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Judicial Independence: A Fact or Myth?

by: J. Myrna Dimaranan Vidal

Our Constitution, be it the past or the present, features a lot of remarkable essence of democracy, like the interdependence of all the branches of government. From that springs the awesome power to make and enact laws, which is with the legislative department; the executive's power to carry out the provisions of the laws; and the power of judicial review which is vested on the judicial branch. As one of the co-equal branches of government, the judiciary is expected to decide matters before them impartially, on the basis of facts and in accordance with the law, without any restrictions, improper influences, pressures, or interferences. Its constitutionally guaranteed independence, as well as its integrity, are its ultimate characteristics which sets it apart from the rest of the bureaucracy. It may not have the power of the purse or the police power, or it may be perceived to have no teeth to enforce its judgments as it is without battalions of armies around it to execute its will, however, by virtue of its independence, which is the real source of its strength, no person, not even the most powerful person of the land, can afford to be seen to defy the orders of a judiciary perceived by the people to be the guardian of the Constitutional values that bind the nation.

Through the years, the Supreme Court has been steadfast in its bounden duty to defend and protect the Constitution. On several occasions, it has been called to fearlessly nullify several executive orders and legislative acts which blatantly breached the provisions of the fundamental law. In Francisco vs. House of Representative (GR No. 160261, 10 November 2003), the High Court, in invalidating the house impeachment complaint lodged against then Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr., elucidated that when the Supreme Court mediates to allocate constitutional boundaries or invalidates the acts of a coordinate body, what it is upholding is not its own supremacy, but the supremacy of the constitution. When this supremacy is invoked, it compels the errant branches of government to obey not the Supreme Court, but the Constitution.

Indeed, the independence of the judiciary is crucial. It is the ultimate shield against barbarism and the corrosion of our morality. Thus, in Bayan Muna vs. Ermita (GR Nos. 169838, 169848 & 169881), which was notably promulgated during Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN's watch, whose leadership was characterized by the four Ins (Independence, Integrity, Industry and Intelligence), the Supreme Court, without hesitation, once again marked a point in the pages of history that its pen does not produce a pious poetry or a toothless wisdom, as it axed an executive department's policy which coined a seemingly new, yet martial law-like concept, that is, the calibrated preemptive response (CPR) in connection with the rallies and other public assemblies.

Another case in point is David vs Arroyo which relates to President Arroyo's Presidential Proclamation No. 1017 (PP 1017) declaring a state of national emergency on 24 February 2006. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that PP 1017's extraneous provisions giving the President express or implied power (1) to issue decrees; (2) to direct the AFP to enforce obedience to all laws even those not related to lawless violence as well as decrees promulgated by the President; and (3) to impose standards on media or any form of prior restrain on the press are ultra vires and unconstitutional. The High Tribunal likewise made it clear that the President, in the absence of a legislation, cannot take over privately-owned public utility and private business affected with public interest, thereby declaring the raid undertaken in the offices of the Daily Tribune by the operatives of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) as constitutionally unauthorized.

Just recently, the Supreme Court decided with finality its order of dismissal of the rebellion charges filed by the Department of Justice against party-list representatives CRISPIN B. BELTRAN, LIZA L. MAZA, JOEL G. VIRADOR, SATURNINO C. OCAMPO, TEODORO A. CASIÑO, and RAFAEL V. MARIANO. The Court in posing a stern warning to government prosecutors in maintaining the integrity of criminal prosecution, in general, and preliminary investigations, in particular, said:

We cannot emphasize too strongly that prosecutors should not allow and should avoid, giving the impression that their noble office is being used or prostituted, wittingly and unwittingly, for political ends, or other purposes alien to, or subversive of, the basic and fundamental objective of observing the interest of justice evenhandedly, without fear or favour, to any and all litigants alike, whether rich or poor, weak or strong, powerless or mighty. Only strict adherence to the established procedure may the public's perception of the impartiality of the prosecutor be enhanced.

Lately, the Supreme Court, in its persistent and incessant pursuit of judicial independence, is in the limelight again. Chief Justice REYNATO S. PUNO, confronted by the growing number of extrajudicial killings, decided to take the center stage and embark the judiciary into a more active role in protecting human rights. He spearheaded a two-day National Consultative Summit on Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances- Searching for Solutions. In said summit, Chief Justice PUNO, a GMA appointee at that, boldly declared that human rights under the Arroyo administration is under assault. He has been very vocal in his frustration over the inadequacies of the system in dealing with extrajudicial killings. He categorically and candidly declared that: “over the years, the expectation that human rights could best be protected by the political branches of government has been diluted.

These factual backdrops proved at least one clear and fundamental truth: the power of the Judiciary to interpret the constitution is a power paramount to other powers. Significantly, this empowerment truly reflects the Judiciary's INDEPENDENCE.




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