Wednesday, January 18, 2012

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION! Supreme Court Clerk of Court hands over Corona's SALN to Impeachment Court

We  just witnessed the beauty of democracy through the principle of checks and balances. Never in my wildest dreams as a student of the Law that I would see or even witness the time when a co-equal branch of government, the Legislature, would appropriate judicial powers to indict the head of the institution which the Constitution had solely invested this power.


Every year, we see how the Executive and Legislative branches exercise checks and balances through budget deliberations and Congressional inquiries. Never do we witness something like a check and balance between Congress and the Supreme Court--that's as rare as an elephant with wings.


The Executive and the Judiciary always clash or cross swords whenever the Chief Executive dispenses an order that is deemed unconstitutional by the Highest Court. However, it is very rare for the Judiciary to even castigate members of the Legislature for acts in excess of their powers and jurisdiction.


Now, we witness how the Senate, acting and sitting as an impeachment court, exercised  judicial power over the very same institution vested and cloaked by the 1987 Constitution as the sole repository of this power in the first place!


This, if you asked me, just showed the beauty of democracy. This is democracy in action.


Many people wonder---why was it difficult for Supreme Court Clerk of Court Atty. Enriquetta Vidal to submit the Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona. 


Vidal thinks that she is under the complete jurisdiction  of the Supreme Court. In an impeachment trial, the Senate appropriated complete powers of the judiciary itself. This is the first time that a Senate, sitting en banc as an impeachment court, has appropriated the very judicial powers granted exclusively by the 1987 Constitution to the Supreme Court. 


When the Senate, through the Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile ordered Vidal to hand over the SALN's of Chief Justice Renato Corona, Enrile and the entire Senate acted as a court higher than the Supreme Court. This is the beauty of democracy and we are fortunate that we witnessed this during our lifetime! For such an instance, I hope, will never occur again, in my lifetime.


Some asked me--why did the Aquino administration targetted the Chief Justice in its campaign to rid the bureaucracy of graft and corruption. Simple.


It is not within the powers of the Chief Executive to cleanse the judiciary of its own filth. The Constitution vests it in the Chief Justice. It is solely the Chief Justice, as the main man, the court's inter pares, the court's chief administrator, to do that. The Constitution says that every branch has the sole power to clean its own backyard.


How then can change be effected in the judiciary when the very same man who boast as the court's inter pares stands accused of the very same crime he is supposed to cleanse? How will doubts be erased on the integrity and cleanliness of the judiciary when the Chief Justice himself is perceived to be a "dirty scroundrel"?  


Background on SALN:


On May 2, 1989, the Supreme Court sitting en banc, ruled that the request for the SALNs of members of the Court may only be allowed to be seen by anyone "upon request". IN the SC website, we see this explanation:



Sometime in 1989, Jose Alejandrino, a litigant, requested the Clerk of Court for the SALs of members of the Supreme Court who took part in the decision reducing from P2.4 million to P100,000.00 the damages awarded him by the trial court in a breach of contract case.
In an En Banc resolution promulgated May 2, 1989, the Court unanimously expressed its willingness to have the Clerk of Court furnish copies of the SALs of the Chief Justice and the Associate Justices to any person upon request, provided there is a legitimate reason for the request, it being in fact unlawful for any person to obtain or use any statement filed under RA 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, for (a) any purpose contrary to morals or public policy, or (b) any commercial purpose other than by news and communications media for dissemination to the general public.
However, the Court also noted that similar requests may be made upon the justices and judges of the Court of Appeals, Sandiganbayan, Court of Tax Appeals, Regional Trial Courts, Shari’a Courts, Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts under circumstances which may endanger, diminish or destroy their independence and objectivity in the performance of their judicial functions or expose them to revenge for adverse decisions, kidnapping, extortion, blackmail, or other untoward consequences. As such, it resolved to lay down the following guidelines on requests for SALs of justices, judges, and court personnel:
(1) All requests for copies of statements of assets and liabilities shall be filed with the Clerk of Court of the Supreme Court, in the case of any Justice; or with the Court Administrator, in the case of any Judge, and shall state the purpose of the request.
(2) The independence of the Judiciary is constitutionally as important as the right to information which is subject to the limitations provided by law. Under specific circumstances, the need for the fair and just adjudication of litigations may require a court to be wary of deceptive requests for information which shall otherwise be freely available. Where the request is directly or indirectly traced to a litigant, lawyer, or interested party in a case pending before the court, or where the court is reasonably certain that a disputed matter will come before it under circumstances from which it may, also reasonably, be assumed that the request is not made in good faith and for a legitimate purpose, but to fish for information and, with the implicit threat of its disclosure, to influence a decision or to warn the court of the unpleasant consequences of an adverse judgment, the request may be denied.
(3) Where a decision has just been rendered by a court against the person making the request and the request for information appears to be a “fishing expedition” intended to harass or get back at the Judge, the request may be denied.
(4) In the few areas where there is extortion by rebel elements or where the nature of their work exposes judges to assaults against their personal safety, the request shall not only be denied but should be immediately reported to the military
(5) The reason for the denial shall be given in all cases.
(En Banc Resolution dated May 2, 1989, Re: Request of Jose Alejandrino)
‘Fishing Expeditions’This policy was reiterated and further strengthened by the Court in a resolution three years later. In 1992, the Court denied the request of a Graft Investigation Officer from the Office of the Ombudsman and a military captain for certified true copies of the sworn statements of the assets, liabilities, and net worth of two judges, it appearing that the purpose of the said request is “to fish for information against the said judges” and considering the Guidelines laid down in Alejandrino.
The Court also authorized the Court Administrator “to act on requests for copies of the assets and liabilities, as well as other papers and documents on file with the 201 Personnel Records of lower court judges and personnel, only upon a court subpoena duly signed by the Presiding Judge, in a pending criminal case against a judge or personnel, and in the case of the Ombudsman, upon the appropriate request personally signed by the Ombudsman, provided that in all instances the request shall conform to the guidelines issued by the Court in the above-mentioned resolution dated May 2, 1989 regarding Jose M. Alejandrino and such document or paper is relevant and material to the case being tried by the Court or under investigation by the Ombudsman.”(AM No. 92-9-851-RTC, Re: Request for Certified True Copies of the Sworn Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth, September 22, 1992)