By: Vergel O. Santos
SEEMINGLY AT work today across the professions is a closing of ranks so self-aggrandizing it perverts the nobler sense of fraternity. If it appears most marked among lawyers and judges, it’s only because circumstances have put them on the spot, circumstances of which three have been the most provocative:
-the ignoble fall, by televised impeachment trial, of a chief justice;
-the prospect of an outsider—either a non-member of the Supreme Court or, in any case, a non-clubby member—succeeding him; and
-a president apparently intent on not only naming an outsider precisely, but also using what power he has to sort out the judicial system.
If justice proves elusive and beggarly, so does, to be sure, education, health care, spiritual ministering, indeed, all public service, to which all vocations are pledged supposedly but now, seemingly only nominally. For that matter, my own profession—journalism—which likes to hold itself up as the watchdog for truth in the public interest, has been turned upside down so tragically it is the proper practitioners themselves who have become the minority, in fact not seldom ostracized outsiders.
Indeed, what we may well be seeing at work here is a perversion of democracy itself, a phenomenon in which the force of numbers, even if constituting a mere fraternal majority, is deployed for its own ends and deployed so brazenly and vociferously as to compensate precisely for its lack of legitimacy.
It may not be altogether implausible to blame those 14 years (1972-1986) of martial law when all sense of profession, vocation, or mission was validated or voided by one man—Ferdinand Marcos—and all sense of law and justice dictated by him. For how indeed could any sense, let alone practice, of free, moral thought survive that kind of setting and become established as legacy?
What in fact has survived to this day is martial law itself; it lives through habits (official and military corruption notably), through many of its characters (not the least Marcos’s widow and children, who have managed to maintain themselves in both wealth and office), and through concocted histories of which some continue to be used in academia.
In other words, while fixing blame is all part of the process of learning from one’s mistakes, no notable gain of the sort shows. And where precisely the need for reform is most urgent, not only has it gone unalleviated, it has been aggravated—in the dispensation of justice, in fact right at the highest levels.
Their chief impeached—for concealing improbable wealth and for, in yet other ways, betraying the public trust—tried, found guilty, and fired, and an associate justice facing similar proceedings, for plagiarism, the holdouts of the Supreme Court remain standing, almost to a justice, unchastened, in denial, indeed defiant. They insist that, as the dialect idiom goes, nothing’s broke with their court, and therefore nothin’ need fixin’, and that certainly they need no leadership from an outsider.
Apparently taking fraternal notice, the Judicial and Bar Council, a panel formed from among leaders of the legal establishment, including former judges, to screen and shortlist nominees to the Supreme Court, proceeds to work on a particular nominee, focusing on a disbarment case against her. Not surprisingly, she happens to be a front-running outsider—the president’s own justice secretary.
Secretary Leila de Lima has earned her disbarment honors precisely for challenging the court of yet-to-be-impeached Renato Corona, a court that counts him among its majority, a majority composed of justices appointed by Gloria Arroyo, a president being held to account for her scandal-ridden regime by her successor, for whom de Lima, like any other Cabinet member, acts as an alter ego. She refused to obey an order by the Supreme Court allowing Arroyo, its own effective creator, to fly away, potentially out of reach of Philippine justice; de Lima reasoned that the order had been inadequately served, not to mention obviously railroaded.
The chain of patronage is itself too obvious to be ignored, indeed too dangerous, for it consolidates the power and culture of injustice. (http://www.cmfr-phil.org/inmediasres/the-power-of-injustice/)
(Vergel O. Santos has been a journalist for over four decades. He worked as a senior editor of the Business Day, consulting editor of the Journal publications, and executive editor of The Manila Times and The Manila Chronicle. He has written four books, all on his profession, one, “The Newswriting Formula”, a university text. Mr. Santos is today a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, and Chairman of the Editorial Board of BusinessWorld, Philippines.)