Wake Up, Philippines!

Overstepping its bounds

Posted in Complaints, Congress, Court of Appeals, Judiciary, Supreme Court by Erineus on February 20, 2009

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If there is a complaint against a court decision or the conduct of a judge or justice, the complaint should be brought to the Supreme Court, which has disciplinary powers over members of the judiciary. Summoning those members to a congressional inquiry to explain a judicial act may be entertaining to watch, especially when there are suspicions that justice might have been sold to the highest bidder, but Congress will be overstepping its bounds. This is a slippery slope that members of Congress would do well to avoid.

The issue cropped up amid reports that the House of Representatives is planning to summon Court of Appeals Justice Apolinario Bruselas and members of his division as well as Judge Nina Antonio-Valenzuela of the Manila Regional Trial Court. A year ago the judge had issued a temporary restraining order on the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, which had planned to institute action that would have protected depositors from the collapse of rural banks belonging to the Legacy group of companies. As BSP officials have explained, quick intervention would have averted disaster.

When the case went up the Court of Appeals, the BSP’s hands were tied further, with the CA upholding the lower court’s TRO. Lawmakers have pointed out that this violated the New Central Bank Act of 1993, which prevents the courts from blocking BSP investigations of fraud. The law also gives the BSP a free hand to move immediately in cases where banks face insolvency.

It is not surprising to learn that there might be members of the judiciary who do not know the law, since too many people have joined this branch of government based chiefly on the right connections rather than capability. The public has long suspected that there is big money to be made in the issuance of TROs, especially in cases involving business transactions.

But if the Manila judge and CA justices have erred, a complaint must be filed against them with the Supreme Court, possibly by the BSP. The high tribunal can then determine guilt and impose the appropriate punishment. This task does not belong to the legislature, whose members might see a precedent and decide to have a say in every controversial judicial decision, the way they are already interfering in decisions on the implementation of development projects. What lawmakers can do is to strengthen the regulatory environment and prevent a repeat of the Legacy mess.

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