Courts in black mood
Set Monday silent protest vs PNoy’s ‘vindictive acts’
COURT employees and judges said they will wear black next Monday to express their indignation over what they described as the “vindictive actions” of President Benigno Aquino III and his allies.
The “Black Monday” protest will be observed in regional trial courts nationwide to register the indignation within the Judiciary over the President’s bullying of the Supreme Court and his threat to impeach justices over their decision to rule parts of his Disbursement Acceleration Program unconstitutional.
Officers of an organization of judges in Metro Manila who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation said they were disappointed by moves of administration allies in the House to abolish the Judiciary Development Fund, which benefits workers in the court system.
“We don’t have DAP or PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund). Why do they want us to also suffer the consequences of their illegal funds?” on judge said.
The judges emphasized, however, that the “silent protest” would be voluntary and was not sanctioned by the Supreme Court.
They said they plan to wear black again on the following Monday, July 28, when the President delivers his fifth State Of The Nation Address.
“We will do this until they stop threatening the independence of the Judiciary, including our fiscal autonomy,” a judge said.
There are over 2,000 judges and 27,000 employees in courts nationwide.
In 2012, the Philippine Judges Association, Metropolitan and City Judges Association the Philippines and the 3,000-strong Supreme Court employees association held a similar “Black Monday” protest in support of then Chief Justice Renato Corona during his impeachment trial.
At that time, they stepped out of their courts in Metro Manila and trooped to the Supreme Court building in Manila to protest what they dubbed as “death of democracy in the Philippines.”
But this time, the judges said their new action was no longer for a specific person but for the institution.
The judges said they will bring their protest the streets if the Executive and Legislative branches continue to disrespect the independence of the Judiciary.
In the House, administration ally and Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. has filed a bill to abolish the JDF as the Palace and the Supreme Court headed for a collision over the President’s DAP.
Tups, chairman of the House committee on justice, said the JDF was the creation of the late President Ferdinand Marcos by virtue of a presidential decree at a time “when democratic institutions were not in place and when both executive and legislative power were vested in the Executive.”
Another administration ally, Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, said the Supreme Court, through the JDF, has been “unduly exercising legislative power” that belongs solely to Congress. He called the JDF an “immoral” discretionary fund because it could not be questioned even before the Supeme Court.
But the moves against the JDF were widely interpreted as a retaliation against the justices for ruling parts of the DAP unconstitutional, and in response to President Aquino’s national address Monday evening in which he defended the program and threatened the Supreme Court.
“We do not want two equal branches of government to go head to head, needing a third branch to step in to intervene,” he said in his address.
The warning came almost simultaneously with the release of the Commission on Audit report questioning the Supreme Court’s P3.19-billion savings in 2012.
The Palace on Thursday sought to play down the President’s threatening tone in his Monday address.
“There may be interpretations on how they may have viewed the President’s demeanor. There were some who said that the President was defiant or arrogant. But for us, there was neither defiance or arrogance, just compliance with judicial due process,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said.
Coloma appealed to the public not to read to much into Aquino’s national address, which he described as “respectful.”
“The President maintained a respectful tone in his speech last Monday. He said what he believed was needed to convey the government’s rationale for seeking reconsideration. It is inappropriate to fan further speculations on this at this time,” Coloma said.
Coloma said the Office of the Solicitor General will file a motion for reconsideration Friday seeking to reverse the Supreme Court’s unanimous 13-0 ruling against the DAP.
But Coloma said the administration will abide by the final decision of the Supreme Court after it tackles the motion for reconsideration.
“We are a government of laws and not of men. We will accept the decision just as we have accepted previous decisions of the Supreme Court,” he said.
Coloma, however, declined to comment on the statements of renowned constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas that the government cannot invoke the Administrative Code to justify the DAP.
“We respect the opinion of constitutional lawyers but we are focused on the motion for reconsideration,” Coloma said.
Earlier, Bernas, a member of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution, said: “I believe it is safe to assume that the Supreme Court is aware of the existence of Section 49. The Supreme Court is also aware that the Code where Section 49 is found is an Executive Order of the late President Corazon Aquino issued while she still had legislative power before Congress became operative,” Bernas said.
“(The Administrative Code) antedates the 1987 Constitution. Statutory provisions and executive orders antedating the Constitution and incompatible with the Constitution no longer have effect,” he said.