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Uphold judicial independence

  • Written by Atty. Jay C. De Castro
  • Published in Opinion

THE First Level Clerks of Court Association of the Philippines (FLECCAP), through its National President, COC Dante Gil Gumpal and Vice-President for Luzon, COC Nelson G. Babaran, expressed dismay over the assault made by President Noynoy Aquino on the Supreme Court (SC), on account of its decision declaring the Development Acceleration Program (DAP), the administration’s economic stimulus fund, unconstitutional.
   
The FLECCAP is the national association of First Level Clerks of Court of all Municipal and Metropolitan Trial Courts (MMTCs) in the Philippines. Its members, who are mostly lawyers, are assigned to MMTCs in different cities and municipalities in the country. Being court employees and in the forefront of the promotion of the rule of law, they were compelled to express their sentiments on the virulent and unwarranted attacks by President Aquino on the High Court.
   
According to Babaran, P-Noy’s tirade on the SC, aired at prime time on national television, undermine judicial independence. He said, “As a former Congressman and Senator, the President knows the SC is a co-equal branch of government and the sole interpreter of our Constitution, such that, its decision declaring DAP unconstitutional should be respected and not assailed in public. His appeal to his followers to wear yellow ribbons, in defiance of the SC ruling, is divisive and adds fuel to the fire he ignited, when he lambasted SC justices on TV. P-Noy has usurped Congress’ ‘power of the purse’, he should not be allowed to arrogate unto himself, the SC’s power to interpret the Constitution.”
   
Relative to the above, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), the country’s national association of lawyers, issued a statement that it is considering filing a Petition to Cite P-Noy in Contempt of Court for his unabated attacks on the SC on national television, in connection with the voiding of the DAP.
   
Not to be outdone, Malacañang’s lackey, the House of Representatives (HRs), to the consternation of the 3,000-strong Supreme Court Employees Association (SCEA), announced that it will abolish the multi-billion peso Judiciary Development Fund (JDF), the Supreme Court’s pork barrel, according to some congressmen.
   
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, vice-chairman of the HRs’ appropriations committee, said they would consolidate the two  JDF bills authored by Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., justice committee chairman, and senior vice chairman Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, seeking the abolition of the JDF.
   
The JDF is a source of allowances for justices, judges and other personnel of the judiciary. Under Presidential Decree 1949, 80 percent of JDF collections are set aside for allowances and 20 percent for facilities. The bills seeking the abolition of the JDF were filed after P-Noy publicly assailed the SC for ruling the DAP unconstitutional.
   
Undoubtedly, the President’s open rebuke of the SC and the HRs’ looming abolition of the JDF constitute assault on the independence of the judiciary.
   
According to Joel Guerrero, leader of the SCEA, they are ready to defend the SC from Malacañang and Congress’ attacks, to prevent the death of justice and rule of law in the country, foreshadowed by P-Noy’s despotic behavior.
   
In this regard, our group Magkaisa Para sa Bayan (MPB) hereby manifests that it is one with FLECCAP and SCEA in upholding the independence of the judiciary. We believe that all justice loving Filipinos should unite and defend the SC from unlawful incursions from Malacañang and Congress, for it is not for the protection of judges, but for the protection of the justice system and the rule of law, to maintain public trust and confidence in the courts, without which no government could achieve peace and progress in the country.
   
In this connection, we submit the herein curt legal citations, showing that there’s independence in the judiciary, if the following concur:
   
1) If judges/justices are not subject to pressure and influence, and are free to make impartial decisions based solely on fact and law and the commands of their conscience;
   
2) If the individual judges/justices are not subject to executive control;
   
3) If no executive decree shall reverse specific court decisions, or change the composition of the court to affect its decision-making;
   
4) If the Executive shall not have control over judicial functions;
   
5) If the Secretaries of the government shall not exercise any form of pressure on judges/justices, whether overt or covert, and shall not make statements which adversely affect the independence of individual judges/justices, or of the Judiciary as a whole;
   
6) If the Judiciary as a whole enjoy collective independence and autonomy vis-à-vis the Executive;
   
7) If the Executive shall refrain from any act or omission which pre-empts the judicial resolution of a dispute, or frustrates the proper execution of a court judgment, and,
   
8) If the Legislature shall not pass legislation designed to reverse specific court decisions.
   
The judiciary should always be independent from other branches of government. Thus in a case, it was ruled that, “judges are in “a place apart” from the other institutions of our society. Governments appoint and pay judges, but once appointed, judges are shielded from bureaucratic control. Judges must be able to make courageous, even unpopular decisions knowing that no one -- a chief justice, another judge, a government official or EVEN THE MOST POWERFUL POLITICIAN -- can fire them or cut their salaries as retaliation.
   
With what President Aquino and Congress had done, it is clear that the concept of judicial independence as enshrined in our Charter, has been eroded and we cannot expect “an independent and impartial tribunal,” under their watch, such that, we must all be vigilant in upholding judicial independence in our land.