In what at first seemed like a surprising â€“ and potentially disturbing â€“ acquiescence by the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Serenoâ€™s unusual unilateral issuance of a temporary restraining order against the COMELEC preventing them from removing Emmanuel â€œMannyâ€ Maliksi from his contested seat as the mayor of Imus, Cavite was upheld by the Courtâ€™s en banc session on Tuesday, keeping the son of key Aquino ally Ayong Maliksi safely in the office the COMELEC and just about everyone else in this city believes he lost by about 8,000 votes in the 2010 election.
Naturally, Serenoâ€™s office stridently denied she had been â€œinfluencedâ€ (read: â€œorderedâ€) by Liberal Party officials, perhaps the President himself, to issue the TRO in Maliksiâ€™s favor, but the details of the case make it very unlikely (read: â€œno way in hellâ€) there is any other explanation. Serenoâ€™s exercising of her prerogative to issue a TRO without consulting the rest of the Court is apparently only the second time a Chief Justice has done so. The idea behind giving the CJ that authority is to provide a remedy when â€œurgent actionâ€ is required; as Bel Cunanan explains in her blog, the younger Maliksiâ€™s petition for a TRO was already under consideration by the Court, with both sides having been ordered to submit comments. This, plus the fact that it took the COMELEC 26 months to render their en banc decision in favor of Maliksiâ€™s opponent, former Mayor Homer Saquilayan, rather suggests the matter was something a bit less than â€œurgentâ€.
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Unless, of course, the gantlet of LP/Maliksi cult members and related paraphernalia one must run when accompanying oneâ€™s elderly relative to register to vote at Imus City Hall indicates what might be â€œurgentâ€ about the whole thing. Which is annoying, because the practical implications of which of the two factions of the clan (Ayong Maliksi and Homer Saquilayan are cousins) hold power are minimal for anyone but the politicians themselves. Saquilayan and the spawn or other designated agent of Maliksi have been wrestling for the Mayorâ€™s office for years, not noticing that the city sort of runs itself in the absence of any real political leadership; in a way, it makes it a nice place to live, but doesnâ€™t exactly inspire confidence in the Pinoy concept of democracy. Plus the uncertainty encourages the 743 unemployed sons of Ramon Revilla from neighboring Bacoor to try to impose themselves on our fair burg, like roaches that have run out of food in their own house.
So in one respect, neither the COMELECâ€™s decision nor Serenoâ€™s arbitrary overruling of it really make much difference, but in another bigger and more important context, Serenoâ€™s eagerness to meet one of you-know-whoâ€™s minor, short-term objectives could be a fatal blow against whatever shreds of process and regularity still govern the electoral system in this country. In essence, her issuance of a TRO can only be rationally interpreted a couple different ways, neither of them good:
A) Either the COMELEC ruled improperly inÂ bothÂ its initial August finding against Maliksi and its en banc confirmation of the decision last month, which means that any decision the constitutional body has made should be considered suspect,
B) Or the ruling by the Carpio division and the majority decision by the Court not to address Maliksiâ€™s TRO petition pending the outcome of the directive for both sides to present arguments were improper, and should be ignored.
In someplace other than Bizarro World, the Court meeting en banc would have firmly rejected Serenoâ€™s order as overstepping her bounds, if not for ruling against the decision of another constitutional body without first hearing its answer, then at least for stepping on the toes of other Justices who have made a binding ruling on a petition before their division. The Chief Justice may be primer inter pares, but she is not the boss. But surprisingly, the Court upheld her move; or at least the nine of the fourteen who were actually present did, which in any case would have been a majority of the full Court.
At first blush, this might appear to be evidence of the entire Supreme Court turning into an Administration tool, and there are undoubtedly a great many people who are convinced that is exactly what is happening. But that might not be the case. Friction among the Supreme Court justices â€“ or more specifically, friction between Sereno and eight or nine of the others â€“ is no secret; the rather childish boycotting of the morning flag ceremony is the public evidence of it, but according to people who work there, the atmosphere behind closed doors has become increasingly hostile.
Backing Serenoâ€™s TRO might seem like exactly the opposite of what should happen under those circumstances; for one thing, it lets her off the hook for the potentially impeachable offense of grave abuse of discretion. But it puts her right back on the hook â€“ and with her, the LP operatives who still have to go to the Court and argue that a guy who is believed to be in office only because of several thousand corrupted ballots should stay there â€“ to make a sound, legal justification why an investigation and ruling of the COMELEC, another body full of Aquino henchmen, was illegal. Chaos ensues â€“ even if the Supreme Court eventually rules in Maliksiâ€™s favor, the minimum outcome is two gears in the Aquino machine grinding against one another. And if the other justices have any self-possession left â€“ and you can bet that jurists at the pinnacle of their legal careers certainly do â€“ they are going to extract more than a pound of flesh from the CJ and her feckless patron as the price of playing nice.
While it is entertaining to watch all the different ways the Tarlac Special Olympics Team seems to find to blow itself apart, the sad reality is none of this is accomplishing anything. Moving Heaven and Earth to try to secure an election win for the office of Mayor in one city â€“ a city in which electoral protests are a perfectly ordinary part of the process, at that â€“ is not putting the interests and needs of the country first. Whatâ€™s even more distressing is that thereâ€™s a fair bit of evidence the limited minds at the top of the political heap actually understand that, and could not care less.