Aquino savages the rule of law

Never has this happened before in our nation: The President savages the Supreme Court, the core institution of the rule of law, insults the Chief Justice to his face, and claims that only he—and not the justices who have spent decades in the study of law—can correctly interpret the Constitution.

Never before has a president called for a lynch mob against a crucial institution of a civilized society, alleging that the Supreme Court justices rule not on the basis of the law but on the command of who appointed them to their posts. It didn’t occur to Mr. Aquino though that the person he claims to control the high court—former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo—is powerless, sick, and even nearly helpless in fending off a lynch mob.
Mr. Aquino’s going ballistic at this time against the Court isn’t really surprising. The Court just recently thwarted the most important goal of his presidency, which was to save the 6,000-hectare Hacienda Luisita for his Cojuangco clan. It ruled last Nov. 22 that the hacienda should be given to its tillers, which could lead to the Cojuangcos’ utter bankruptcy.

That case slept for five long years at the Supreme Court. In just 18 months after Renato Corona became chief justice, the Court ruled against the Cojuangco clan. The decision was even unanimous, making its reversal impossible, triggering his tantrums. Even his three appointees to the Court voted against him. Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, however, wrote a separate opinion devoted to arguing that the landlords’ compensation should be not at 1989 but at 2006 prices, which would mean over P6 billion in windfall for the clan. Sereno was Mr. Aquino’s college buddy, his first appointee to the Court and, at 50, the youngest justice ever.

Mr. Aquino’s railing against the justices in the past days is also a threat that his mob will lynch them if they rule that his foolhardy rush to put the former president in jail is unconstitutional and fraught with legal boo-boos.

Mr. Aquino claimed that the Court was Arroyo’s lapdog when it upheld her appointment of Corona as chief justice. But only a lone justice dissented with the Court ruling. Then Chief Justice Reynato Puno and two contenders to the post—Corona and Antonio Carpio—inhibited themselves for delicadeza. The lone dissenter was Conchita Carpio Morales, who retired a month later and whom Mr. Aquino promptly appointed as ombudsman.

The Court decision against the Truth Commission wasn’t unanimous, but still a decisive majority, which means Corona’s vote wasn’t a swing one.  Why should Aquino blame him?

Sen. Franklin Drilon earlier became the President’s herald when he issued last Nov. 28 a press release entitled: “Corona voted in favor of Arroyo in all 19 cases brought before the Supreme Court.”  Mr. Aquino’s propagandists have mindlessly repeated that line, which uses the formula Goebbels invented: a big lie repeated again and again—like Drilon’s statement—will seem true.

Drilon claims that Corona has had a “consistent voting pattern favoring the Arroyo government’s controversial policies.”  But these Supreme Court decisions were either unanimous decisions, or those in which only one to five justices dissented. Drilon is saying that Corona should have always voted with the minority, so he couldn’t be accused of being pro-Arroyo.

Check out the decisions at the high court’s website, and Drilon’s press release emerges as a masterpiece of deceit.  A few examples, as space doesn’t permit us to discuss all 19 allegations.

• Drilon alleges that in 2004 Corona favored Arroyo by voting as constitutional her Proclamation No. 427 which declared a state of rebellion in the wake of the 2003 Oakwood mutiny.  What he doesn’t mention: only one out of the 15 justices dissented.  Hilario Davide, then the chief justice, and his successor Artemio Panganiban voted for the proclamation.  Is Drilon saying that these two chief justices were Arroyo’s stooges? Drilon even forgets that Arroyo consulted him on that proclamation, when he was a supportive Senate president then.

• Drilon complains that in 2005, Corona voted to dismiss a petition by communist-affiliated groups to declare unconstitutional “Arroyo’s VAT reform act.”  But that was also a unanimous Court decision.  Drilon is saying that Corona is pro-Arroyo for voting for a law which he forgets he pushed for when he was Senate president.

• Drilon whines that in 2006, Corona voted to uphold Arroyo’s executive order that invoked executive privilege in congressional investigations. But the Court’s decision was unanimous, penned by Carpio-Morales.

At that time, she still had five years to retirement, compared to the one month she had left when he voted against Corona’s appointment.

Drilon even tries to get the anti-Marcos crowd to join the mob when he claims that Corona voted to favor Imelda’s brother Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez, “since his son is a known ally of Arroyo.”  I’m quite sure Philip Romualdez will angrily protest Drilon’s allegation.

In one case, Drilon just has his facts wrong:  he claims that “Corona concurred in the Court decision stopping Aquino from revoking the appointment of alleged midnight appointees made by Arroyo.” There is no such decision. There is only a status quo ante order, and only for one official. And even that order was agreed to by 12 justices, while three were on official leave.

Mr. Aquino and Drilon’s allegation of an “Arroyo Court” defies common sense: An unscrupulous justice would curry favor with a powerful, incumbent president who can give him or her a boon—like a job immediately after retirement—instead of with an ex-president who is powerless and being pursued by a mindless, savage mob.

“Occupy the Supreme Court”?  Try occupying your minds with sobriety and reason instead.