Author’s note: I was in the middle of writing this piece last Monday, December 12, when a bolt from the blue hit Renato Corona, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Within minutes, the news rippled across media. In record-breaking time, members of the Lower House lined up in Andaya Hall and signed articles of impeachment that would bring the chief magistrate to a Senate trial on charges of betrayal of public trust, culpable violation of the Constitution, and graft and corruption. The entire process took only four hours, from issuance of the impeachment complaint to the signing of the 188th member.
Most political watchers were of course expecting President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and his Congress allies to impeach Corona. But many, including I, were surprised at the utter swiftness of the attack. I didn’t pity the guy; he truly deserved more than a slap on the wrist for being one of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s key legal warriors from way back. But I wasn’t impressed with the substance of the impeachment move either.
The cynical side of me prevailed. My first reaction was, “How many of the signatories who want Corona punished now for being pro-GMA were among those who, in 2005-2008, were pro-GMA themselves and had actively blocked impeachment moves against her?” One of the names that came to mind was assistant majority floor leader Neptali Gonzales II, who also held a similar post under Gloria and figured prominently in the pro-GMA bloc.
My next reflex impulse was to compare the list of those members of the HOR (my favorite acronym for the House of Representatives) who voted for Corona’s impeachment in 2011 with the list of HOR members who voted to protect GMA against impeachment in 2008, for example.
I wanted to reangle and rewrite my blog piece along these lines. But having no luxury of time and particularly liking my original angle, I decided to keep it as is, with minor tweaks here and there. I think it remains relevant this late in the week.
In the SunStar issue today (Monday, 12 December 2011), an article entitled “Senator: Supreme Court ‘destabilized’ self” cited Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan—who has been lately critical of Corona and the Supreme Court—as saying that the high court has nobody to blame but itself for its lack of credibility and vulnerability to impeachment.
“Their highly questionable rulings have taken its toll on the image and reputation of the court,” Pangilinan said. “Who recalled the FASAP (Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines) ruling that was already final and executory? Who flip-flopped five times in the case involving the League of Cities and flip-flopped as well in the Dinagat case? Who issued a restraining order against the House of Representatives even if the justices had been unable to read the decision? Who absolved their own of plagiarism and threatened those who stood up against plagiarism?” he added.
True, true. The SC really did issue some questionable decisions that particularly helped GMA protect her flanks against attack, apart from repeated flip-flops on other issues that greatly undermined its credibility. But I have a hard time condemning the SC as an institutional whole purely on that basis, and I cannot imagine how removing Chief Justice Corona through impeachment would solve the problem. After all, he is just one member of a collegial whole. I would rather look at how the individual justices voted, then dissect and criticize their concurring or dissenting opinions as needed, study the historical trend of SC jurisprudence, educate the public on how the law should be better formulated, interpreted and implemented, and perhaps even come up with a coherent agenda on judicial and constitutional reform.
Deep in my mind, I know of course that the SC as a body cannot insulated from politics, if only because certain political axioms are embedded in its entire jurisprudence. Its individual justices also find it difficult to transcend certain underlying premises and biases, which manifest as a sense of loyalty to or accommodation with the appointing power, the current ruling regime, or some old-boy club or powerful business lobby. There are also the insidious effects of graft and corruption, to which disease the judiciary is not immune.
Yet, somehow I hold on to a core set of presumptions telling me that, given the omnipotence of partisan politics and corruption throughout the bureaucracy, the high court remains among the least eroded by it. Perhaps this trust is based on the common public expectation that a collegial body of veteran judges, with neither the power of the purse nor force of arms, will have to rely mostly on the moral strength of its juridical issuances for them to be accepted.
I may be right, or I may be wrong. But my point is that, if we are to go into fault-finding mode on what is wrong with our political system, the defects of the SC and the rest of the judiciary would rank between #8 and #10 in my list. The combined defects of the Executive and Legislative branches would fill up #1 to #7. (These are just rough ball-park estimates, mind you, which I can explain in detail later.)
These combined defects have produced a Palace bureaucracy and two houses of Congress whose own monumental sins of commission and omission are there, on the record, for all of us to remember—except maybe some who conveniently suffer from political amnesia and ADHD. As far as I’m concerned, the SC has all the right to play the role of the pot. It can look at its two co-equal kettles, call them black, and I won’t complain.
Thus I can turn Kiko Pangilinan’s anti-SC tirade upside down and direct similar questions to both houses of Congress:
Who reneged on their promise to pass the FOI bill? Who failed to act on other urgent measures such as the RH bill, the Anti-Trust bill, and key amendments to EPIRA and the BOT law? Who continues to play blind with the long-standing workers’ demand for a P125-across-the-board legislated wage increase? Who approved budget cuts on funds for state colleges and universities? Who continually resisted efforts to lower the automatic appropriation levels for the country’s debt service?
Also, since the core membership of the 15th HOR isn’t too different from that of the 14th HOR, we might as well add the most brazen sin of the earlier legislative body: Who received “special gifts” so that repeated moves to impeach GMA from 2005 to 2008 would be blocked four times at the Lower House? How many of them profess nowadays to be anti-GMA and pro-Noynoy?
Which brings me to the whys and wherefores of the title of this piece: “Kiko has no K.”
For readers who are not updated about Filipino idiom, may I explain that walang K (“no K”) means walang karapatan, usually in the context of walang moral na karapatang magsalita (“no moral right to speak”).
And for those who are not updated about Filipino politics, may I remind that it was then Senate Majority Floor Leader Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan who led, as co-chairman of the Joint Congress Canvassing Board, in steamrolling the proclamation of GMA as the winning candidate in the highly-controversial 2004 presidential elections. Kiko used his position, as exemplified by his famous “Noted!” remarks, to sidestep each and every move of the opposing camp of candidate Fernando Poe Jr.
Kiko has been doing his best to shed his “Mr. Noted” reputation, by taking every occasion not only to express his support for GMA’s prosecution but also to express his contempt for the pro-GMA high court and his support for Corona’s ouster.
Why am I singling out Kiko? It’s not for any outstanding political or personal reason, although his “Mr. Noted” role rankles as one of the most brazen post-Marcos exercises of narrow partisanship. I’m singling him out because he is personable, intelligent, believable, and politically sensitive. Many of the 188 signatories are like him—personable, intelligent, believable, and politically sensitive—like a weathervane.
I don’t know if the Senate weathervane has been amply oiled as the Lower House’s. I can’t predict how it will move in the coming weeks. But move like a weathervane it will. I can almost see Bongbong Marcos, Jinggoy Estrada, and the rest of the weathervane guys nod their heads to Erap’s trademark comment, “Weather-weather lang iyan.” It would also be nice to watch the likes of ex-fugitives Gringo Honasan and Ping Lacson sit smugly like kettles in their crimson robes smirking at the pot in his black robe.
So there. I hope you agree. Kiko and his ilk have no K.
Do I sound like I’m defending Corona? No, I’m as critical of him as many other Filipinos who have witnessed how the cunning Arroyo clique operated in its heyday in power. But, like I said, he is just one in a collegial body of fifteen. Clearly, the attack on him is an attack on other justices of the Supreme Court.
So am I defending the Supreme Court? No. Traditionally, among the three co-equal branches of government it has often played the role of the last bastion of civil liberties. Again, I admit that I’m somewhat biased in favor of the SC. But the high court can well defend itself, and will probably have no further need of this humble writer’s services.
Nevertheless, let me tell you now straight from the shoulder:
If I were a member of the Lower House, I would have found other ways to seek justice for the Arroyo regime’s many wrongdoings against the people. I would have stood up to explain why the Corona impeachment will not deliver what the Aquino leadership promises to bring about, but what the Aquino leadership is obviously lusting for.
If I were a member of the Lower House, I would not have signed the Corona impeachment articles, for a very simple reason: if Corona were ousted at this time, I greatly fear it would lead to a pro-Aquino Supreme Court, in addition to an already pro-Aquino Congress. Regardless of Palace assurances, a pro-Aquino high court would greatly skew the present political balance and trigger a gradual slide down the slippery slope of constitutional authoritarianism.
How I wish to be proven wrong and not to have to say later, “We told you so.” #