On Monday, President Aquino attended a justice cooperation summit with many of the serving Supreme Court justices. Usually, these are rather formal and stiff affairs. However, Aquino gave a speech lambasting Chief Justice Corona for ruling against the administration and being beholden to Arroyo.
Of course Aquino had criticized the justice before, but this particular speech was shocking for its directness and confrontation with the justices in the same room. Several constitutional law experts have attacked Aquino for his “tirade,” one going so far as to compare him to Fidel Castro.
For his part, Corona confirmed that he is not resigning. He has rarely participated in the “debate” directly, but rather spoken through Supreme Court Spokesman Midas Marquez. On Tuesday, Marquez stated that, “It is just unfortunate that the Chief Justice was appointed by someone that many do not like. Now they are attacking him. It’s not his fault.”
It’ll be interesting to see what polls say about Aquino’s attacks on the judiciary. I haven’t been in the country in a while so I unfortunately don’t have a sense on the ground.
Despite the Supreme Court’s TRO yesterday regarding the WLO against former President Arroyo, the administration physically prevented them from catching their flight out of Manila yesterday. In a dramatic scene, the former president was wheeled away from their flight into a room with their lawyers. There are already calls to impeach Aquino over this and other recent decisions. All that’s certain for now is that the Aquino administration has set itself up for an even more intense showdown with the Supreme Court.
I don’t often write about “metabolic bone biopsies” on my blog. However, that’s the procedure former Philippine president Arroyo needs, and that’s what the Aquino administration Justice Department is seeking to deny her. Or so Arroyo claims. Secretary of Justice Leila de Lima issued a watchlist order against Arroyo to prevent her and her husband from fleeing the country while facing plunder and poll fraud charges. According to PhilStar, Arroyo has challenged the WLO as impairing her constitutional right to travel (Article III, § 1 and 6) and filed suit before the Supreme Court. It will be particularly interesting to see how the Supreme Court rules, given the hostility between it and the Aquino administration. Moreover, 12 of the 15 justices are Arroyo appointees, which as I wrote last year became controversial as Arroyo managed to appoint the chief justice. I guess we’ll see whether the Philippine Supreme Court provides that political insurance Arroyo had been banking on.
Harsh words were recently exchanged between between the Philippine Supreme Court and Malacanang over the Aquino administration’s plan to “reduce” the judiciary’s budget (see my most recent post on the controversy here). The Philippine Judges Association has come out yesterday to express their support for Chief Justice Corona. For his part, the chief justice said, “There is no intense quarrel happening. I’m just setting things straight.” Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone has urged both parties to convene the Judicial Executive Legislative Advisory and Consultative Council (JELACC) in order to work through their differences. It’s not yet clear whether most of this debate is hollow posturing or whether the animosity could actually affect the Court’s work. Stay tuned…
According to PhilStar, in a 10-5 vote the Philippine Supreme Court has struck down the Aquino administration’s Executive Order No. 1. This act would have established a Truth Commission that would have investigated the alleged wrongdoings of former president Arroyo. The court claimed that only Congress has the authority to establish new government bodies. Yet, skeptics are already pointing out that all of the members in the majority were appointed by Arroyo. Of course, four of the dissenters were also appointed by Arroyo (Justice Sereno is Aquino’s only appointee), but those four had already developed a reputation for independence. This issue arises to some extent in U.S. law, although usually in the form of prohibiting excessive delegation from Congress to the executive. When I have a bit more time on my hands, I’ll try to read the full opinion and provide more thoughts.
Earlier this year, when President Arroyo insisted on appointing the new Supreme Court Chief Justice, critics accused her of seeking to stack the judiciary to ensure it would uphold her policies and shield her from accountability. So far, it hasn’t exactly worked out that way. The Supreme Court seems intent on accommodating the new Aquino administration and hasn’t stuck its neck out for Arroyo. According to reports from Manila, it seems like the Supreme Court will not rule Aquino’s Executive Order No. 2 unconstitutional. E.O. No. 2 would sack all of Arroyo’s midnight appointees. We’ll see what happens, but for now the much-anticipated showdown between Aquino and the justices looks a ways off.
President Aquino was sworn in today. Notably, the justice conducting the oath of office and inaugural ceremonies was not Chief Justice Corona, but rather Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales (see right – image from PhilStar). This decision stems partly from Aquino’s strident opposition of former president Arroyo’s “midnight appointment” of the new chief justice (see here for a refresher). Aquino’s mother, Cory, was also sworn in by an associate justice, one who had taken a strong anti-Marcos stand. It’s still not clear how much of an impact this move will actually have on relations between the executive and judiciary, but it should be fascinating to watch over the coming months.