The Supreme Court: Eight ball and trump card

Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was first published in Interaksyon.com on November 23, 2011.

 

Even if GMA is knocked down, they (justices) will put her back up and they will give her the decision. – rewording Juan Manuel Marquez’ reaction to losing to the Pacman

Behind the eight ball is a phrase from the game of pool. It describes a position where the ball you want to pocket is blocked by the eight ball. For example: the Aquino administration is behind the eight ball because eight Supreme Court justices are obstructing justice by misinterpreting the Constitution and creating new rights for the Arroyos.

The rule of law has been redesigned by a cabal of eight lawyers in black gowns and their spokesman, Midas Marquez. Marquez introduced a new dimension to due process: that an announcement on TV or a text message to media about a Supreme Court decision is as good as handing a physical copy of the decision to the parties concerned.

Not only that, Marquez also elevated himself to the rank of Associate Justice when he took it upon himself to interpret the Court’s judicial issuance and announced on TV that the TRO on Gloria Arroyo’s Watchlist Order was “in full force and effect” when in fact the Court voted 7-6 “finding that there was no compliance with the second condition of the TRO (temporary restraining order).”

As Justice Lourdes Sereno noted in her dissenting opinion, “it was the understanding of a majority that the TRO is “suspended pending compliance” with our earlier Resolution. The operational ineffectivity of the TRO is implied—for it is a basic principle that the failure of petitioners to comply with one of the conditions in the Resolution dated 15 November 2011 is a jurisdictional defect that suspends, at the least, the effectivity of the TRO. Therefore, the TRO, until faithful compliance with the terms thereof, is legally ineffective.” Unfortunately that’s not the way the rule of law is observed under the Coronarroyo Court.

The rule of law is the second highest principle in popular democracies. Majority rule is number one; it trumps the rule of law. Trump is a term from the game of bridge. It refers to “a playing card of the suit chosen to rank above the others.” The winning card in bridge is called the trump card, using it ends a “trick” or single round of play. Thus a loyal majority in the Supreme Court is the trump card that can win the trick for the Arroyos.

Trump can also refer to Donald the self-proclaimed billionaire or the tower in Manhattan where Gen. Carlos Garcia bought a condominium unit with funds that he never declared in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

All government employees must file a SALN and make it available for public scrutiny but the justices of the Supreme Court exempted themselves from making their SALNs public because they can. The Court also excused itself from giving a public accounting of the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF), the mega piggy bank where the Supreme Court keeps all the fees charged for all transactions with all the courts in the land. Again because it can.

The Court can practice exceptionalism because it is supreme on all matters concerning the Constitution and the law. It is right even when it is patently wrong; it can sabotage the Constitution through willful misinterpretation, and it has the power to cite for contempt anybody who dares cross it.

Ours is a government of laws interpreted by 15 lawyers dressed in black frocks. That makes the Supreme Court infallible like the Pope. The only difference is the Pope’s infallibility comes from heaven while the Court’s comes from below. As far as the Court is concerned, numbers determine what is right and what is wrong and some numbers weigh more than others. Eight can outweigh any number, including 90 million Filipinos, if the eight are Supreme Court justices loyal to the Arroyos.

The Supreme Court will remain as the eight ball for President Aquino and the trump card for the Arroyos unless those justices who invoke the rule of law to undermine the rule of law are impeached. Unfortunately, impeachment is a political numbers game where the side with more money to spread around wins. That is the kind of politics we have in this country, a country where morality is routinely sacrificed on the altar of legality, where substance gives way to form, and where money trumps both majority rule and the rule of law.

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