Threat to Threat: How to Influence Supreme Court Justices

By Bernadine Racoma, originally posted at Blog Watch, Threat to Threat: How to Influence Supreme Court Justices

So what assistance would the “small lady” be offering the representative from Oriental Mindoro this time? Reynaldo Umali, one of the prosecutors during the Corona Impeachment Trial who became infamous for his “small lady” alibi, is now leading another attack on the Judiciary. This time, he and his ilk appear hell-bent to prevent Noynoy Aquino’s questionable DAP from getting struck down as unconstitutional.

Some members of the Lower House are trying to threaten a threat – the threat of completely losing fund allocations viewed as the only alternative to the recently declared illegal PDAF. How do they intend to do it? Of course, through a tried and tested formula – impeachment. They are planning to impeach a number of justices, particularly those believed to be non-sympathizers of DAP. The Palace, however, distancesitself from the move.

Umali refuses to identify the to-be-impeached justices but he says he is working on obtaining the support of his colleagues, some 289 of them, to transmit an impeachment complaint to the Senate.

The Allegations – Despotism and Usurpation of Executive’s Power

Well, these allegations don’t really deserve to be given the bullet treatment; we just want to highlight how sparse and vague they are. There isn’t a formal impeachment complaint yet but we can’t imagine how it would shape up considering the ambiguity of the accusations and even the mere fact that Umali himself couldn’t name who the impeachable justices would be.


Umali says that the justices are acting like despots, particularly noting how the court has flip-flopped on the PDAF issue and its inconsistent ruling on the disqualification case of Marinduque representative Regina Reyes. These judicial despots, he says with conviction, had “violated the fundamental principles of law and jurisprudence and established doctrines.”

Usurpation of the Executive’s Power

The usurpation accusation, as Umali would put it, is based on how the Supreme Court ordered the prosecution of lawmakers involved in the abuse of PDAF.

Yes, they sound empty and they probably are. They have the tags “threat” and “warning” all over them. They’re insinuating how the impeachment card is always ready for the administration. Moreover, with Umali leading the charge, it’s a reminder of how enigmatically powerful the “small lady” and Umali’s gate are. These mysterious entities are capable of producing documents that can incriminate Supreme Court justices.

Not How the Corona Impeachment Worked

The Umali-headed threat against the Supreme Court is very dissimilar to the Corona Impeachment. Back then, President Aquino was very vocal about eliminating the Chief Justice from government office. He used every avenue possible to demonize Corona and used all forcesof the government to oil the wheels of the impeachment process.

Apparently, Umali and his gang are just trying to do anticipatory attacks as they try to please the Palace with their “initiative.” Malacanang seems to have a different stratagem, though. There are no instances of blatantly and publicly humiliating justices this time. No speeches pointing out certain personalities in the Supreme Court. Team Noynoy seems to be heading for the underhanded approach, as Sereno’s appointment as Chief Justice created more enemies for him in the Supreme Court.

Despite welding an overwhelming advantage at the Senate when they ousted Corona, the landscape has radically changed when PDAF was declared unconstitutional. Jinggoy may have callously denied that he voted for Corona’s ouster notwithstanding the P50 million bribe  through DAP, but it’s quite obvious how he contradicts himself with the insinuation that Corona was convicted because the senators were indeed bribed.

Corona had the worst disadvantage being closely associated with the former president. The same can’t be said of the other justices this time. It will not be easy to associate SC justices with the former leader especially when moves to impeach them are clearly linked to the issue of DAP’s constitutionality.

Backdoor Approach

The administration must have realized how publicly attacking a number of Supreme Court justices cannot help their cause this time. PDAF and DAP are far more important issues than Hacienda Luisita. Corona fondly used the Hacienda Luisita decision as the reason why he was hounded by the Aquino administration. Obviously, it was such a lame and very ineffective tactic. If the justices, in the current issue, will use the PDAF decision and DAP issue as their shield, they are likely to get some favorable results. Attacking the Supreme Court now, with the Aquino government still suffering from the Yolanda embarrassment, will only benefit the Supreme Court as it is bound to attract public sympathy.

That’s why the more reasonable approach is to underhandedly court or compel the justices’ favor. If President Aquino can promise tempting “compensations” for the justices, he might win them over. Threatening them is just not going to work. The Supreme Court is still ruled by non-Aquino appointees who are mostly senior justices irked by theappointmentof a ridiculously less experienced Sereno as Chief Justice.

Why President Aquino Badly Needs to Win on DAP

All these seemingly desperate attempts to shake the Supreme Court to lend legality to the DAP is centered on the President. If DAP is declared unconstitutional, it can lead to an impeachment case against Aquino. IBP President Vicent Joyas said that DAP constitutes technical malversation. DAP is even worse than PDAF as it has no legal basis. It is a brand new creation of the current administration. Whether or not Aquino approved of it, he is still liable for its existence as he defended it and is still keeping his budget secretary who is believed to be the one directly responsible for DAP.

Team Noynoy says they’re ready for an impeachment complaint on DAP. Well, talk is cheap. He shouldn’t be letting his guard down now that the carrot he dangles for his horse (or pigs?) is about to be completely cut away. Who knows what the congressmen and senators would be doing after their “lifeblood” gets sucked away.

President Aquino Must Not Expect DAP to Be Upheld

While the President must aim to prevent the declaration of DAP as unconstitutional, he should not expect it to be declared constitutional. It’s too obvious that it isn’t. An overwhelming many believe that DAP is illegal. No law can justify its existence. Justices who will kowtow to Aquino will suffer in the next administration unless the new president is an Aquino ally.

Associate Justice Carpio dropped the hint when he mentioned that DAP may have been implemented without the president’s approval. The best that can be done, hence, is to convince justices to prevent the issue of DAP from being used in an impeachment complaint – to not directly say that it is illegal  It will be easier for the less-than-principled justices to write qualifying notes in their decisions instead of fully embracing DAP as constitutional. The Supreme Court decision could say that DAP is illegal but they point out circumstances in its implementation that could still exonerate the president.

Who knows – the justices could even say the funds used in DAP were indeed savings or that DAP is not really DAP but some other misnamed but legal procedure. After all, there’s so much about Philippine laws that can appease the masses without necessarily pinning down public officials.

Best Way to Influence Justices

The best way to influence justices is for the President to show that he can indeed influence justices. If the Tribune article about President Aquino having already secured the votes of 6 justices is true, he should be capitalizing on it. He has to show that he can indeed sway non-appointees to his side. Threatening the gods of Padre Faura is definitely the wrong approach.


Photo by Noemi Lardizabal-Dado. Some rights reserved.