Revive blog and Constitutional law

The time has come to revive my moribund blog. I stopped writing and posting as the well had run dry, so to speak, and I found myself at loose ends as to whether I wanted to continue blogging or not.
But the most gripping legal drama of the decade began to unfold over the past two months and I felt the urge not to let the event go unremarked.

My views are, to borrow Thomas Merton’s phrase, that of a “guilty bystander”. I am guilty of many things, not least of which is a recurring apathy and indifference towards events swirling around me, and an unhealthy tendency to focus on my own peculiar miseries. What Merton called “a spurious self-isolation in a special world”. This is an attempt to break out of my shell and once again engage with the world at large. If only through the blogosphere.

For starters I wanted to write about something arid yet compelling, oftentimes insufficiently understood but nowadays a subject of much heated debate — constitutional law. I am far from being an expert, or even an assiduous student, of the Constitution. Yet it is my conceit that I have something worthwhile to say on the subject, if only from the point of view a curious observer.

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Plagiarism in the Supreme Court

Justice Mariano Del Castillo is being accused of plagiarism in not properly citing the scholarly authorities used in the decision in Viduya vs. Executive Secretary, which he penned. An ethics committee has been formed to investigate the matter, chaired by Chief Justice Renato Corona, with Justice Teresita de Castro as the working chair and Justices Roberto Abad, Jose Perez, and Jose Mendoza as members.

But did he actually copy the words of an article written by Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association, and passed them off as his own ? Mr. Ellis’ article, entitled “Breaking the Silence on Rape as an International Crime”, was published in the Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law and makes the case for considering rape as a crime against humanity, like piracy, genocide and other heinous offenses, and therefore “ subject to universal jurisdictions under customary international law”.

The Viduya ruling, in disposing of the claims of Filipino victims of Japan’s wartime policy of forcing women to work as sex slaves serving Japanese soldiers, held that the Philippines is under no obligation to assist in pursuing the comfort women’s claims. It essentially becomes a diplomatic issue. According to the Court, since “ The Executive Department has determined that taking up petitioners’ cause would be inimical to our country’s foreign policy interests, and could disrupt our relations with Japan thereby creating serious implications for stability in this region”, the Court cannot compel the government to take up the cudgels for the victims. The petition was accordingly dismissed.

Although it may appear from a quick and superficial reading of the Ellis article and the Viduya ruling that they espouse differing views on how rape should be treated under international law, they are actually on the same page. Both seem to “ fully agree that rape, sexual slavery, torture, and sexual violence are morally reprehensible as well as legally prohibited under contemporary international law”. But it was precisely in explaining the immediately preceding quote that Justice Del Castillo might have sailed into intellectually dishonest waters. Continue reading “Plagiarism in the Supreme Court”

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Noynoy Aquino and the Rule of Law

Talking to reporters during his retirement ceremony yesterday, outgoing Chief Justice Reynato Puno commented on the refusal of president-elect Noynoy Aquino to take his oath of office before the incoming Chief Justice, Renato Corona. C.J. Puno said that Mr. Aquino should “respect the rule of law” in answer to a question regarding Aquino’s plan of being sworn in by a yet unnamed barangay captain in Tarlac province. This as a way of snubbing GMA’s choice of Puno’s successor, a “midnight appointee” from Noynoy’s point of view. Even though the Supreme Court was nearly unanimous (Justice Carpio-Morales dissented) in declaring that the president “has an imperative duty under the Constitution to fill up the vacancies” in the S.C. even if she is set to leave in a few weeks, delicadeza be damned.

To be sure, there is nothing in the Constitution or the law which would compel Noynoy to take his oath of office before the Chief Justice. All that is required is that the person be authorized to administer oaths. For this purpose, a barangay head would be as good as any justice.

But tradition is sometimes weightier than the the letter (or non-letter) of the law. Only two past Philippine presidents (Quezon and Osmena) were not sworn into office by the Philippine C.J., during the commonwealth and war periods. All post-independence presidents took their office of office before the Chief Justice. The reason is simple: this is a recognition of the separation of powers between the three main branches of government and an acknowledgment of the respect and deference due the leader of a supposedly co-equal branch. Although in reality, an imperial presidency trumps both the legislature and judiciary in terms of actual power and prestige. Continue reading “Noynoy Aquino and the Rule of Law”

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