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Monday, October 27, 2014

Solons Hail Sereno's Move Vs. Contrary Supreme Court Decisions

Lawmakers crossed partylines yesterday to express support for the Supreme Court’s (SC’s) adoption of a strategy to avoid flip-flopping to ensure that all decisions do not contradict previous rulings.
Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno’s move was cited by administration and opposition lawmakers who said that strategy would further strengthen the judicial system and fortify people’s trust in the government.
Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., chairman of the House Committee on Justice and lead public prosecutor during the impeachment trial of ex-Chief Justice Renato Corona, took note of SC’s new measure. “It is a very welcome development. We have been very clear even during the Corona Impeachment that flip-flopping weakens the judicial system and erodes the people’s trust in the government. The flip-flopping which should be prohibited should however be distinguished from a decision abandoning a previous doctrine which is of course allowed,” he said.
AKO Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe, a lawyer, expressed confidence that Sereno’s strategy would definitely strengthen the independence and integrity of the judiciary. “I urge the SC to explain based on solid legal, philosophical and even moral and economic grounds the rationale why it is abandoning a well-settled ruling. As it is, the SC does not usually provide a convincing rationale why it is abandoning previous rulings when deciding differently from a previous case with the same set of facts and legal issues,” he said.
Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo and Misamis Occidental Rep. Jorge Almonte, a lawyer also rallied behind Sereno’s new scheme that seeks “to stabilize jurisprudence.”
“Ideally, the SC decisions should not change for reasons of stability and permanence. But, this does not happen because society changes. We do not have a problem when changes in judicial doctrines reflect changes in society. We have problems when the SC flip-flops its decisions to favor certain vested interests. We have to draw the line. For sure, it will strengthen the judiciary,” Castelo said.
Almonte said “We have to live with lessons of the past; therefore, there is nothing wrong in adopting a strategy to achieve the goal of early resolution of cases based on established precedents.”
ABAKADA party-list Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz, member of the House independent bloc, and United Nationalist Alliance’s Navotas Rep. Tobias “Toby” Tiangco also ralilied behind Sereno’s move.
“Definitely, it can strengthen the judiciary as it stabilizes our legal precepts,” de la Cruz said.
“I have full respect on whatever they decide on regarding judicial issues. They are the sole arbiter and I am glad that they are exercising their mandate with complete independence,” Tiangco said. 

Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, who earlier pushed for the filing of an ouster complaint against some SC justices for alleged despotism over the High Court’s flip-flopping decisions is counting on Sereno to implement such reform. ”I just hope it (SC) does. I need to see the supposed strategy before I can further comment,” he said.
Umali was part of the prosecution panel during the Corona impeachment trial. He said the SC’s flip-flopping decision on the pork barrel system and the disqualification case against fellow Liberal Party member, Regina Reyes as Marinduque representative are among the grounds for impeaching some SC justices.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., a lawyer and former prosecutor during the Corona ouster trial shrugged off Sereno’s pronouncement. “There is nothing novel in Sereno’s pronouncement. Every law student knows the basic rule of stare decisis – adherrence to precedents,” he said.
He branded as “alarming” the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court in the Belgica case. He said “the High Tribunal declared as unconstitutional not only the PDAF in the 2013 GAA, but even the CDF (countrywide development fund) in the GAA of 1994, and the PDAF in the 2004 GAA. He said the 1994 CDF and 2004 PDAF were declared constitutional in the celebrated cases of Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) and Lawyers Against Monopoly and Poverty (LAMP), a group of lawyers.
“There is no more finality and stability in the SC decisions since any decision as shown in the Belgica case can be overturned anytime by the Supreme Court. Basic is the rule that when the SC is confronted with the issue of constitutionality of an act made by the legislature or the executive, the SC as much as possible should exercise judicial restraint out of respect to a separate but a co-equal branch of the government,” he explained.
Barzaga noted that the Belgica decision has even a stronger impact because in declaring as unconstitutional not only the 2013 PFAF but even the 1994 CDF and 2004 PDAF, the present justices of the SC are saying that the justices who sustained the constitutionality of the 1994 CDF and 2004 PDAF were ignorant of the Constitution.
Apart from PDAF rulings, the SC was criticized for flip-flopping decisions on several cases in the past. These includes its rulings on the constitutionality of laws passed by the 11th Congress that prompted the conversion of 16 municipalities into cities, and the payment of separation benefits of 5,000 employees of the National Power Corp. (Napocor) who were illegally terminated in 2003.
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