During her interpellation in yesterday’s oral arguments on the Marcos burial at the Libingan, Chief Justice Sereno suddenly mentioned the case of “Galman vs. Sandiganbayan”. Not a few lawyers, myself included, looked up in surprise. While it was one of the 18 decisions where the Supreme Court called Marcos “authoritarian,” it had no substantial connection to the legal issues being argued.
But as she read part of the decision in that case into the record, it became apparent she was addressing herself not to the petitioners but to her brethren and to the institution they collectively represented. Through Galman, she was reminding the Court that the judiciary should never again bend the knee before an overbearing and belligerent executive; she was rallying the High Tribunal to the great constitutional standard of judicial independence and warning that such independence could rest only upon the extraordinary moral courage of each of the magistrates seated around her.
Maria Lourdes Sereno was appointed Chief Justice in 2012. Yesterday, she became the Chief.
SATURNINA GALMAN, et al. vs. SANDIGANBAYAN, FIRST DIVISION, et al. G.R. No. 72670 September 12, 1986
“…There has been the long dark night of authoritarian regime, since the fake ambush in September, 1972 of then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile (as now admitted by Enrile himself was staged to trigger the imposition of martial law and authoritarian one-man rule, with the padlocking of Congress and the abolition of the office of the Vice-President.
“As recently retired Senior Justice Vicente Abad Santos recalled in his valedictory to the new members of the Bar last May, “In the past few years, the judiciary was under heavy attack by an extremely powerful executive. During this state of judicial siege, lawyers both in and outside the judiciary perceptively surrendered to the animus of technicality. In the end, morality was overwhelmed by technicality, so that the latter emerged ugly and naked in its true manifestation.”
“Now that the light is emerging, the Supreme Court faces the task of restoring public faith and confidence in the courts. The Supreme Court enjoys neither the power of the sword nor of the purse. Its strength lies mainly in public confidence, based on the truth and moral force of its judgments. This has been built on its cherished traditions of objectivity and impartiallity integrity and fairness and unswerving loyalty to the Constitution and the rule of law which compels acceptance as well by the leadership as by the people. The lower courts draw their bearings from the Supreme Court. With this Court’s judgment today declaring the nullity of the questioned judgment or acquittal and directing a new trial, there must be a rejection of the temptation of becoming instruments of injustice as vigorously as we rejected becoming its victims. The end of one form of injustice should not become simply the beginning of another. This simply means that the respondents accused must now face trial for the crimes charged against them before an impartial court with an unbiased prosecutor with all due process. What the past regime had denied the people and the aggrieved parties in the sham trial must now be assured as much to the accused as to the aggrieved parties. The people will assuredly have a way of knowing when justice has prevailed as well as when it has failed.
“The notion nurtured under the past regime that those appointed to public office owe their primary allegiance to the appointing authority and are accountable to him alone and not to the people or the Constitution must be discarded. The function of the appointing authority with the mandate of the people, under our system of government, is to fill the public posts. While the appointee may acknowledge with gratitude the opportunity thus given of rendering public service, the appointing authority becomes functus officio and the primary loyalty of the appointed must be rendered to the Constitution and the sovereign people in accordance with his sacred oath of office. To paraphrase the late Chief Justice Earl Warren of the United States Supreme Court, the Justices and judges must ever realize that they have no constituency, serve no majority nor minority but serve only the public interest as they see it in accordance with their oath of office, guided only, by the Constitution and their own conscience and honour.”