The Supreme Court recently recalled its “final and executory” judgment that rejected the appeal and two motions for reconsideration by the Philippine Air Lines to reinstate 1,400 employees illegally retrenched in 1998. It said that it committed a “mistake” in assigning the case to the Second Division when it should have been to the Special Third Division, based on its own Internal Rules. Once again, the Supreme Court demonstrated supreme fallibility to improper external pressures.
A mere letter from the influential PAL lawyer Estelito Mendoza led the Supreme Court en banc to recall its order. After all, based on its own explanation, there was no Third Division because of the retirement of most of its regular members. A more logical response would have been for the Supreme Court to upheld the decision. While acknowledging the procedural error, it should have defended or affirmed the substantive validity of the decision–doing otherwise can only undermine the integrity and sanctity of the decision of their colleagues.
I do not buy the argument of the Supreme Court spokesperson that a minor violation of the court’s own Internal Rules can raise big doubts about a decision on a major case, particularly when the legal bases of the decision followed a well-trodden path in a simple labor dispute. It is not, in any way, a landmark decision.
Unfortunately for the Supreme Court, the recall itself raised big doubts, not only on the part of the petitioner Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (Fasap) but in the legal community and the public at large. It is the doubt about the vulnerability of the high court or some of its members to undue external influences.
It is the kind of doubt that the Supreme Court should be wary of. It is the doubt that undermines its own integrity, its brand of “supreme justice” and ultimately transfers to the political realm as the institution forces the various political forces to regard it as a partisan institution–not standing above the social fray and acting as an impartial arbitrator.
It forces the other branches of the republican system to review their own relations to the Supreme Court within the framework of the principle of check and balances. They could not idly watch on the side while the Supreme Court keeps on alienating vast swaths of the people against the entire system. A showdown, including a possible impeachment, is in the offing if the current trajectory is any indicator.