In the midst of the testimony of Philippine Savings Bank president Pascual Garcia III, the Supreme Court granted his bank’s petition for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the disclosure of SC Chief Justice Renato Corona’s dollar accounts. In an 8-5 decision with 2 abstentions, the SC invoked RA 6426, the Foreign Currency Deposit Act of 1974 (as amended by PD 1035 and PD 1246), a Marcos-era law absolutely prohibiting the disclosure of FCDU accounts without the consent of the depositor.
Thus, two schools of thoughts or doctrines will be tested in the coming week. One, is the constitutionally mandated Senate impeachment court with “sole power” to try impeachment cases subject to the jurisdiction of or is it superior to the Supreme Court in its own jurisdiction? Two, does a law–decreed by dictator Marcos no less–have an absolute application and not subject anymore to any interpretation or exception, particularly by a constitutionally-mandated sui generis impeachment court.
In the first case, any weakness by the impeachment court by accepting, to any degree, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court can fatally undermine its own jurisdiction and will open the door to more SC intervention. This includes the possibility of the SC stopping the impeachment trial altogether as what is prayed for by a separate petition for certiorari and TRO filed by no less than CJ Corona in his own court.
In the second case, acceptance of the absoluteness of any law, in this case the FCDU act, will also undermine the jurisdiction and even the capability of the impeachment court to fulfill its mandate of determining whether or not an impeachable public official is still fit to hold office. An impeachment process implies the fullest use of state power to get at the truth precisely because the impeachable official is in a position to use the power of his office to derail the search for truth. What this implies, in turn, is that the impeachment court–when it is convened–has only itself to turn to for interpreting its mandate.
In a situation of a divided Supreme Court, with Supreme Court majority decisions being questioned in the impeachment articles, it is dangerous for the impeachment court to allow any interference from this body in its proceedings. In its turn, the Supreme Court TRO exposes the eight justices who signed the order to contempt by the impeachment court at the least. It may, as a possibility, lead to their own impeachment.
It is–as yet–not a constitutional crisis precisely because both sides are still adhering to constitutional processes, albeit with differing interpretations of their respective role and mandate in relation to impeachment. The crisis will arrive when–as a consequence of each one’s decisions–the other side does not recognize the decisions and consequently defy them.
In this situation, the Executive will play the crucial role of choosing whom to recognize and therefore implement the orders, particularly in relation to contempt citations and orders for arrest. Unfortunately, for the Supreme Court majority, they will lose in this battle–it is an open secret that the opposing protagonist in the impeachment trial–despite not directly participating in it–is no less than the President of the Republic.
Will this weaken the Supreme Court as an independent institution? I don’t think so. For what weakened already the credibility of the institution is CJ Corona himself and the majority SC justices appointed by former president Arroyo, whose collective antics have lost the trust of the vast majority of our people in the impartiality, independence, and soundness of the present occupants of the institution.
The charge of the king’s knights only confirmed this. Alas, it is the charge of a light brigade.