Panganiban's Unwarranted Candor
These days, the shroud of mystery is being uncloaked by the somewhat reckless candor of the Chief Justice. Very recently, he perorated that the death penalty law is unconstitutional. Having said that, he just recused himself from sitting as one of the jurists in the event the death penalty is revisited before the High Court.
But why this seeming candor? The late Chief Justice Rehnquist of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) revealed himself through a number of books and for answering a puzzle in a newspaper. Justice Scalia exhibits his conservative and constructionist bent in his decisions and his various speeches in law schools.
Justice Scalia also had occasion to speak about the death penalty. But unlike Chief Justice Panganiban, he spoke of the death penalty as a measure that has long been sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church and that the Church while espousing the removal of the death penalty has never declared the immorality of the death penalty as a doctrinal dictum.
In our case, our Chief Justice is so open about the unconstitutionality of the death penalty that it is so obvious that when brought before the High Court, he would have to be removed from the case.
If this is his idea of having a transparent Supreme Court, he has his priorities misaligned. First of all, if he wants transparency, let the deliberations before the SC be broadcast live. Second, let their Statements of Assets and Liabilities be released to the public.
Although the SC has declared the SAL as off-limits because they are private in nature with the presumption that they cannot be bribed, still, public interest requires them to show to the public that they are paragons of virtue and honesty and that there is nothing to hide when cast before the light of public scrutiny.
Third, publish the budget and itemized expenditures of the Supreme Court and the entire Judiciary. This was the bane of the former Chief Justice Davide whose stewardship of the judicial branch led to the first ever attempt to impeach a Supreme Court Justice, and a Chief Justice at that. Doubts continue to remain considering that impeachment was dismissed on a technicality.
Fourth, publicize the proceedings in the Judicial and Bar Council so the public may know how the deliberations in the JBC are conducted and to further apprise the public of the quality of the judges or the lack of it which the JBC are recommending to the president for appointment to the bench.
All these are institutional attempts of transparency which will augur well for the judiciary rather than an ambush interview with the Chief Justice.
And his greatest legacy can come not in the form of casual responses to interviews, his greatest legacy can come from issuing decisions that show their independence from the Palace and those that seek to put the three branches of government in their rightful place and the protection and maintenance of any citizen’s bill of rights.
Then and only then will his place in judicial history be assured.