His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
At the 1st National Criminal Justice Summit
[Delivered at the Centennial Hall, Manila Hotel on December 5, 2011]
Our gathering this morning is an opportunity to further assess the strengths and weaknesses of the present criminal justice system, and to come up with new and timely initiatives concerning the delivery of justice. We say timely, because of recent headlines in newspapers and on television, in which the entire country has witnessed the complexities of the duties of our clerks of court, our lawyers, and our judges. There is no doubt as to the gravity of your task. Your decisions and the steps you take have implications integral to our democracy. Because of this, it is important to reflect on Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution: Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them. I remind you of this now because there was a point in our history when it seems we have been forgotten this. During martial law, justice was not directed toward the welfare of the people, but rather to cater to the whims of a single person: the late President Ferdinand Marcos. My own family was a victim of this: My father was court martialed, but the verdict had already been set even before the trial commenced. With a court made up of magistrates, lawyers, prosecutors, and witnesses all appointed by the accuser—Mr. Marcos—the dictatorship exerted all efforts to skew justice and run roughshod over my father’s human rights. He did no wrong, and yet he languished for seven years and seven months in jail, while those in power feasted on the national coffers. They took away Justice’s blindfold, and tilted its scales toward their own interests.
Now, as President of this country, I have a sworn duty: preserve and defend its Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation. And part of my mandate is making certain that what transpired during Martial Law does not happen again, and ensuring that anyone who so much as attempts to repeat the same offenses is held accountable.
This is why, from the moment I assumed office, we have been laying the groundwork to get to the bottom of the allegations of corruption against the past administration: from the fertilizer scam, which ended up fattening only the pockets of a few officials, to the ZTE deal, which allegedly resulted in the abduction of witness Jun Lozada; from the allegations of fraud in the 2004 and 2007 elections, to the many other acts of corruption that we want to shed light upon.
We started by creating the Truth Commission, which was supposed to look into the alleged widespread acts of corruption during the past administration, and to hold those responsible for them to account. We had no other purpose for this than to address past wrongdoings as quickly as possible. But we all know what happened: The Supreme Court said that the formation of the Truth Commission was unconstitutional. From the onset, obstacles had already been put in our path.
It is within the COMELEC’s duties to make certain that our elections remain fair. So it is but natural that they ask for the assistance of the DOJ in investigating the allegations of cheating back in 2007. The formation of such panels is not uncommon, and yet once again the Supreme Court is questioning it. They are also questioning the legality of the warrant of arrest issued by the Pasay Regional Trial Court to Mrs. Arroyo.
Also, note this: The Supreme Court handed down the TRO together with certain conditions. But not long after that, they themselves admitted that the conditions need not be met for the TRO to be in effect. How baffling of them to include conditions they had no plans of seeing fulfilled. We have been following all the right processes, and still we are being accused of picking a fight. May I ask: who in their right mind would not be suspicious of their true intent?
This is not the first time we were perplexed by a ruling of the Supreme Court. According to Article 7, Section 15 of the Constitution, “Two months immediately before the next presidential elections and up to the end of his term, a President or Acting President shall not make appointments, except temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety.” But we all know how Mrs. Arroyo insisted on appointing the Chief Justice. He was appointed, not two months before the election, but a week after. According to the law and one of their previous decisions, the Supreme Court ruled that the President could not appoint any official two months before an election, except for temporary appointments to the executive position. But they turned their back on their pronouncements when Mrs. Arroyo appointed the Honorable Chief Justice Renato Corona—in a position that was not in the executive branch, but of the judiciary. The question now is: is the Supreme Court in violation of the Constitution?
Another decision we have trouble accepting concerns the creation of districts in Congress: Article 6, Section 5 of the Constitution states that every district must have a population of more than 250,000. The problem was, there were areas that could not achieve this number—such as Camarines Sur, which has a population of about 176,000. When I was still in the Senate, as Chairman of the Committee on Local Government, I questioned the creation of this district, though the Supreme Court only junked the inquiry. The question now is: If the establishment of a district no longer relies on population, on what basis, then, will lawmakers rely? Does this mean that we continue to have rules on the creation of cities, but we have none for provinces or districts in provinces? I commiserate with the new Chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government, Senator Bongbong Marcos: I wish you good luck in resolving this problem; I tried my best to do so in my time.
We remain respectful of the separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive branches. We have no intention of encroaching on their duties, disregarding their rights, or tarnishing anyone’s reputation. But we need to remind ourselves of the bedrock principles of our democracy. We in public service owe it all to our Boss, the Filipino people. We are here only to serve the people, and to serve our fellow Filipinos with utmost industry and integrity.
Now, if there is one public servant who thinks he does not owe his countrymen—who, after all, is the wellspring of our power—but a patron who had snuck him into position, can we reasonably expect him to look after the interests of our people?
I do not have a degree in law. But I was brought up with a clear view of what is right and what is wrong; of what is just, and what is corrupt. I stand firmly in my belief that justice cannot be steered toward the whims of magistrates. Not even lawyers and judges can treat the law as a toy to be fiddled with or juggled according to what they desire.
Allow me to reiterate what I had mentioned earlier: the power of the Supreme Court, the President, and Congress all emanate from their single Boss: the people. Therefore, we should only favor and fight for the people’s interests. I swore to preserve and defend the Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation. I have no intention of violating my sworn oath; I have no intention of failing the Filipino people.
It is my obligation—it is everyone’s obligation—to remain focused on a single direction, under one unifying aspiration: to serve and uphold the interests of the nation. To all those who stand shoulder to shoulder with us along this straight and righteous path, have faith: So long as we are on the side of what is right, we will not back down from any fight. And so long as the people are behind us, we will triumph. Let us not let them down.
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