Corona of Thorns
I find today's editorial of the Philippine Daily Inquirer cogent and incisive:
LET US BE CLEAR: IF THERE IS A POLITICAL storm gathering over the designation of Renato Corona as the new chief justice, it is not the fault, or even the doing, of presumptive president-elect Benigno Aquino III. If you slap a man in the face, he might strike back or turn the other cheek, but in either case, he is merely reacting to the provocation.
Now that President Macapagal-Arroyo has provoked the crisis-in-the-making, what should Aquino do?He should follow the law. He should be careful not to fall into the many legal traps laid cunningly by the departing administration. He should be bold, but if faced with a choice err on the side of circumspection.But none of this means he cannot show his displeasure, or the public’s, at the Arroyo administration’s brazen manipulation of the levers of power, at the way the choice of new chief justice has been rammed down the people’s throat.Thus, Aquino may want to make good on his promise, and take his oath of office before the captain of his barangay in Tarlac. The latest victims of President Arroyo’s alternative Midas touch—everyone she appoints as spokesman eventually shrinks before our eyes, his or her reputation greatly diminished—cannot be listened to when they suddenly preach about republican courtesies. The Arroyo administration, especially in its last five years in power, ran roughshod over these very niceties, such as due deference between co-equal branches of government. (Where was the administration Charito Planas now tries to defend when the Senate fought for the right to limit the scope of executive privilege?)While it is true that tradition dictates the presence and the participation of the chief justice at a new president’s oath-taking, this tradition is not a matter of law; a new president is not legally bound to take his or her oath before the head of the judiciary. And there is a glorious precedent: Aquino’s own mother took her oath of office in 1986 before a person other than the chief justice at the time. Cory Aquino’s choice of Associate Justice Claudio Teehankee was deliberate; it reflected public disappointment over a Supreme Court co-opted by the Marcos regime, and recognized the courage of Teehankee’s often solitary dissents.We do not suggest that Senator Aquino choose an associate justice to administer his oath; that would further politicize an already politicized Court. But he should choose someone other than Corona, to express his conviction, a conviction we share, that while the appointment of the new chief justice can be argued as legal, it is deeply unethical, and serves only President Arroyo’s narrow self-interest.There are other ways to express this conviction: Aquino can refrain from acknowledging Corona during his first State of the Nation Address, on July 26. Of course, the defenders of the Arroyo administration will immediately jump on this as a petty act—when in fact it is the Arroyo administration which has shown the most breathtaking pettiness. No, a deliberate snub during the Sona, like the choice of a barangay captain to administer the presidential oath, is a principled political statement.
Planas’ vapid advice about statesmanship and standing “10 feet taller,” on the other hand, is an example of a political statement without principle. It grates not only because it uses an argument the Arroyo administration was quite happy to ignore at the peak of its power—who needs statesmanship when you can rely on the so-called presumption of regularity?—but also because it is simply ignorant. A lawyer herself, Planas should have known from the American jurisprudence that shapes Philippine law practice that outright hostility had sometimes marked the relationship between president and chief justice—and yet democracy’s purposes continued to be served.We suspect Planas and others like her know that there is, in fact, a Philippine difference, and it lies in the weakness of our political institutions. Unfortunately for them, they cannot say, at least not out loud, what greatly weakened those same institutions in the last decade. But we can: It was an administration which, among other failures, made unjustifiable or unethical appointments, and coerced or coaxed the appointees into accepting them.