Tuesday, November 25, 2008


With the rare opportunity of replacing almost half of the members of the Supreme Court next year, Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is under suspicion of manipulating the nomination process to ensure that only those who will support her in the High Court are appointed.

Those who take this view, former House Speaker Jose De Venecia in particular, have linked this to a possible move by the president to extend her term of office beyond 2010. In anticipation of a challenge before the Supreme Court of the move to amend the Constitution and consequently, the extension of the president's term of office, they believe President Macapagal-Arroyo will only appoint justices who will cast favorable votes for her.

Contrary to what MalacaƱang would like us to believe, that President Macapagal-Arroyo has no plan of staying in the presidency beyond 2010, De Venecia's words deserve to be taken seriously, after all he used to be one of the president's closest political allies. Although De Venecia does not have much credibility when it comes to decrying MalacaƱang, this one is probably one of those instances where he deserves credit. His close association with the president for a long time makes him one of the most credible persons to know how the president thinks.

Those who still doubt the enormity of the Supreme Court's power to shape a nation's political landscape need only look a few years back when President Macapagal-Arroyo was installed into power in 2001 at the height of EDSA II, after the impeachment proceedings against then Pres. Joseph "Erap" Estrada was prematurely terminated. In an unprecedented move, the Supreme Court issued an en banc resolution authorizing then Vice President Macapgal-Arroyo to be sworn into office as president. In effect, the Supreme Court legitimized the assumption to office of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo despite the absence of a formal petition challenging the legitimacy of Estrada's presidency before the High Court - a highly unusual move.

While the Supreme Court's action was viewed by many as proper and necessary in preventing the nation from sliding into political turmoil and chaos, many legal analysts also criticized the High Court for improperly embroiling itself into a political controversy and abandoning its constitutional role as an independent judical body that should be beyond the influence of public opinion.

In a very real sense, therefore, one could see how decisive a role the Supreme Court plays in the nation's political life. As the final arbiter of all legal controversies and the ultimate authority in declaring what is constitutionally proper, the Supreme Court is vested with very important powers in shaping the direction of the country with finality - economically and politcally - in a way that no other branches of the government can do. While congress has the sole power to legislate laws, the president may veto them and even if such veto is overriden, they remain open to challenges before the Supreme Court and could possibly be struck down for unconstitutionality. The president, on the other hand, may set the course for the nation's economic and political direction, but with the expanded powers of the Supreme Court under the Constitution to correct any act of government that is tainted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, the Court can effectively check the president's actions - although traditionally they would have been characterized as political in nature and, therefore, not subject to judicial inquiry.

Given this immense power once its jurisdiction is invoked - or even when it is not invoked as what happened in 2001 - there is every reason to fear that President Macapagal-Arroyo could use the filling of vacancies in the Supreme Court next year to serve her personal and political interests.

This is the reason why Supreme Court appointments in the United States are followed with a high level of interest than appointments in other branches of the government. In a Congressional Research Service report on the history and politics of appointments in the US Supreme Court, it was found out that the US Senate is less deferential to the president in the choice of Supreme Court appointees.

Since under the present Constitution appointments to our Supreme Court are not subject to senate confirmations, it is not likely that members of the JBC would go into the judicial philosophy - or the lack of it - of any of the candidates. Being a non-political body it is less inclined to dwell into this matter. In fact, under its rules, the JBC merely limits itself to the legal requirements of appointment to the judiciary. The political aspect is left to the president upon making her choice from the short list of nominees submitted to her.

A senate confirmation could pave the way for vetting candidates on their political inclinations. Appointees, for example, could be questioned about their concept of what should constitute political questions among controversies confronting the nation and, therefore, not subject to review by the courts. They could be asked about their thoughts on the extent of the Supreme Court's certiorari jurisdiction in checking or limiting the exercise of powers by the other branches of government. Do they hold conservative or liberal views about these things? Do they favor more governmental regulations or individual freedom?

To my mind these issues are as equally important as the candidates' qualifications and backgrounds, for we should be apprised how future Supreme Court justices will wield the sword of the country's foremost judicial power in ruling on important political and individual liberty issues that helps shape our nation. What do you think?

No comments:

Post a Comment