[Blueboard] Nation Walks on Knife's Edge

Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan slb at admu.edu.ph
Wed Oct 29 11:21:14 PHT 2003


Nation walks on knife's edge
By Amando Doronilla
Philippine Daily Inquirer
29 October 2003

THE NATION Tuesday walked on the knife's edge of an intensifying 
constitutional crisis over the impeachment complaint against Supreme Court 
Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., following the failure of efforts to 
strike a compromise formula to break the impasse between the Court and a 
bloc of congressmen associated with business tycoon Eduardo Cojuangco, who 
muscled the complaint in the House of Representatives.

The search for a compromise appeared doomed as Davide hardened his 
position that he "is ready to fight this battle all the way to where it 
will go" and Cojuangco's henchmen in his Nationalist People's Coalition 
(NPC) party in the House were equally adamant in insisting that the issue 
of transmitting the complaint to the Senate was "non-negotiable." 

With either side unbending, it became inevitable that the complaint will 
be sent to the Senate within the week. With the tinder dry, the 
transmittal is expected to ignite the flashpoint that is expected to 
explode into a full-blown constitutional crisis once it gets to the 
Senate. The delay in transmittal did not buy time for the search of a 
compromise formula as the impasse pushed the nation into sharp 
polarization.

The prospects of avoiding a constitutional collision became even more 
remote as a group of lawyers was poised to file with the Supreme Court a 
request for a temporary restraining order, on the grounds that the 
complaint was questionable as it manifested "grave abuse of discretion or 
lack or excess of jurisdiction." 

This petition is like pouring oil on live coal and can provoke an 
immediate head-on clash between the Court and the legislature. The crisis 
has so generated enough heat that over the past couple of days, the 
impeachment issue has become an issue that has fueled the beginnings of 
mass mobilization by several groups already taking to the streets to 
demonstrate support for Davide and the Court and to condemn the 
congressional sponsors of the impeachment complaint. Protest actions from 
professional groups -- including judges, lawyers and citizens' movements 
-- have sprung up in what appears to be the early formation of another 
people power movement

While the streets are again astir over the impeachment, this time the 
public outrage is directed toward showing support for the beleaguered 
Court and Chief Justice, who has been accused by the impeachment 
complaint, of alleged corruption and irregularities in the disbursement of 
the Judicial Development Fund. Unlike in People Power II, which installed 
then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the presidency in 2001, 
people are going to the streets not to demand the ouster of a sitting 
government. This time they are mobilizing to defend an institution -- the 
Supreme Court, symbolized by the Chief Justice, who is the focus of the 
complaint -- and are in a lynch mob mood to vent their wrath on political 
groups responsible for pushing the complaint through the House. 

Two developments are clear. First, the impeachment complaint has become 
the catalyst of a new political mobilization centered on Davide and the 
Court. Secondly, regardless of whether or not the Chief Justice deserves 
the charges brought against him, the perception has crystallized among the 
public that the complaint has constituted an assault on the independence 
of the judiciary and that it has set up the Chief Justice for political 
assassination or political martyrdom.

Like it or not, the Chief Justice has become the rallying point of mass 
mobilization over the issue of congressional abuse of its power of 
investigation carried out in the name of "in aid to legislation," the 
principle invoked by the sponsors of the impeachment action when they 
initiated an investigation in the House Committee on Justice into the 
disbursement of the Judicial Development Fund. 

This inquiry has raised the salience of two competing constitutional 
principles -- the power of the Congress to exercise oversight on the 
disbursement of public funds, and the independence of the judiciary from 
interference by the legislature on how it spends its budget, touching the 
issue of separation of powers. 

Even before the complaint has reached the Senate, a battle for public 
opinion has begun. The Articles of Impeachment has become widely 
circulated, signaling a public opinion offensive by the supporters of 
impeachment. The Chief Justice was no less quick in taking to the media to 
defend his actions, the Court's constitutional prerogatives and to answer 
the specific allegations of the complaint.


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