MANILA, Philippines – What impeachment break and no comment policy?
President Benigno Aquino III criticized Chief Justice Renato Corona anew despite the break in the impeachment trial. The President did so even if he said last month that he will stop commenting on the case.
In a speech during the Centro Escolar University (CEU) commencement exercises in Manila, Aquino again attacked Corona’s alleged midnight appointment. The President also alluded to him as he spoke about excesses in the judiciary.
“Meron pa rin pong talagang mga nasa hudikatura na ang turing nila sa kanilang sarili ay sila ang batas. Kung ano ang gusto mo, sumang-ayon ka na lang kasi hindi sila pwede punahin.” (There are still people in the judiciary who treat themselves as if they are the law. Whatever you want, just agree with them because they cannot be criticized.)
Aquino added, “Kung umasta sila para bang kontrolado nila ang timbangan ng katarungan. Kaya maging ang Konstitusyon para bang laruan lang na pwede nilang palitan, pwede nilang bawasan, pwede nilang ibahin at pwede nilang baliktarin.” (They act as if they control the scales of justice. Even the Constitution, it’s as if they can just play with it, change it, and turn it around.)
Aquino said it was clear that the Constitution prohibits appointments two months before the presidential elections but Corona was appointed Chief Justice a week after the 2010 polls.
Corona’s alleged midnight appointment was included in the impeachment complaint but it was among the articles that the prosecution eventually dropped.
The President delivered the speech after the CEU conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa. He spoke before an audience that included Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Commission on Higher Education chairperson Patricia Licuanan, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority Director General Joel Villanueva, and graduates.
The impeachment trial is on break and will resume on May 7.
‘Complicating the simple’
In his speech, Aquino also lamented what he called the slow and sorry state of justice in the Philippines.
He said that at the root of the problem was the tendency of some judges and lawyers to stick to technicalities instead of adhering to the spirit of the law.
“Sometimes, I wonder if law school teaches students how to delay a case. It seems it’s a competition and the minimum is 6 years adjudication before you qualify for their contest,” he said in Filipino.
Aquino said he asked one of his colleagues in the Senate, “How come when you lawyers speak, you complicate the simple?”
The unnamed colleague replied in jest, “If our discussions here are so simple then maybe we lawyers will lose our job.”
‘Questionable SC rulings’
Aquino cited cases where courts supposedly issued questionable decisions or failed to comply with deadlines the Constitution set for the resolution of cases.
He said an example was Bai Omera Lucman of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos. The Supreme Court issued a status quo ante order, allowing her to stay in office even if she was reportedly a midnight appointee.
“Her term already ended but the Supreme Court has not yet held hearings. When it tries her case, justices will likely say it’s moot and academic,” said Aquino.
Aquino said the Supreme Court decision on the creation of districts was also confusing. He again hit the high court for allowing the creation of a new district in Camarines Sur even if it failed to meet the population requirement set by law.
“What is really their basis [for creating districts]? Does it depend on population as set in the Constitution or is it based on the personal interpretations of the justices?”
Aside from Supreme Court decisions, Aquino also questioned some rulings of the Court of Appeals and Regional Trial Courts.
For instance, he said the Manila Regional Trial Court nullified a fact-finding committee in charge of investigating dismissed National Bureau of Investigation Director Magtanggol Gatdula.
Gatdula was sacked over allegations he was involved in the kidnapping of a Japanese citizen.
‘World Bank will think twice’
Aquino also brought up the World Bank aide memoire to the Supreme Court.
In December 2011, the World Bank asked the tribunal to return US$199,000 (P8.6-M) in ineligible funds. The money was supposedly spent on activities and projects not covered by a loan agreement for the Judicial Reform Support Project.
“Dahil dito, malamang magdadalawang-isip na iyan na muling mag-abot ng tulong sa atin. Sino ho ba ang hindi malukungkot? Tinutulungan ka na, sinayang mo pa.” (Because of this, the World Bank will likely think twice about extending help to us. Who will not be sad? They are already helping you but you wasted it.)
Supreme Court Spokesperson Midas Marquez has denied irregularities in the use of the fund. He also criticized the leak of the report at the start of Corona’s impeachment trial.
‘People can take back power’
Aquino said his administration is working on judicial reforms. He said this will not just expedite the administration of justice but also change the mindset of employees of the judiciary.
“I have no intention of destroying the credibility of the judiciary. I still believe there are many judges, lawyers and clerks of court who are honest, principled and side with the truth.”
Aquino repeated the theme of his past speeches that public officials must realize that their power comes from the people.
“They do not expect anything from public servants but to do the right thing and to fulfill their sworn duty. This comes with the understanding that when officials do wrong, the people also have the power to take back the authority borrowed from the public.” – Rappler.com