The Supreme Court Can(not) Make Final Decisions

19 10 2011


by Paula Bianca Lapuz

The Supreme Court (SC) makes final decisions. Never mind the content of the decision, regardless, it’s final. That’s probably the only better argument against the high court’s unexpected action two weeks ago, when it reversed its supposedly “final” decision on the case of the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (FASAP) and the Philippine Airlines (PAL).

On September 07, 2011, the High Tribunal vindicated FASAP, rendering illegal the retrenchment of some 1, 400 PAL employees in 1998 and demanded the reinstatement of the workers.

But on October 04, 2011, the SC recalled its decision, favoring PAL, which again put the court amidst controversies.

Legislators and the Palace alike expressed their dismay over the court’s “flip-flopping” (Lawas 2011). Senator Miram Santiago, in an interview, said that she was angry over the decision of the high court because it compromised the credibility of the institution as the “bulwark of the peoples’ civil liberties.” She noted that the retraction of the court resolution did not just affect the 1, 400 plus complainants, but had also wasted the 13 years of litigation (Dalangin-Fernandez and Cabial 2011).

The decision came after PAL Lawyer Estelito Mendoza sent letters to the SC. Mendoza sought clarifications with the court regarding the division which issued the injunction. According to SC Spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez, the Court Division responsible for the case should have been the third Division but for some reason, the case was sent to the Second Division. Whether or not this was the explicit reason for the reversal of the decision was not clear.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona had likewise vented his disappointment over criticisms hurled at the court saying that the public should study the decision first before they say anything because they do not understand the case.

Analysis

The SC is supposedly infallible; at least, this should be the case. Of course, law scholars are expected to react negatively. But what is even more appalling is how the SC responds to the negative criticisms. The SC probably feels that it owes nothing to the public, and is therefore not obliged to explain its decision further. Never mind putting the institution’s credibility in jeopardy for as long as it can maintain its elite stature.

But that actually defeats the purpose of having a spokesperson. The SC spokesperson should be able to articulate the logic behind the SC’s decision. Midas did not elaborate on why the SC had radically changed its mind on the case. Does the second division think differently from the third? Does the third division give no prior value to the “final” decision issued by the second division? What difference does it make? To laymen, these are valid questions. And it is important that the SC is mindful of their public image, because their image is reflective of our whole justice system. If the High Court can alter decisions made with finality with a snap of finger, then how can the citizens rely on our justice system?

In a television interview, Midas mentioned that his appointment as the Supreme Court spokesperson is part of the institution’s way to bring the SC closer to the people. But at the moment, it appears that he is not fulfilling this goal.

One basic rule in political communication is to never leave issues unanswered. It will not hurt the SC if it goes the extra mile to explain why it did what it did.

Works cited:

Dalangin-Fernandez, Lira, and Fritzie Cabial. Interaksyon News 5. October 12, 2011. http://www.interaksyon.com/article/15021/corona-slams-critics-as-solon-sees-impeachment-for-fasap-flip-flop (accessed October 17, 2011).

Lawas, Hector. Journal Online. October 15, 2011. http://journal.com.ph/index.php/news/national/15395-sc-denies-sidestepping-recall-order-on-fasap (accessed October 17, 2011).


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