SC reigns supreme

SC reigns supreme

The brewing imbroglio over whether or not the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain that would, in effect, create a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity as a state within a state has finally come to a close with the Supreme Court voting 8-7 against the Palace, or so it was. This decision of October 14, 2008 may very well be a milestone in legal history where the Highest Tribunal appears to have overcome the imprimatur (euphemism for intimidation) set forth by Malacanang through earlier official pronouncement from Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and more so of the presidential adviser on the peace process himself.

At that voting configuration, one can still believe, beyond the legalese, that the action of the Supreme Court is still slightly offensive of a prevailing moral worldview. Serious observers of trends awaited this decision as a test of the independence of the judiciary, in this case, the Supreme Court itself from any degree of political influence. And therefore, apparently the High Tribunal has passed the litmus test. If the Supreme Court could have voted otherwise, not few quarters would have mourned the death of justice in this country. In the manner it has decided in the case, it appears that this branch of government has invoked its full independence.

Central to the theme is really the matter on whether executive privilege could have been invoked, as it was apparently invoked owing to the circumstances surrounding the crafting of the MOA-AD and negotiations undertaken with the MILF that had been hidden from public view. Thus, weighed against the right of the public for general information on matters that affect, say 700 barangays in Muslim Mindanao, the Court has opined thus, that – “The furtive process by which the MOA-AD was designed and crafted runs contrary to and in excess of the legal authority, and amounts to a whimsical, capricious, oppressive, arbitrary and despotic exercise thereof. It illustrates a gross evasion of a positive duty and a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined”

Certainly, the finer points of the decision itself are for legal scholars and practitioners to review or for Members of Congress to look into in aid of legislation. Suffice for us to know that the Supreme Court, as we should have expected, decided in the manner it did, declaring as unconstitutional the MOA-AD. It provided soothing comfort to the tendency of the present dispensation to approach matters of grave societal concern via this vicious ‘violate now, validate later’. It sets dangerous precedent. With our national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic having been defended against such dubious agreement or compromise, this comeuppance ought to usher well for RP’s realpolitik in the international scene. Not remotely, the image of the bench has been raised some notches higher in the bar of public opinion.

With this development, let it serve public notice that from hereon, no one official or officials in the Executive Department should even tinker with the Constitution which should be preserved for all time. There is reason to believe that the image of all other courts lower than the High Tribunal should regain the high trust ratings they deserve. It is time to trust the judicial branch of government in an institutional if normative scheme of check and balance as well as separation of powers in the three co-equal branches of government.

There is even further reason to hope that cases will not be decided based on patronage politics. For now, people ought to be consulted on matters that affect them, directly or indirectly. Absent this democratic criterion, any agreement, compromise, or law that will be erected may be deemed unconstitutional. The decision of the High Tribunal shall serve as a lamp post to guide other agencies of government, officials and personages within the ambit of authority and power as they go about their official functions and mandate.

Viewed within the periphery, there are still some crucial cases to be decided upon by the High Court. Again, how it will decide on these cases will be cast in the realm of public opinion. Nothing can seem to be hidden from public view owing to the sensitivity and the social consequences of any given judicial question. As the final arbiter of all questions judicial in nature, the position as would be embraced by the Supreme Court via a scheme of majority rule – ought only to be respected. This is how democracy works.

The perceived paralyzing effect of too much politics, too much patronage – thought to have even infected the judiciary – is proven wrong with this 14 October decision. In the end, there cannot be an independent Muslim state, a separate justice system, a separate police force. There cannot be a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity. To do so, would be tantamount to judicial overstretching, or so I think. God bless RP that subsequent decisions will have to be decided according to prescribed norms of law as well as of the higher dictates of conscience. Now we can be sure, it is not easy to put square pegs in round holes as Malacanang through the actuation of some of its officials in government appear to indicate. More power to the High Court!