense of the High Court and the rule of law.  We couldn't help but show up to support the SC.  


At this point, it’s heartening to note that many law associations are now speaking out to defend Corona and the SC, following the lead of the 55,000-strong Integrated Bar of the Philippines under President Roan Libarios and the Philippine Constitutional Association.  Today the Ateneo Law Alumni Association as well as the combined forces of the Philippine Judges Association, the Metropolitan and City Judges Association of the Philippines and the Philippine trial Judges League  issued very strong half-page statements of support for the SC in newspapers. The Judges’ Associations condemned the “current negative depiction of the SC, the CJ and the Associate Justices,” and called on the executive and legislative branches to allow the judiciary “to perform its constitutional mandate with independence, without fear of influence, pressure or interference, as their oath requires.”


As various people’s organizations, columnists and commentators from various media and even some bishops (such as the outspoken Bishop Ramon Arguelles of Batangas) have come out in defense of the SC and the Rule of Law, I am reminded of that stirring quotation attributed to German pastor Martin Neimoller (1892-1984). Neimoller's quote has often been used up to contemporary times as a popular model for describing the dangers of political apathy. As a source put it, the danger from this malaise “often begins with specific and targeted fear and hatred, which soon escalates out of control.” Does that sound familiar? 

Neimoller’s powerful quotation, which is emblazoned in the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. as well as in the Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond, Virginia, has been used in variations but basically it runs this way:
“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
“Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
“Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
“Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Indeed the time to speak out in defense of the Constitution and the Rule of Law is NOW, as the senators contemplate during this Christmas  season their role in the Senate impeachment trial that will commence on Jan. 16, 2012. Let them know how strongly we citizens condemn the assault on the SC's independence and the disregard for the Constitution.  

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1 comment:

  1. Balloon releases are harmful to the environment, to wildlife and to domestic animals, as I outline in this article:


    Perhaps the organisers were told that the balloons are biodegradable - but, as my article shows, even biodegradable balloons can last - and do harm - for a year or more.