“The legal issues call for the high tribunal to either resolve the (disqualification) cases (against president-elect Bongbong Marcos) on the merits or exercise judicial restraint and give way to the sovereign will of the electorate”
With this column, I begin a series of articles on the Philippines’ political and governance My intent is to provide my readers the comprehensive background information as the country system.
My intent is to provide my readers the comprehensive background information as the country system.
Transitions to a new administration on June 30, 2022.
As the final arbiter of all disputes and controversies, the Supreme Court gives the final pronouncement, with no further appeal, which even the most powerful individuals and institutions of the land dare not defy.
While theoretically in a constitutional set-up like ours the three branches of government — i.e. the executive, legislative and Supreme Court – are co-equal institutions that maintain a balance of power and prevent each one from gaining a disproportionate concentration of power that may result in a dictatorship, in practical terms, the Supreme Court is said to be the weakest among the three.
This may be because, unlike an elected president who appoints practically all functionaries in the bureaucracy and wields power over the military as commander in chief, while the legislative branch, with equally elective members, controls the purse string, the members of the judiciary are not only appointed but can act only on matters laid down before its doors for resolution.
In other words, it cannot act motu propio or on its own accord in performing its mandate and authority unless first invoked and initiated by a party or parties. Hence, its exercise of power is passive.
With the passing of centuries, the Supreme Court has evolved and taken shape, not only in terms of structure and composition but also on the extent of its authority.
The Supreme Court is the progeny of the tribunal established by Act No. 136 of the Philippine Commission on June 11, 1901.
During the Spanish colonial period the Royal Audiencia was established by the King of Spain which exercised not exclusively as a judicial body but also legislative, executive, advisory, and administrative functions as well.
On June 11, 1901, the Second Philippine Commission passed Act 136 titled “An Act Providing for the Organization of Courts in the Philippine Islands” formally establishing the Supreme Court of the Philippine Islands and creating Courts of First Instance and Justices of the Peace Courts throughout the land.
Under the Act, the Supreme Court was headed by a Chief Justice with six Judges. The decisions of the early court was a blend of both the Anglo-American and Spanish systems.
The 1935 Philippine Constitution saw the adoption of the principle of separation of powers by actual division of powers of the government – executive, legislative, and judiciary.
The three branches of government exercised powers patterned after their counterparts in the United States republican system.
The shift from the 1935 to the 1973 Constitution augured a seismic shift in the functioning of the Supreme Court when, in 1972, Marcos declared martial law.
The Court during those years of the dictatorship was accused of being subservient to the president, hiding behind the political question doctrine to avoid hard decisions that would antagonize Marcos.
Unlike in the previous constitutions, the Supreme Court under the 1987 Constitution is granted an expanded jurisdiction in that judicial power includes not only the “duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable” but also “to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the government.”
No longer could the Supreme Court invoke blindly the political question doctrine.
The present SC also has the exclusive power to promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, pleading, practice, and procedure in all courts, the admission to the practice of law, the integrated bar, and legal assistance to the underprivileged.
In the last two decades, the Court has taken the initiative, and rightly so, in designing and establishing new judicial remedies to add to the traditional habeas corpus and certiorari petitions – thus the writs of Amparo and habeas data to address human rights concerns and the writs of Kalikasan and continuing mandamus for environmental cases.
I hope the Court would develop writs of Kalayaan for exceptional cases of morally unjust detention (Leila De Lima comes to mind) or a writ of Klima to address climate change.
Ironically, one of the important human rights cases the Supreme Court has decided happened in the watch of President Duterte, who is being accused of crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court.
People vs Sapla, a decision penned by Justice Ben Caguioa, laid down the strongest possible interpretation of what constitutes probable cause that would justify a warrantless search.
Presently, pending before the high tribunal are disqualification cases against president-elect Bongbong Marcos.
The legal issues call for the high tribunal to either resolve the case on the merits or exercise judicial restraint and give way to the sovereign will of the electorate.
Through this case, the role that the judiciary plays in determining the future of the nation will once again be in full display.
These cases, to be decided in the aftermath of the Marcos electoral landslide, could give the Court an opportunity to clarify when and how the political questions doctrine is still applicable.
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