Can the SC survive the political fallout of their TRO?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2011-11-17
No matter how you cut it, the controversial TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) that was granted by the Supreme Court (SC) last Tuesday by a vote of 8 to 5, effectively allowing Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) and her husband Mike Arroyo to leave the country, transcends legal considerations. It has now played into the political reality of people of the Philippines versus Gloria and Mike Arroyo.

The perceived rush by SC Chief Justice Renato Corona to come home from abroad, the speed by which the SC eventually heard the merits of the case and issued the controversial TRO, the fact that all eight Justices voting in favor of granting the TRO were GMA appointees — all these put the High Court in a big very bad light.

While it’s said that the SC is ‘apolitical’ and should be purely engaged in what are legal issues brought before it, it cannot be denied that the SC also has to retain public acceptance and approval. To be perceived by the public as ‘partial to GMA or Mike Arroyo’ in a period where there is a big demand for closure to all the GMA and Mike Arroyo issues — puts the SC in a vulnerable position.

Senator Kiko Pangilinan best described the fix that the SC now finds itself in. He said: “For the sake of the credibility and image of the Supreme Court, I hope that their decision and the safeguards they have put in place will be sufficient to ensure the Arroyos return because if they do not, then the Supreme Court must be ready to take the flak from a public disgusted with abuse and corruption in government.”

In trying to immediately leave the country just hours after the SC TRO was announced, the Arroyos deepened public perception that they’re running away from their cases. All over social media, many saw this as an indication of a perceived ‘collusion’ between the Arroyos and the eight Justices who voted to grant the TRO. Seen by many as ‘always siding with the Arroyos’ — the SC will then be perceived as an accomplice to their escape.

The SC may lay claim to being the ultimate arbiter in legal issues but it must realize that the SC holds no such powers in the Court of Public Opinion. In the Court of Public Opinion, Chief Justice Rene Corona and the seven others who voted to grant the TRO are mere public servants under the scrutiny of Juan de la Cruz. If the Arroyos, as suspected by many, decide not to return, the eight Justices who voted to grant the TRO will be held accountable. If the administration opts to file impeachment cases against the eight Justices who allowed the Arroyos to leave, then that could not have been done under more favorable political conditions.

With the way public opinion has been playing in this issue, it’s clear that legal arguments will not decide it in the Court of Public Opinion — especially in a situation when there are GMA SC appointees involved. The SC should realize that they have staked their reputation, unwittingly perhaps, on a couple that is greatly distrusted by Filipinos.

All those Senate hearings about the PNP helicopter scam, the 2007 Elections cheating in Muslim Mindanao and the DBP loans to Roberto Ongpin have deepened negative public perception of the Arroyos. At the same time, with new credible witnesses testifying to all these issues against the Arroyos, the public demand for closure has been intensified. This could be a political perfect storm that will confront the SC.

When push comes to shove — that means the administration opts to play hardball — the seven who voted with Chief Justice Rene Corona will be caught in a lopsided contest. The impeachment of former Ombudsman Merci Gutierrez showed the administration numbers in the House of Representatives. The same defenders of Merci during her impeachment cannot hope to do better in an impeachment against the eight SC Justices. Merci’s fault was inaction. The issue against the eight SC Justices will be bad action.

The SC cannot afford to see this as purely a legal debate. It’s a public debate and in this public debate, they are the ones who are under question and need to prove their case credibly. The SC must understand that of the 15 million who voted for President Noynoy Aquino (P-Noy) during the 2010 Presidential Election, many were primed by the national clamor to eradicate corruption.

GMA is now being lined up by the nation to account for the climate of impunity that characterized her regime. Prosecuting the case against GMA is an administration that is largely perceived as honest and sincere. This accounts for the lopsided comments on text messages sent to radio and TV polls as well as entries on social media favoring the P-Noy administration despite all the legal arguments that have been stated and all that appeal to emotion that GMA’s spokesperson and lawyers have been doing. 

Kindness and pity cannot be expected from a nation that believes they have been abused, cheated and grossly misgoverned. In such a public frame of mind, the demand for justice and closure will dominate.

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  Previous Columns:

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Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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