Defending the 14

I WAS struck by the perfectly sober and sensible call made during the last “Red Monday” protest at the Supreme Court, which united judges and court workers of all levels on the issue of the removal of Maria Lourdes Sereno as chief justice recently. The “One Supreme Court” demonstrators came out in strident defense of the entire institution, instead of falling for the easy temptation of making the usual divisive partisan rantings for or against the Sereno decision.

Pointedly, the protesters defended all 14 justices who deliberated on Sereno’s quo warranto case, instead of siding with just the eight members who rendered the majority ruling or the six who dissented. Their protest emphasized the importance of letting the high court fulfill its mandate of deciding matters of law and constitutionality, which is its sole prerogative.

Defending the 14

I WAS struck by the perfectly sober and sensible call made during the last “Red Monday” protest at the Supreme Court, which united judges and court workers of all levels on the issue of the removal of Maria Lourdes Sereno as chief justice recently.

“The interpretation and application of the Constitution, laws and rules exclusively belong to the Supreme Court,” said the group. “Not to the Executive Department. Not to Congress. Not to media. Not to the practicing lawyers and law students. Not to the clergy. Not even to the people.”

To the protesting members of the Supreme Court Employees Association, the Philippine Judges Association, the Supreme Court Association of Lawyer Employees and the Philippine Association of Court Employees, the real definition of “rule of law” and “judicial independence,” at their most basic and essential, entailed accepting the court’s decision. According to the groups, in their joint statement read during the rally:

“We believe that our 14 justices were able to demonstrate their freedom to decide and vote, either for the majority or minority. The existence of the six dissenting opinions only showed that the overall decision of the high court went through deep and extensive discussion and process.

“The justices of the court must be free to decide impartially, in accordance with the proven facts and the applicable law, inspired conscience, without regard to what the people may desire, and without fear of reprisal, intimidation, threats of impeachment, corrupting influence of political groups and other unworthy motives. This is the real essence of judicial independence.

“We respect the freedom of speech of everyone, but all of this has its limits. It does not include threatening, disrespecting and shaming of justices and efforts to weaken the whole of the Supreme Court. We will fight those who will try to divide or weaken it,” they said.

The pro-Sereno camp may argue that the judges and court workers are violently against the ousted chief justice and would probably be singing a different tune, if the court had decided in their favor. But all of that is speculative; what is important is that the members of the judiciary are asserting their right to be independent and protesting the undue and consistent efforts to attack the high court by pressuring the justices to review or revise their decision.

That is definitely a consummation devoutly to be wished, as the Bard wrote. Because unless the pro-Sereno side can prove that anyone other than the court has the power and the authority to remove a chief justice using the rules set down in the Constitution itself and as interpreted by the justices themselves, then the tribunal should be left alone to do its work.

And so far, none of the partisans of Sereno has made a strong case for taking away this power and authority from the court. All we’ve heard are demands for the tribunal to reverse itself, based on grounds that have little to do with the 1987 Constitution – and that have everything to do with the anti-administration politics that Sereno supposedly represents.

In the end, the ouster of Sereno became a political football, instead of a legal, disciplinary and administrative matter that should have been settled purely inside the court itself. Which is what all the 14 justices, including those who dissented, did.

I, too, find the participation of the dissenting justices significant because if these six did not believe that the case was theirs exclusively to decide, they would not have participated in the process to begin with. In other words, if the dissenting justices accepted that only Congress should deliberate and rule on Sereno’s case, they would have said so and not have joined in the deliberations.

But they didn’t. And all the other Sereno boosters who thought they would get a majority of the court to keep her as the country’s highest judge cannot now claim that the tribunal is not the proper place to rule on the matter, simply because they lost.

And this is why the Red Monday protest is important. It asks all the parties who go before the Supreme Court to remember that by asking it to rule on a matter of constitutionality and law, there is actually a chance that the tribunal might not see it their way.

At the same time, they implicitly bind themselves to accepting whatever ruling the court may make because there is just no higher venue in the land. That is the implied and unbreakable agreement.

Of course, there are still those who think that only their interpretation of the law and the Charter is the correct one, even if they are not the Supreme Court. These are the same people whose politics are imbued with a sense of always knowing what is best for everyone else, regardless of the evidence, the laws and the sentiments of the majority, whose will should prevail in a nation that calls itself a democracy.

Unfortunately, these are the same people who claim that the rule of law, judicial independence and democracy itself are dead or are in dire danger of dying, simply because they cannot have their way. Luckily for us, these people are now definitely in the minority – and there is an excellent chance that they will stay that way for a long, long time.

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