DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/12 December) — When the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional President Aquino’s Executive Order No. 1 creating the Truth Commission, many believed that politics largely influenced the ruling. Observers noted that the 10 justices who voted against the EO, including Chief Justice Renato Corona, were all appointed by former president Gloria M. Arroyo. Some legal luminaries even pointed out that the SC majority’s reason for junking Aquino’s first EO, that it violated the equal protection clause in the Constitution by focusing on the irregularities committed under Arroyo, appeared too flimsy, if not misused. In short, the SC stands accused of shielding the anomalous acts of the past administration from being scrutinized and the brains behind them from being eventually prosecuted.
Malacanang can still appeal the ruling. Call me a skeptic, but any motion for reconsideration is doomed given that the High Tribunal’s institutional ego may have been hurt by Aquino’s combative stance against the decision. His allies in Congress further fueled the situation by dangling a possible impeachment scenario against some, if not all, of the justices who did not favor the Truth Commission. It doesn’t matter now whether it is true or not that the majority actually voted [on the EO] as an act of gratitude to the former president who appointed them. Things between the judiciary and the executive could have become personal.
Both sides are currently taking stock of the implications of the aftermath of the decision on the ill-fated EO. The Palace initially took an offensive stance short of a declaration of war, making the halls of power rife with talks of impeaching the justices. Aquino, however, later took a step backward and told his House allies that a dialogue with the Court “within the bounds of law” is the wiser tack at this stage.
What possibly made Aquino stop and rethink his strategy? Was it the warning that bringing the executive to a collision course with the judiciary might create a constitutional crisis? Or was he just being realistic vis-à-vis the odds stacked against him?
Sober minds and those in the know have likely counseled him against relying too much on his clout as president and underestimating the strength of his adversaries especially those who stand to benefit most from the scrapping of EO 1. Arroyo herself has the resources to nip in the bud any impeachment complaint against Corona or other justices; in fact, even some pro-administration lawmakers might find her offer too tempting to resist.
If and when Aquino’s allies push an impeachment case but fail to obtain the numbers, it would create doubts on the real extent of his influence in the House which by tradition often toes the Palace line no matter how unpopular it may be. Such failure will inevitably shake the House leadership and may lead to realignments leading to a coup by lawmakers who wish to gain juicier concessions from the executive.
But even if an impeachment complaint finds its way to the Senate things would not necessarily promise to be rosy all the way for the administration. The debates and tensions inside and outside of the impeachment court, the Senate, will tell heavily on the fledgling government. Political energies that are better spent on attending to pressing economic and social problems would be wasted on highly partisan and divisive efforts. And, for the sake of argument, while it may be morally defensible to have the chief justice or any associate justice removed from the Court, the argument does not end there.
For, it might create a dangerous precedent which can be used by future presidents or members of Congress whenever their interests come in conflict with the sentiment of the judiciary. The shape of things to come between the different branches of government will be put at stake.
I’m no fan of Corona and other justices who were appointed by Arroyo. But there are issues that loom larger than getting rid of officials perceived to be obstacles to getting to the bottom of the anomalies committed under the previous administration. At this juncture, impeachment won’t be a cure. If the Aquino government is really serious in teaching grafters a hard lesson in good governance, all it needs to do is harness its resources and not blame its failure on the refusal of the Court to recognize the Truth Commission.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])