The oral arguments held the other day, during which the Chief Justice was directed by her colleagues to appear and testify personally, was very eye-opening… in a very disturbing way.
Foremost because the spectacle showed exactly why it is unprecedented.
It is unprecedented because it is highly doubtful that the Framers of our Constitution intended a proceeding that is difficult to consider as wholly impartial – during which where personal interests, grudges, animosities, uncomfortable professional dynamics and histories boiled up to the surface – would be the means by which a member of the Supreme Court can be ousted by her colleagues.
It is unprecedented because it would take a really shameless Solicitor General to even attempt to pit the members of the Supreme Court against each other through a move that would give him, and the interests he represents, an undue upper hand in all future business he has before the Court.
The Supreme Court – or 14 of the members – is being asked to exercise jurisdiction and to function as a trier of facts over which an issue which, if a sufficient number of them (i.e., just 8, at least) so decide to oust the Chief Justice, there would be no other forum for further appeals or redress through another reviewing body because, being the court of last resort, there is no other court that can tell the SC that it ruled unwisely or abused its power. It will thus function as both a court of first and last resort.
Therefore, 8 or more members, none of whom were elected by the Filipino, might just do the unthinkable and undo what a constitutionally mandated body, the JBC, and an elected official, the President, had done, in a proceeding where those involved in the selection and appointment process are not even impleaded.
That is a prospect that is so prone to abuse that it is terrifying to imagine.
These are just the theoretical problems. The reality, as it unfolded the other day, is even more disturbing.
The Chief Justice was basically put on the witness stand and forced to answer questions from colleagues with whom she has a personal and, apparently as to some, less than easygoing relationship – something that is not unexpected given that their mandate as an institution and as individual members of the Court mean that they are expected to butt heads, when necessary, over critical legal issues.
The proceedings, especially those involving the CJ’s personal testimony, uncomfortably seemed like an interrogation, during which her counsels were verbally and directly berated for conferring with her because it annoyed some justices, under a situation where it isn’t even clear if her counsels were allowed to object to certain lines of questioning. Not even those charged with the most heinous of crimes under our current criminal justice system has been subjected to such an unstructured, for lack of a better word, interrogation.
Add to this the fact that the manner and substance of the questioning of some members of the Court, some even making not-so-subtle personal digs at the CJ that seemed irrelevant to the issue at hand, seemed to manifest deeply held resentments, if not outright contempt, for the CJ that, to an onlooker, seemed to negate their possession of the cold impartiality of an unbiased judge.
In fact, if this were a real jury, it may very well be that many of them would already be disqualified, not the least because some of them were, at some point, her rivals to the post she now holds. In fact, to a spectator, it would seem that some of the statements and qualifications that were made appeared to be laying the foundation for distinguishing their own case (i.e., as to the sufficiency of their submitted requirements) from that of the CJ.
The nightmarish surreality of what could happen to our judicial system is beyond comprehension.
It’s almost as disturbing as realizing that we have a SolGen who can’t even explain, in his own words, his understanding of what “integrity” means.
I remain hopeful that the proceedings the other day is not necessarily an indication of how the justices and, thus, the SC, will eventually rule.
All members of the Court still have the opportunity to prove that they have the self-awareness to recognize their own inclinations, susceptibilities and personal feelings, and the courage to set them aside and surrender their own hubris in order to protect the independence of the Judiciary and be the champions of the Rule of Law. They still have the chance to rise to the challenge of proving themselves to be the sober, impartial arbiters of fairness and justice that they are mandated to be, and that the nation needs them to be.
It is perhaps poetic that the core issue is not even the SALN, but the possession of integrity.
In this case, it is not just the CJ’s integrity that is being put to the test.
I am hopeful that they – each of them as individuals and collective as an institution – will prove themselves as having that all-important qualification. ###