I was stunned when I was copied the Supreme Court’s en banc resolution of August 1, 2006 (A.M. No. 06-7-16-SC (Re: Unsigned Letter of One Jose Tinio). The Supreme Court (SC) issued that en banc resolution to address this letter:
(Start of letter)
Dear Sir or Madam:
Macario Te of the Lucio Tan Group (Business Empire) is doing a “Macario Tell”. He goes around telling members of the Manila Golf Club that they don’t need to bribe judges of the RTC because their cases will all end at the Supreme Court where most of the Justices “receive” from them regular gifts like free First and Business class PAL tickets (which are of no cost to them since there are always vacant seats in all flights). Birthday gifts and Christmas gifts…not to mention a few are even on their payroll!
Te’s point is that nobody can “match” their budget for Justices. “Lahat ng justice may presyo,” (“All Justices have a price”) being his favorite expression.
Not surprisingly, he even names their “reliable” friends: Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, Justice Dante Tinga, Justice Cancio Garcia, Justice Minita Chico-Nazario and Justice Antonio Carpio, among others.
Whatever happened to our justice system…
1840 E Rodriguez Sr. Ave.
Cc: All Senators
Justices of the CA and SC
Office of the President
(End of letter)
I was particularly stunned by the fact that a revered institution like the Supreme Court had actually dignified a letter that was so obviously a fake. An investigation later confirmed there was no such Jose Tinio living in the claimed address. Likewise, Macario Te and two of the Justices named denied the assertions in the poison-pen letter.
Yet the SC opted to abandon the unwritten protocol for anonymous white papers like the one sent by Jose Tinio. As a media professional I had to ask why the High Court had given so much importance to the Jose Tinio white paper, giving it the attention of no less than an en banc resolution.
Under normal circumstances the SC response was highly irregular. But under our present-day abnormal circumstances, the SC resolution is better appreciated.
The questionable legitimacy of Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s to sit as president has unleashed clouds of doubt upon our institutions -- the military, the House of Representatives, to name some. Somehow, the Supreme Court and the Senate have managed to maintain their credibility as institutions. But in the light of new developments, the Supreme Court is an institution besieged -- an institution that is fighting to remain credible, the very foundation of its survival.
It is even more urgently necessary for the SC to uphold its independence and integrity given that 10 of its current 15 Justices are appointees of Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Considering her track record for appointing people on the basis of political exigency, it is most natural for the public to wonder if her 10 appointees are there to serve her interest first and the nation, incidentally.
Thus, most of us heaved a great sigh of relief when the Supreme Court made those landmark decisions on Calibrated Pre-emptive Response, PP 1017 and EO 464 -- decisions that dealt a major blow to the insidious attempt to impose a de facto martial rule in the country.
It is also in this light that forthcoming SC actions on ticklish issues will be closely scrutinized by the public. These issues will include the PCGG claim of immunity to senate investigations under EO 1, Charter Change through a People’s Initiative or a Constituent Assembly which excludes the participation of the Senate and the regime’s insistence to snub Senate hearings in relation to the earlier SC judgment on EO 464.
On the issue of Charter Change through a People’s Initiative, many sectors speculate that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) dismissed the submitted signatures of the People’s Initiative to pass on to the Supreme Court the responsibility of ruling in favor of the petitioners, the pro-government Sigaw ng Bayan Charter Change proponents. This conclusion is of course an offshoot of public skepticism over the capability of both the Comelec and the Supreme Court to act independently and contrary to the wishes of the Arroyo regime.
Another issue hovering over the SC is about the new law that allowed the SC and the Department of Justice (DoJ) to source part of their budget/funding requirements through increases in legal filing fees. Critics argue that this creates a legal divide where justice is served only to the haves who can afford to pay the higher filing fees.
Supreme Court Spokesman Ignacio “Nas” Khan clarifies this issue by saying that to ensure that the poor are not deprived of access to justice, the High Court has in fact eased the requirements for availing exemptions to the filing fees. Khan explained that by doing so the SC in effect has expanded the number of people who can now avail of the exemption to the filing fees.
Filing fee exemption was available before only to those who were classified as pauper litigants, those whose family monthly income does not exceed P4,000 in Metro Manila (P3,000 elsewhere in the country) and does not own real property with an assessed value of more than P50,000. Now, with the re-classification to indigent litigant, exemptions to SC filing fees are made available to those whose monthly income do not exceed double the applicable monthly minimum wage of an employee and does not own real property valued at more than P300,000.
However, Nas Khan’s clarification does not explain the reason for the increase in the filing fees of the DoJ where exemptions are not available.
In the July 2006 SWS Survey of Enterprises on Corruption, the Supreme Court ranked second only to local Church Leaders. Local Church Leaders rated +71% for sincerity in fighting corruption while the Supreme Court rated +40%.
Net Sincerity went from positive to negative in three cases: the Department of Justice (from +13 in 2005 to –20 in 2006, or a drop of 33 points), the Office of the President (from +10 to –15, down by 25), and the Presidential Commission on Good Government (from +5 to –13, down by 18). This drop in ratings is not surprising at all when one considers the controversies hounding these agencies.
More than the Senate, the Supreme Court is now the most vital institution that can avert disastrous possibilities from befalling the nation—martial law under a civilian despot or military takeover, rebellion or revolution or a civil war. The issues surrounding Charter Change are more than enough to plunge the country into civil war.
In fact, it is the Supreme Court that can restore the capability of the Senate to thwart the designs of our ‘would-be Caesars’ by settling once and for all the issue of executive presence in Senate hearings. In the history of Ancient Rome, the advent of the reign of the Caesars marked the end of the Senate of Rome and the Republic as well. The same conflict exists today in our republic.
It was on September 21, 1972 when this country was placed under martial law. Now, we are seeing the de facto imposition of martial law as press freedom is being suppressed through harassment via libel suit and outright murder, as murder also represses and curtails democratic space and as democratic institutions are being destroyed in the effort to perpetuate an illegal regime.
In 1972, the Supreme Court did nothing to challenge the imposition of martial law. Today, the hopes and fears of 84 million Filipinos rest on the shoulders and the patriotism of the fifteen Justices who sit in the Supreme Court.
You may email William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org