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Monday, October 23, 2006

Time for decision

Posted date: October 23, 2006

THIS week the Supreme Court will make one of its most momentous decisions in the 60 years since the country regained its independence. It will rule on the people's initiative case that will decide whether there would be a change from the presidential to the parliamentary system of government.

Understandably, there is pressure from both sides: from groups for and against revising the Constitution through a signature campaign or people's initiative. Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban triggered a round of public debate when he disclosed that the Court had received "some pressure," although he said it would not affect the independence of the high court.
Later, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez joined in with his two cents' worth of advice, and urged the Chief Justice to avoid socials where politicians are present and to be wary of nosy reporters. Strange advice, this, coming from a government official who has often given his comment on almost any topic under the sun, including on those subjects where prudence would have dictated that he should keep quiet if he could not say anything that would advance his country's and countrymen's interest.

Speaker Jose de Venecia said that the country's future depends on how the people's initiative case is resolved. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also fired a parting shot, saying at the gathering of chief justices that "a change in politics must be accompanied by a change in our system of government."

Now that almost everybody has had his or her say, we hope that this week the interested people and groups would keep quiet and allow the Supreme Court to deliberate on the case in peace. The members of the Court are used to receiving pressure, but still, constant badgering can be irritating and disconcerting.

There has been a suggestion that the five most senior justices of the Court recuse themselves from the case. Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan, who made the suggestion, said that by recusing themselves, the justices would be spared the awkward situation where the appointment of the new Chief Justice would be perceived as a reward for taking a stand in favor of the President.

We do not think there is need for this. It is presumed that the senior justices are all persons of strong character and integrity who can resist all kinds of pressures and temptations to rule in a case one way or the other.

We do not believe, either, that the mere fact that 10 of the justices are appointees of the President will affect the way they will rule on the case. Their recent record suggests that they are independent-minded, and will not be pressured to favor one group or the other. They all voted against Malacañang on Presidential Proclamation No. 1017, which placed the country under a state of national emergency; Executive Order No. 464, which barred officials from testifying in Congress without the President's approval; and the calibrated preemptive response policy which prohibited rallies without permits.

Having five (the senior justices) or 10 justices (the President's appointees) recuse themselves could affect the outcome of the voting on a case that has great implications for the future of the country. And having only five or 10 justices voting in a case of such great importance would not look good. We say, let all of the justice participate in the deliberations and the voting. The nation could benefit from their judicial wisdom and statesmanship.

The resolution of this case is the last chance to amend the Constitution and bring about a change in the system of government this year or in the near future. The option of convening Congress as a constituent assembly is already out because the Senate would certainly not want to be legislated out of existence. At this point, it is too late to call a constitutional convention. Besides, it would be expensive and it would take a long time to amend the Constitution.

Now that the smoke of the verbal battle over people's initiative is dissipating, we hope that the justices of the Supreme Court will see their way clear to making a decision that will benefit not just certain persons or groups but the nation.


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