A sense of propriety

Buencamino writes political commentary for and is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. This article was published in the Business Mirror, April 2,2008 edition, p. A10.

You can’t hide the smell of shit by covering it with a piece of paper. That is obvious to all except nine associate justices of the Supreme Court who thought they could do it.

The majority decision on the Neri case expanded the doctrine of executive privilege to cover criminal activity. That, in and of itself, stank enough, but its provenance made it smell worse.

Teresita Leonardo-de Castro wrote the ponencia despite allegations that she was appointed to the Supreme Court as a reward for convicting former president Joseph Estrada of plunder. The allegation may or may not be true, but it is there, so out of delicadeza, she should have inhibited herself from the Neri case.

Arturo Brion arrived at the Court after all the proceedings, except the voting, had been completed– but that did not stop him from voting in favor of Neri.

Lawyer Teddy Te said of  the two justices: “There is an unsurprising lack of shame in Brion voting on a petition where he did not participate and where popular sentiment held that his appointment was precisely to forestall the effects of a Velasco inhibition. There is also an uncharacteristic lack of delicadeza in De Castro writing for the majority, where her appointment was clearly seen as a reward for convicting Estrada.” Amen.

There was a clamor for Presbitero Velaso to recuse himself because he was reportedly a close friend and golfing buddy of Neri. He denied they were close, he said they only played golf once, and then he closed his eyes and covered his ears.

Leonardo Quisumbing, although not an Arroyo appointee, has two members of his family who are. His wife is chair of the Commission on Human Rights, courtesy of Gloria Arroyo. His daughter is Executive Director with the rank of Undersecretary in the Presidential Human Rights Committee, the Palace in-house body tasked with defending the obscene human rights record of the Arroyo administration.

Renato Corona cannot claim Neri is just an acquaintance. He and Neri were high school classmates at the Ateneo. In addition, they were together in Malacañang, Corona as Palace chief of staff  before Gloria appointed him to the Supreme Court, and Neri as Neda chief before he was transferred to CHED for trying to moderate greed.

Corona’s association with Neri, without even mentioning the indiscretion of Mrs. Corona signing a manifesto supporting Gloria Arroyo, should have been ample reason for inhibition.

To be fair, Supreme Court justices are human; their decisions are neither infallible nor completely free of human frailties.

“Our judges,” as Thomas Jefferson said of his country’s magistrates, “are as honest as other men and not more. They have the same passions for party, for power and the privilege of their corps.”

That’s why it’s vital that those who sit on the bench take great pains to act with propriety.  They must always appear to be above and beyond reproach.

The public will bow to the decision of the Court, good or bad, as long as they believe justices are not capricious or corrupt.

In our system of government, the rule of law, the benchmark of our evolution from savage barbarians to civilized human beings, is entrusted to the Supreme Court. Consequently, when the Court fails, the rule of law also fails and we regress to settling our disputes through brute force.

Philosophers call that sorry state of affairs  the natural condition of mankind, the “state of nature”, where everyone has a right to everything in the world and a “war of all against all” rages continuously. Thomas Hobbes described that existence as  “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Those five justices with no sense of propriety failed to uphold the rule of law. They made our world look more like the poster girl of corruption: she who is nasty, brutish, and short.

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