Monday, September 10, 2012

God of patronage


Which is more annoying to hear?
An athlete thanking God after every time he wins? Or a Supreme Court Chief Justice invoking her appointment as God’s will, and not a political act by anyone?
There is more than a slight difference between the two instances. The athlete thanks God for giving him the strength and ability to vanquish his opponent. He never says the uppercut that knocked out his foe in the ring was an act of God. We could grant him points for being sincere.
On the other hand, the Chief Justice who says she has a divine mandate is quite delusional. She was appointed to the high post she now enjoys by a President who was her classmate in college and for whom she has shown her loyalty; perhaps a debt of gratitude, in previous decisions the court made that supported the President’s actions. Was she being thankful to God for her appointment, maybe? Was she being sincere? Doubtful.
Last year, the Chief Justice on her second year as an associate justice after being appointed by President Benigno Aquino III, made known where her heart and mind rest when she wrote a dissenting opinion on the Hacienda Luisita case. Let’s not forget that the Hacienda belongs to the President’s family, one of the wealthiest landlord families in the country.
The newly-appointed Chief Justice of the Philippine Supreme Court, Maria Lourdes
Sereno, says her appointment was God's will. Click link to view "CJ Search: Justice
Lourdes Sereno,"
Then Associate Justice Lourdes Sereno pegged the compensation for the Cojuangco-Aquino family at the 2oo6 valuation of the Hacienda, at 2.5 million pesos per hectare. She dismissed her other colleagues’ better judgment that the 1989 fair market value be used, at 40,000 pesos per hectare.
Just to think about compensating the Cojuangco-Aquino family with billions of pesos is unconscionable. To date, there has been no distribution of land to the farmers despite the court’s order. The family continues to enjoy the wealth of the Hacienda as a new question for clarification regarding the compensation issue was brought to the High Court by its management.
Associate Justice Sereno also sided with the Aquino administration in issuing a travel ban on former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who was facing charges of corruption and election sabotage.
Where God plays in the political or judicial process is very personal matter. Every judge has his or her own set of values that may guide the intricate process of deciding cases. If religion plays a significant role in decision-making, an impartial and fair judge does not let that show or declare in clear and bold terms that the decision he or she makes is an act of God.
For the Chief Justice to say that her appointment was God’s will is very disturbing. Is she implying that her decisions would never be flawed? That they are also willed by God, therefore, beyond question or reproach. She’s not even the pope, yet she’s suggesting infallibility.
Unless of course we are to believe the much talked about results of her psychiatric test, which all the short-listed candidates were required to take, that the Chief Justice had the tendency to be “dramatic, emotional and self-righteous.” We can only wonder why such type of test is not administered to future presidents or even to all members of Congress which obviously demand personalities that are much more psychologically and emotionally stable. This reminds us of Senator Tito Sotto and his quixotic crusade against the proposed Reproductive Health Care law that he has to plagiarize someone else’s work to dramatize his wife’s personal ordeal with birth control devices.
But then we would be reducing the position of Chief Justice or President to a low level functionary or a clerical position where applicants are normally asked to take IQ or psychiatric tests. Such tests may serve their function, but for a Chief Justice wannabe to undergo a psychiatric evaluation is quite a stretch. It’s demeaning to the position which demands after all years and years of experience in judicial decision-making, where a prospective judge or Chief Justice applies an unquestionable grasp of the law when interpreting the law or deciding cases. That is what is more important to know, not whether a candidate for Chief Justice would have the tendency to be emotional or dramatic, tell-tale signs of instability.
If all that she wanted was to thank the President for appointing her, then the Chief Justice could be excused for being over dramatic for ascribing certain God-qualities to her godfather. The same “God of patronage” who shepherded his own classmates in college and appointed them to high positions in government. And despite the President’s mantra of good governance (“daang matuwid”), his classmates, who were also his close friends and drinking buddies, are all beyond the reach of law even if implicated in irregularities.
This is not to question the qualifications of the new Chief Justice, but in the future, the less she mentions God or makes any reference to some divine power the more she would be able to display a judge-like temperament which is essential when she makes up her own mind. This will also enable her to reach across the other justices who felt betrayed or bypassed, especially the five more senior justices who would never have the chance of being elevated to the highest position in the justice system. Without mentioning God, she would be standing on her own, without a crutch. That would be a great equalizer between her and her colleagues. She can keep her faith in God, as long as she doesn’t pull it out of her tool kit and use it as the reason for her being and the basis for her judgments.
Now that the brawling of the Supreme Court is over, the justices been chastised, and a new Chief Justice has been selected, was it a victory for President Aquino? Or was there any victory? That would be up to the leadership of the new Chief Justice to tame whatever lingering ill-effects of the controversial impeachment process has brought upon the justice system. It would be totally up to her to remake the highest judicial body of the land.
The more optimistic view of the court is that it is too early to judge the new Chief Justice. She has a long term ahead of her, perhaps the longest for a Chief Justice in recent years, to lead the Supreme Court. The sheer weight of the institution, its tradition, its procedure, and its observances will have an inevitable effect on how she leads. But the real test for the new Chief Justice is whether she could guard the separate existence of the judiciary from executive encroachment, a tradition that needs to be observed at least in theory, since the establishment of the Supreme Court.
But if this “God-anointed” Chief Justice flops, let’s hope she doesn’t blame her failure to force majeure or to an “Act of God.” Not again.

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