That terrible script of the defense worsened the SC's woes
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2012-02-14
The Supreme Court (SC) created its own nightmare when it issued that TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) that prevents indefinitely the opening of Chief Justice (CJ) Renato Corona’s dollar bank accounts with PSBank (Philippine Savings Bank). Had the Senate politely refused to obey the TRO — the SC merely demonstrated how toothless it is to enforce its own orders. The Senate impeachment court could opt though to act with diplomacy by asking the Solicitor General to appeal to the SC to reconsider its TRO.

Widely regarded as a desperate move based on a very bad script, the defense panel of the impeachment trial hurled wild accusations during a press conference last Sunday evening. Judging from the media questions, apparently the defense panel failed to sell their line, which was clearly intended to influence the Senate’s Monday caucus on the TRO. Many Senators felt insulted instead.

It’s the Executive Branch of government, under President Noynoy Aquino (P-Noy), that has the capability to enforce. As Commander in Chief, P-Noy commands both the military and the police forces. An alignment of the Executive and Legislative branches of government against the SC places the CJ and Associate Justices at a great disadvantage. The CJ and Associate Justices are not elected by the people but appointed by representatives of the people. With no real political base, unlike P-Noy and all the nationally elected Senators and District Representatives, the SC is easily isolated.

It isn’t surprising that there were two members of the clergy who immediately came to the aid of the SC after the TRO was announced. They were Fr. (Tito) Joaquin Bernas, SJ and Fr. Ranhilio Aquino of the San Beda Law School. The two of them were merely being consistent with their continued defense of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo - CJ Renato Corona embattled interests. Their being consulted by media despite their track records reinforced the perception of some quarters that certain media harbor a point of view that they want to promote even before the facts are gathered.

As Philippine laws have been patterned after American laws, it would be good to refer to the celebrated case of Federal District Judge Walter Nixon versus the United States, which is a similar legal conflict to that of our SC and Senate Impeachment Court now.

From the United States Supreme Court Media, we secured the following facts of the case: “Walter Nixon, a Federal District Judge, was convicted of a felony, making false statements to a grand jury. The House of Representatives voted three articles of impeachment; impeachment in the Senate followed. In accordance with Senate Rule XI, a Senate committee heard the evidence and reported its findings. The full Senate convicted Nixon and sought to remove him from office. Nixon challenged Senate Rule XI in Federal Court on the ground that the rule violated the impeachment clause of the Constitution, which declares, “the Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.” The lower courts deemed the issue non-justiciable and declined to intervene in the dispute.”

By a unanimous 9 - 0 decision, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of the United States. In a nutshell, the decision stood on Legal provision: Article 1, Section 3, Paragraph 6.

It stated: “A unanimous Court held that the question of whether or not the Senate rule violated the US Constitution was non-justiciable since the Impeachment clause expressly granted that the “Senate shall have sole Power to try any impeachments.” The clause laid out specific regulations that were to be followed and as long as those guidelines were observed the courts would not rule upon the validity of other Senate procedures regarding impeachments. Chief Justice William Rehnquist observed that while the Supreme Court was the “ultimate interpreter of the Constitution,” a matter would be deemed non-justiciable when there was “a constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department.”
What weakens the SC position in this issue is that it appears to be protecting its Chief Justice and has overlooked three exemptions in the past when the SC allowed the opening of foreign currency accounts. The SC should utilize the face saving mechanism of revoking its highly controversial TRO upon appeal by the Solicitor General.

The SC cannot realistically expect the Senate to yield its sole and exclusive mandate to try impeachment cases. That’s asking too much from a country that had already felt defiled by the midnight appointment of the CJ — a wrong declared as legal by more or less the same Associate Justices who voted to issue the TRO. This is reversing the mandate of a president by 15 million voters to pave DAANG MATUWID (Straight Path) and eradicate our culture of corruption.

When push comes to shove, the SC will find just how fragile its non-political character is. In case the SC Justices are not well grounded on what the masses are thinking when it comes to this impeachment trial — they should realize that they’re up against a highly trusted president in an issue the masses have long complained about, the double standard of justice in our country.

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  Previous Columns:

It had to happen on The Ides of March and Holy Week

Suggested guidelines for liability- free Internet posts

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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