COMMENTARY: Justice, Japar and Moros

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 07 December) — The first time I read that Court of Appeals Associate Justice Japar Dimaampao, was among the shortlisted applicants for a seat in Supreme Court, a feeling of excitement and pride. He is a Moro, a fellow Maranaw, a professor I admire, an intellectual giant for me. And I see bright hope from the comments of my Moro friends posting on Facebook. It was like shouting for joy that Pilipinas Gilas Basketball team had just been qualified for a FIBA cup or Olympics. Or like a Miss Universe Filipina contestant being selected among the top ten or top five finalists. Like we have been so deprived to be in the world stage of recognition.

But this is different. To many, this is about selecting better justices and advancing justice. But for me and for us Moros, this is mostly about having a Moro space in the highest halls of justice and about a long-awaited dream and hope of a minority having a chance to be appointed because decades have made us think and believe that there is always no chance. Now, a glimmer of hope in the administration of the first Mindanawon President, who has the discretion to appoint anyone nominated by the Judicial Bar Council (JBC).

The last Moro appointed as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court was Justice Abdulwahid Bidin. He was appointed in January 1987 during the post-EDSA Revolution. After 29 years since his last day in the highest court, no Moro-Muslim has ever been appointed as Justice. Maybe no Moro had ever dared to apply because JBC then was not completely liberated from partisan and political lobby. Since the creation of the Commonwealth government up to the first and third republic of the Philippines, I have not heard of any Moro Justice.

Under the Constitution, JBC must make sure that a nominee for Justice has proven competence, integrity, probity and independence. I believe JBC members have done well in its job of nominating list of the best and most qualified. And with this, any name from the shortlist that will be chosen and finally appointed by the President will be fine because each nominee is more or less deemed the best and most fit for the seat.

Choosing a Moro Justice in this country is akin to choosing and electing a Muslim Moro in the Senate. It is like an impossible dream. For the act of choosing is a political act. Since the post Edsa revolution and Cory Aquino administration, no Moro has ever been elected to senate after three decades. I blame this not only on the cultural and economic causes but also on the unfair political structure of the institutions created by the 1987 constitution. We cannot elect a Moro senator even if we Moros unitedly vote for one. There is really something wrong in the representation of our voice regarding all the issues affecting us not just as minority but also as citizens of this country. Federalism is still a contentious but timely issue. We leave this advocacy to our new father “Digong” to resolve the peace problem in the south.

Sometimes, I would tell myself that Japar must be grateful enough for he is the only Moro among the 69 incumbent Court of Appeals Justices, according to the court’s website. This is a lone man having the privilege and duty to interpret the law of the majority legislated and enacted by the non-Moro majority-filled Congress.

My friend tells me that our President belongs to Lex Taliones fraternity and most likey will appoint one of their own brods, just like other cabinet and important positions he entrusted to his own fraternity members. And other collegues of mine would joke that all appointments are being “Talionized.” Well, Digong has that sole prerogative to choose who he likes from among the nominees. That is his constitutional power.

But hope springs eternal. This is my unmoving belief and creed in life. I hope that someday, such appointment of Supreme Court justice can be depoliticized. And also “minoritized” so we can feel that we, the minority, are being recognized for our merits and hopes, and not taken for granted by the majority. (Maki T. Datu-Ramos, a History graduate from the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, was a former Public Attorney and legal officer of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and now an Assistant City Prosecutor of Makati City)