Wenceslao: Supreme Court test

ONE of the best Tagalog movie titles is, I think, “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang.” It’s a colorful way of saying one is being tested but sadly wasn’t up to the task. And it’s an apt description of the current Philippine Supreme Court. It is facing its biggest test but its current justices are making a mess of it.

I haven’t seen a Supreme Court as openly factional as this one. There surely were bickering among the chief justice and associate justices in past Supreme Courts, but these were not displayed in public. Now we know that those justices are just like us, petty and emotional, and possessing biases and subjective thought.

The test for the current Supreme Court is the assault on its integrity by the executive branch of government. While the target may solely be Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, there are points where the assault could affect the institution itself. Some associate justices may not like Sereno, but they are called upon to transcend biases and personal hurt and defend the integrity of the High Court.

But Supreme Court justices do not possess mythical values, after all. They are as human as you and me, owning the same frailties, which include exhibiting eternal gratitude to the appointing power and being vengeful. All of these we are now seeing with Sereno’s impending impeachment and in the quo warranto case filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida against her.

The impeachment proceedings at the House of Representatives saw Supreme Court associate justices testifying against their own chief justice, a first time spectacle, at least for me. Calida and whoever is whispering into his ear must have seen in that spectacle a chance to go for the jugular, thus the quo warranto petition. Sereno can be ousted by a virtual coup by the Supreme Court justices.

The public is given a clearer view of the main players in this sordid drama not in the Senate acting as an impeachment court but in the Supreme Court itself as it tackles the quo warranto petition. We now know, for example, who are Sereno’s nemeses there by her petition for their recusal. They are Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza and Noel Tijam.

I am tempted to note who appointed them to the Supreme Court, although that may not actually be a factor in their current stance. De Castro, Peralta and Bersamin are appointees of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Jardeleza was appointed by former president Benigno Aquino III while Tijam is an appointee of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Anyway, the Supreme Court justices may succeed in ousting Sereno but the move would have a lasting effect on the institution itself. That is what I mean by the need for the justices to transcend biases and personal hurt and defend instead the integrity of the Supreme Court. Ousting a chief justice or an associate justice through this means, would “impair the integrity of the Supreme Court.” That is precisely what another associate justice, Alfredo Caguioa, said.

But would the majority in an openly factional Supreme Court see that? If it wouldn’t then I would say the Supreme Court was tested but sadly was not up to the task.
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