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Corona’s ‘Propaganda War’

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Recently, Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona blasted some “unnamed parties” for waging a “propaganda war” against the Supreme Court.  Corona seems to be taking all the criticism against the High Court quite seriously to a point where he launched his own “propaganda war” against the perceived “black propagandists.”  

Corona fired the first salvo when he delivered the keynote address before the Foreign Correspondent Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) in Manila last January 20, 2011.  He accused the “unnamed parties” of waging a smear campaign against the High Court.  But he said that the justices “would not shirk doing their constitutional duty in spite of it.”  However, he acknowledged that he doesn’t know who’s behind it.  Indeed, he could only speculate that someone must be pulling the strings, an allusion to President Benigno Aquino III who has been at the losing end of the Supreme Court’s adverse decisions on several of Aquino’s executive orders.  

The truth of the matter is that this “propaganda war” wouldn’t have happened if there were no controversial issues regarding these Supreme Court decisions.  Interestingly, many of those who disagreed with the Supreme Court on these decisions were some of the best and the brightest minds in the legal community.

Controversial rulings

Among the controversial rulings the High Court made were the following:

1)    Ruled as unconstitutional Executive Order No. 1 creating the Truth Commission to investigate allegations of corruption against ex-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and other officials of her administration.

2)    Ruled against the ouster of Bai Omera Lucman from her post at the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, which disregarded the fact that Lucman was illegally appointed by Arroyo during the constitutional ban on “midnight appointments.”  The High Court’s ruling reinstated Lucman to her “midnight” post.

3)     Issued a “status quo ante order” on the House of Representatives’ impeachment proceeding against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez; thus, preventing the House to discharge its constitutional duty to hear impeachment petitions.

4)    Ruled that Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo did not commit plagiarism because he did not have “malicious intent” when he lifted portions of other authors’ work without proper attribution in his ponencia, which rejected the comfort women’s petition asking the government to seek redress from the Japanese government for wartime atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army.
*Shadow of doubt

When Corona was asked during the FOCAP forum about the plagiarism charges against Del Castillo, he replied curtly, “I am concerned about the image, but I’m more concerned about doing what is right.”  If I interpret that correctly, Corona was saying that he would go to the extreme of covering up the misdeeds of any of his peers to protect the image of the High Court. 

And when he was asked about journalist Marites Vitug’s book, “Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court,” which was about the inner workings – and anomalies -- of the Supreme Court, Corona defensively replied that Vitug “praised one justice and destroyed everybody else.”  Huh? Was it that bad?

Could it then be self-preservation that Corona had in mind when ten justices – including himself -- protected Del Castillo by absolving him of plagiarism, which otherwise could have led to calls for Del Castillo’s resignation or impeachment?  But the justices had to pay a high price for coming to Del Castillo’s rescue.  They have set a very bad precedent for students, lawyers, journalists, writers, authors, and academics to commit plagiarism… and get away with it.  And all the plagiarists have to do is claim that they didn’t have “malicious intent” when they steal someone’s intellectual property.  Indeed, the Supreme Court, in an inglorious act, has made this form of thievery, legal.  

*Midnight Chief Justice

Not too long ago, the issue of the President appointing the Chief Justice during the constitutional ban on “midnight appointments” became controversial and contentious.  When several justices were nominated for the soon-to-be-vacant position of Chief Justice, two of the nominees accepted their nominations but declined to be appointed during the period of the constitutional ban.  But Corona, against the advice of several respected constitutionalists, accepted the nomination and indicated that he would accept an appointment during that period.  And he made his feelings known when he said,  “Without me realizing it, to be an SC justice is every lawyer’s dream, much more of becoming an SC Chief Justice.” Indeed, that would be the only chance he had to reach the apex of his career and fulfill his ultimate dream. 

In a quirky maneuver by Arroyo’s allies, the constitutional ban on “midnight appointment” of the Chief Justice was challenged in the High Court.  And in a quirkier decision, the High Court ruled that the appointment of the Chief Justice was not covered by Section 15 Article VII of the constitution, which states: “Two months immediately before the next presidential elections and up to the end of his term, a President or Acting President shall not make appointments, except temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety.”  So, in an act of “judicial voodoo,” the Supreme Court arbitrarily – and wrongly -- “amended” the constitution to exclude the Chief Justice from the constitutional ban on “midnight appointments.” 

And just like in his dream, Corona reached the top.  Indeed, one can say that in Corona’s case, the end justified the means.  But he has to pay a stiff price; that is, to live with the ignominious tag, “Midnight Chief Justice,” for as long as he lives.

*Redemption

If the Supreme Court wants to redeem itself, it has to show good faith – beyond a shadow of doubt -- in dealing with the other two branches of government.  The three branches are co-equals and each has a distinct purpose independent of the others; however, the three branches have to work harmoniously with one another to achieve their collective mission of serving the people.  But by stopping the other two branches to perform their constitutional duties -- without giving them viable options to “correct” what the Supreme Court believes were incorrect or defective -- would be a disservice to the people. 

Right now, there are four controversial rulings that should be straightened out.  First, allow President Aquino to revise Executive Order No. 1 to satisfy the High Court’s objections.  Second, let Lucman go.  The President has every right to hire and fire his underlings. Third, lift the “status quo ante order” and let the House of Representatives proceed with the impeachment proceeding against Ombudsman Gutierrez.  And fourth, reverse its plagiarism ruling on Del Castillo.  In my opinion, these are the right things to do.

Corona has to bring his “propaganda war” to an end and deliver what he promised at the FOCAP event; that is, “to help deal with corruption in the judiciary and government.”  Yes, it’s time to walk the talk.

At the end of the day, Corona has to answer to a court higher than the Supreme Court -- the court of public opinion.

By Perry Diaz




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