Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 26 November 2011

It is an indictment of our Supreme Court that their decisions/resolutions are being viewed with suspicion, if not hostility or downright disgust, by the general public. The only other time I can remember that they were held in such contempt was during the Marcos years (that’s how long in the tooth I am). Then as now, of course, there were notable exceptions that prove the rule: Cecilia Palma, Enrique Zaldivar, Roberto Concepcion during the Marcos dictatorship, and the likes of Antonio Carpio and Ma. Lourdes Sereno today (Conchita Carpio Morales, too, until she retired).

Although the Court has been sliding down the slippery slope to disrepute for a long time—particularly with its penchant for “flip-flop-flipping” in the first decade of the millennium—the speed of its descent accelerated, arguably, when it brazenly upheld the midnight appointment of Chief Justice Renato Corona. After that came other decisions/actions held increasingly askance by the citizenry—redefining plagiarism in order to take one of its brethren off the hook, telling tales on each other—tall (inaccurate) tales at that (recall the Vizconde revelation that Corona told him that Carpio was lobbying in the Webb case), recalling a long-awaited and generally applauded decision on the basis of a letter from a favored lawyer (the Fasap-PAL case), the haste in granting restraining orders (on the legislature and the executive (the Merceditas Gutierrez and the more recent Gloria Arroyo cases respectively), etc.
The latest doubtful action has to do with the Arroyo case, and comes in the aftermath of the TRO. There is a glaring discrepancy between what is contained in its latest Resolution (GR Nos. 199034 and 199046 on the Arroyo case, Nov. 18), and what transpired during their deliberations on the matter as reported by Sereno in her dissenting opinion. In a nutshell, she says that the decision in chambers was that the second condition of the Court’s TRO was not fully complied with, but that there was no need to explicitly state the legal effect of such non-compliance, i.e., the suspension of the TRO pending compliance (presumably because all lawyers know it).

But if one reads the Resolution without reading Sereno’s report, one would never know that the Court had decided that there was non-compliance with a condition of the TRO, much less that its legal effect was the TRO’s suspension. Because what the Resolution only ordered was that Arroyo (Jose Miguel) should amend the Special Power of Attorney he executed in favor of his lawyer. As a matter of fact, Court Administrator Midas Marquez announced to all and sundry that “the TRO was in full force and effect.”
That glaring discrepancy is another black eye for the high court because it is obvious that there was fudging—to the point of lying—about what was agreed on. I would bet my bottom peso that it wasn’t Sereno who fudged/lied.

Against that backdrop, it is not hard to understand why, amidst general rejoicing on the final victory of the farmers who have endured injustice for over 40 years (the land was supposed to be distributed to them by 1968), there is still speculation and suspicion about the motives of the Court in its very recently promulgated decision (Nov. 22) on the Hacienda Luisita case.
It will be recalled that on July 5 of this year (about 10 months after oral arguments were heard), the Court in what many considered a “bakla” or at least a very confusing decision, upheld the decision of the agrarian authorities to place the Hacienda Luisita under compulsory coverage (revoking the Stock Distribution Plan) in favor of its original farmworker-beneficiaries (FWBs). It then spoiled the effect by also decreeing that they had the option to vote on whether to get the land or continue as shareholders of the corporation—using the so-called “operative fact doctrine” as justification.

Naturally, motions for reconsideration, partial reconsideration, and clarification and partial reconsideration were filed by all and sundry.

The Court now says no more “option to vote” because the Court realizes that under the SDO the farmers can never control the land, which is the essence of agrarian reform. Not only do the original beneficiaries get the land, (a rare 14-0 vote) but also the Department of Agrarian Reform is not prevented from subsequently subjecting to agrarian reform other agricultural lands (roughly around 1,500 hectares—scm) originally held by the lanowners that should have been covered but were not.
Concurring and dissenting opinions were written by Corona (that the stock distribution option should be declared unconstitutional—and I think he has the right of it), Bersamin, Sereno (who thinks that the landowners must be compensated at current market value and not at the value prevailing in 1989) and Brion who, bless his heart (although it doesn’t make up for the fact that he did not stand up for his decision in the Fasap case), also wanted that the FWBs should be paid rentals for the use and possession of their land starting Nov. 21, 1989.

Corona’s opinion, in particular, had some great prose regarding the principles of genuine agrarian reform and social justice.
But suspicions still arise, ranging, on one end, that the Corona Court is doing this to get back at P-Noy; and, on the other end, that the decision actually contains poison pill provisions that will redound to the benefit of the landowners and the disadvantage of the farmers.

The Court has to work hard to restore its credibility.