17 November 2013

Dirty Business

Last April 2013 I posted this:

"To the forces that rule the universe I now make this promise, to churn out at least one completed piece per week. It need not be relevant, it need not be amazing. Right now I just need to get myself back on the writing bandwagon where I know I’ve always belonged. So help me, universe."

I cringe at my failure to comply with my basic promise.

How has life been? I'm happy to say, I have never felt so alive, while walking around like the dead most of the time. Welcome to the University of the Philippines College of Law.

Anyway, I've been trying to organize my thoughts for the last few hours, but it's hard to put into words all the strong feelings I've accumulated these past months, and in light of recent events (Tropical Storm Haiyan, or Typhoon Yolanda, the strongest storm in recorded history has decimated parts of the country merely a week ago), "strong" feelings seems to weak a word.

With that thought, I figured I'd just share the single essay I got to write this past semester. In verbatim, sans edits I found after submitting said paper. For your bashing pleasure.

In. Re. Atty. Dante B. Gatmaytan’s Professorial Chair in Law Lecture: House Rules (The Rule of Law after Reyes v. COMELEC)

There are three things that annoy me about common politics: It’s meddlesome, it’s dirty, and it’s counter-productive. I hold the same view on the propensity for gossip, election campaign periods and the exercise of divisive religion – but that’s a topic for another time. Personally, I’d much rather expend energy on being a good person, which already takes up so much time and effort.

 “Please, if you think a person can’t be political, don’t aspire to be a judge ever.”
Strictly speaking, Politics comes from the Greek word politika which loosely translates to “of, for or relating to citizens”. Merriam-Webster defines politics as the art or science of government, concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy, and consequently, with winning and holding control over a government. It’s a stretch, but the connection makes sense. Of note, law dictionaries rarely contain a definition of politics, and usually merely make reference to political questions. In our country, the personification of politics is a person, who is highly influential, entrenched in the government, is massively rich and usually corrupt. In other words, we have accepted the warped notion that a government SERVANT is one who puts himself above the needs of his constituents.

Still, I take exception to the professor’s statement that a political person should not become a judge. In my head there are three kinds of politics prevalent in the government system – party politics, loyalty politics and advocacy politics. The first two kinds can more collectively be known as common politics and should have no place in the Courts. As history and our current state of affairs show, nothing good can come from a Court filled with Justices who feel beholden to those who put them in power, or could keep them in power. Stewardship for the people is one thing, being a lapdog for a person (or group of persons) is another.

But in my opinion, a person engaged in advocacy politics is not necessarily bad for the Courts. To clarify, I think of such person as one who takes an active role in legitimate advocacies such as the rights of various marginalized sectors, reproductive health, environmental responsibility and the like. I say this because I think a person who genuinely supports such ideologies (versus those who cling to abstract partisan thoughts such as forms of government, party platforms or the lack thereof, etc.) may be more capable of putting the interests of the State above his or her own beliefs. I think that such kind of politics, when exercised in the proper venue (i.e. outside the court room) do not necessarily jeopardize a judge’s moral ascendancy. I hesitate to make such absolute statement however, because a judge’s responsibility is first and foremost to interpret and uphold the law, whatever the law may be, which may be difficult for someone who is narrow-minded. My point is simply, that not all people who engage in politics are bad. I say this while crossing my fingers in hoping that it will always be true.

On following the process for change in the Supreme Court
I strongly concur that any changes must adhere to the rules of procedure already in place. As was established during the lecture, the position of the Court in the minds of people is far from one of high regard (and I say this after spending a deliberate amount of time trying to come up with a way to make that statement diplomatic). Disobeying its own rules would easily further derogate the Judiciary from its current image into that of an impotent, inutile and unnecessary branch of government. Now, more than ever, the Court needs to send a message by setting an example and by being THE continuing example of adherence to the rule of law, which shouldn’t even be an issue if the members of the Court could only comply with their mandated duty as the sentinels tasked with protecting and interpreting the law.

Must change come from within the Court? I think not. I think that because some of the Justices are really old and set in their ways, change would be very difficult to initiate from within. I think change must come from the demands of honest, highly interested individuals outside the Supreme Court, who have a directly vested interest in a Judiciary that is respected and obeyed. I also believe that the proper forum for making this demand is not on the streets, disrupting economic activities and causing general upheaval and discomfort, but in a venue conducive to the exercise of rational discussion and argument.

On attacks from the media and the Legislature, and on opportunities for moral recovery
While I agree that the Reyes-Velasco clash and the PDAF controversy, when they finally reach the Supreme Court, are ample opportunities for redemption on a massive scale due to the media attention the hearings will definitely attract, I’d like to think that every case is an opportunity for moral recovery and, hopefully eventually, the alienation of political underpinnings attributed to the Court. I agree that only when the Court regains its moral ascendancy that it could come up with decisions that though unpopular are unquestioned.

In my perfect world, here’s an idea (which I intended to call radical but realized to be actually quite logical): Maybe we need to clean house in a grand manner. How about initiating impeachment proceedings against all Justices for whom there have been allegations of grounds for impeachment? We stroke the ego of the Legislature by giving them the chance to strike out at the justices they have a score to settle with, settle the question once and for all of who is and is not selling his soul to the devil, and free up seats in the highest court of the land. This would give us the chance to appoint Justices with iron-clad balls and ovaries who feel beholden to no one but the people and the rule of law. Of course, in my perfect world, the Judicial and Bar Council would be asking smart questions and the candidates would be dominated by apolitical people (or at most, those whose political inclinations are inclined only towards advocacy).

Side comment: On why I am upset.

Seven days a week, law students devote some of the best years of their lives immersed in mountains of cases. We skip work, we sometimes miss out on important family celebrations, and we skip sleep, forget to eat, and fail to indulge in other basic needs in hopes of complying with our academic requirements. We suffer through the occasional insult and character attacks not just of our professors and peers but also of the common man who looks at lawyers as cold, heartless beings out to make more money from those who have already been victimized. The least we could ask for is to be reading ponencias and dissents written by respectable individuals. Instead, we are reading decisions by some persons whose honesty are questionable, whose integrity are in doubt, and whose partiality are anything but; resolutions by a Court that has been caught with its pants down and holed underwear showing and at a loss for the proper response. The way things stand right now, how can I not be upset?