THE LEGAL FRONT
As current developments show, our May 2022 elections may yet leave us a very undesirable legacy – the demise of our party system as we have traditionally known it. This demise, resulting in a dominant and unchallenged single party in the country, shall happen if our multi-party system disappears and a strongman and his party end up solely ruling the country. This has happened in China where only one party, the communist party, governs without significant opposition.
This consequence – a marked deviation from our original constitutional design – can transpire even in a supposedly free country like ours. Without a functioning opposition that can fiscalize and counterbalance the majority and their policies, the legislature would effectively be dead or dying, a useless sinkhole of taxpayer expenses. At the same time, the implementation of laws by the executive would be left unchecked, to the prejudice of the governed.
Will these fears come to pass? Much will depend on two contingencies. The first depends on our people’s electoral decision. To avoid this feared situation, we must elect a leader who would fight to uphold a democratic and constitutional system of government.
In the May 2022 elections, our people must clearly show their preference for a leader who will encourage and support a democratic system in whose name and under whose protection they can effectively participate and be heard in government. Our ideal is a government with three (tripartite) co-equal branches, each one effectively balancing the others, and a properly enforced Bill of Rights that protects citizens from government excesses.
Whether an ideal constitutional situation can still result, despite the presence of a strongman and the lack of a viable political opposition, will depend on the continued capability of a strong (though unelected) Supreme Court to defend and uphold the Constitution and citizens’ rights. The Court’s strength will largely depend on the caliber of our justices, their integrity, the rectitude of their belief system (particularly those of the Chief Justice and the 14 Associate justices), and the popular support they can generate.
Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo and many members of the Court are still relatively new; we have yet to definitely see the kind of justice and the defense of the Constitution that they will fight for. Thus, an assessment of SC strength at this point is premature. In the next five years, much will depend on the Chief Justice’s leadership and the kind and quality of support he will get from the members of the Court and from the people.
The recent appointment to the Court of Associate Justice Midas Marquez is a positive and welcome development as Justice Marquez comes with very inspiring credentials. His judicial career developed under the mentorship of past justices known for their integrity, decency and constitutional values. Starting with Justice Abraham Sarmiento (in whose office he started as an legal apprentice while still in law school), he proceeded to serve In the offices of J. Amuerfina Melencio-Herrera, J. Josue Bellosillo, and Chief Justice Reynato Puno. He became SET Secretary, SC Spokesman, Asst. Court Administrator, Deputy Court Administrator, and eventually, Court Administrator for 11 years.
He thus has the constitutional pedigree and the institutional memory that imprinted in him hard-to-erase decency and constitutional values. Interestingly, he is likewise one justice who is financially comfortable in his own right, albeit as an heir. (Some of his paintings, inherited from the collection of an uncle who founded Pascual Laboratories, are on display, on loan, at the national museum of Singapore).
Thus, for Justice Marquez, self-serving corruption should not be a live concern; only his courage and strength of conviction remain to be tested. Neither should bias be feared; it took him 13 attempts to get his SC appointment because of opposition from influential leaders whom he had apparently displeased. To his additional credit is his legal scholarship; he currently stands as an author or co-author of various legal publications, and is a seasoned law school lecturer. We should give the Judicial and Bar Council, President Duterte and Chief Justice Gesmundo credit for choosing him.
Two more SC positions will soon be vacated for appointment by President Duterte before his term ends. Justice Marquez + the two coming replacements + the no-nonsense Justices now in the Court, should be enough to provide Chief Justice Gesmundo the support he needs to protect constitutional and people-oriented values during his term, particularly during the run up to the May 2022 elections. In this role, the Supreme Court stands as the glimmer of hope for people who are pining for the preservation of democratic and constitutional values in our country.
As I did in my last column in looking at the effectiveness of parties and candidates, citizens should similarly judge the Court from the perspective of our existing problems, and monitor how the SC shall contribute to their solutions. People should particularly look at the Court’s rulings touching on:
• Our WPS sovereignty and China problem;
• Corruption and cronyism, and how the Court’s rulings may abet the perpetuation of these kinds of problems;
• Abuse of power and the underlying grave abuse of discretion by government powerholders;
• Our economy, labor, employment, and the balancing of interests between the elites and our common citizens, while being alert to rulings affecting our national debt, the national budget and government spending;
• Human rights and drug related violations, and the widespread poverty and pervasive social inequity that have spawned these violations;
• The continuing depletion of our natural resources; our deteriorating climate and the environment situation that now threatens to metamorphose into a food problem for our continually swelling population.
Let us hope that President Duterte shall appointment justices of the same caliber and qualifications as Justice Midas P. Marquez, not only in the SC but judiciary-wide.