A few interesting developments from the region:
Burma: An opposition candidate won a case against a candidate backed by the military regime! According to DVB, the Election Commission dismissed a complaint by a Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) candidate that his opponent, Sai Moon from the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), used armed groups to force people to vote for him. This is one of a handful of cases in which the courts have ruled against an elite figure. Even more interesting, according to the article other opposition candidates claim the Commission is handling such cases fairly. That’s certainly a rare bit of good news and hopefully a reason for hope that the country’s new judicial institutions will provide better services than they have since 1962.
Indonesia: No surprise that the latest news deals with corruption scandals. First, a while ago I blogged about the Gayus corruption case, in which a tax official bribed jailers to let him leave jail and vacation in, among other places, Bali. Now, the South Jakarta District Court has handed down a sentence. Seven years and a Rp. 300 million ($33,170) fine. However, according to The Jakarta Globe, many see this as too light a sentence for such flagrant abuses.
I have no basis upon which to judge these criticisms. I don’t know if the court was particularly lenient on Gayus or if any foul play was involved. Regardless, the outcry is a useful reminder of the distinction between justice in the abstract and the judicial process. It may well be that the masses demand a more stringent punishment than the system provides.
In another corruption case, judges visited the home of former National Police chief Susno Duadji to investigate claims that a broker visited the home in December 2008 to pay him Rp. 500 million ($55,000). This event is interesting from a comparative law standpoint. In civil law countries like Indonesia, judges can and often do take it upon themselves to investigate or confirm factual allegations by the parties. In common law systems, judges almost never leave the courtroom and rely solely upon the testimony of witnesses. Still, the article doesn’t explain how visiting a house will reveal what happened over two years ago.
Philippines: The war of words between the Aquino administration and the Supreme Court took another turn as Chief Justice Corona denounced a “propaganda war” against the Court’s recent judgements. According to PhilStar, the chief justice claimed, “There are people who went out of their way to disparage the decisions of the SC.” He particularly criticized those who attacked the judgments without actually reading them. Nonetheless, he was careful to clarify that the “propaganda war” attacked the judgments, not the justices themselves. Hopefully, everybody in the Philippines can keep that distinction in mind because it looks like the tensions between the court and presidency will remain for some time to come.
Senator Richard Gordon, a candidate in the Philippine presidential election, has sued SWS and Pulse Asia in the Quezon Regional Trial Court for publishing polls that show him lagging behind in fifth place. According to his campaign, the polls have hurt his campaign and rely upon outdated methodology. Here are some excerpts from a PhilStar article on the case:
Gordon asked for P100,000 in nominal and tem perate damages, P500,000 in exemplary damages, and P50,000 in attorney’s fees.
“Without regard to their fundamental duty to act with justice to observe honesty and good faith, defendants SWS and Pulse Asia, for pecuniary gain and solely for reasons intended to favor their moneyed clients, have published false, fraudulent, biased and defective surveys which have undermined the campaign of Senator Gordon and (former MMDA) Chairman Bayani (Fernando) and made them as unwinnable contenders for president and vice president, respectively,” the 26-page complaint said.
At times, Gordon even sounds like Republican presidential nominee John McCain:
Gordon, who was on a campaign sortie in Zamboanga City, said Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III maintained his lead in the surveys because of public sympathy rather than his performance in government.
It’ll be fascinating to see how the court deals with it – or if it even takes it seriously!
The Supreme Court of the Philippines issued another controversial decision this week, one that could have important implications for congressional elections. According to Phil Star, presidential candidate Senator Benigno Aquino petitioned the Court to invalidate R.A. 9716, which creates a new congressional district in Camarines Sur. He alleged that one of the districts only had a population of 178,000 people, below the constitutional thresh hold for congressional districts. He also worried that the move was intended to benefit President Arroyo’s son, Rep. Diosdado Ignacio “Dato” Arroyo, and her ally former budget secretary Rolando Andaya, who are expected to win both seats.
The Court rejected Aquino’s by a 9-5 vote. They found that the constitution only requires 250,000 people for cities, not provinces. In fact, Chapter VI, § 5(3) of the Constitution states:
Each legislative district shall comprise, as far as practicable, contiguous, compact, and adjacent territory. Each city with a population of at least two hundred fifty thousand, or each province, shall have at least one representative.
At the very least, the drafting is poor and ambiguous. However, it seems that “province” is separated from the 250,000 population requirement. Other politicians have pointed out that the provinces of Batanes, Camiguiin, Siquijor, among others, have less than 250,000 inhabitants, and yet have their own congressional districts.
The significance of this case probably isn’t in the jurisprudence or doctrine – the outcome seems like a reasonable enough interpretation. However, the decision could impact Aquino’s political standing – either striking a blow to his candidacy, or increasing his reputation as the anti-Arroyo (my guess is the latter is more likely).