Aquino's wish for a weakened judiciary hit

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Friday, August 15, 2014

LAWYERS and Vice President Jejomar Binay expressed opposition on Friday to President Benigno Aquino III's wish to clip the powers of the Supreme Court (SC), believing this will undermine the checks and balances in a democratic government.

In an interview, Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) president Vicente Joyas said Aquino is somewhat bent on undoing the legacy of his mother, former President Corazon Aquino, who successfully pushed for a constitution that strengthens the role of the judiciary to check on the abuses of the two other branches of government: Congress and the Office of the President.

"This is really dangerous especially if his main purpose is to curtail the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court. It seems that they want a government that is similar during the martial law years," said Joyas.

Despite Malacañang's denial, the IBP leader is certain that Aquino's turnaround on the issue of charter change was triggered by the SC decision against the constitutionality of his Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

Aquino complained in a television interview aired Wednesday night that the SC seemed to have been using "its powers to check other branches much too often," prompting him to entertain the thought of amending the constitution for the first time.

But for Binay, the SC is only doing its constitutional mandate, especially in the DAP case, to "determine whether or not there has been grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch of instrumentality of government."

"I appreciate the powers vested in the Supreme Court by the 1987 Constitution. It enshrines the hopes of the millions of Filipinos who made the 1986 Edsa Revolution possible for a strong judicial institution as the best safeguard against dictatorship in whatever form," said Binay, a human rights lawyer during martial law.

He added that a healthy democracy will benefit the public.

"Those advising the President to pursue a course that will lead to a frontal confrontation with the Supreme Court are bringing our country to the brink of a political and constitutional crisis. They are also putting in peril the President's chance to leave a positive legacy to the people," Binay said.

But in case the express provision of the expanded power of judicial review is removed, a law dean is optimistic that the SC can still do its function as final arbiter of legal disputes.

"This is the province of the judiciary, unless we are ready to change our constitutional culture of checks and balances," San Beda Graduate School of Law dean Father Ranhillo Aquino said.

Meanwhile, Binay opposed those who believe in lifting the presidential term of six years because it may breed destabilization and divisiveness at a time when national unity is needed.

"I pray for sober reflection to restrain abrupt political initiatives. We must never allow purely partisan considerations to erode the institutions that guarantee our freedoms," the vice president said.

Father Aquino said the constitution is amended only for a "serious reason" and extending the term of a president does not fall in this category at all.

Binay though is open to changing the economic provisions of the charter, whose protectionist policies have allegedly discouraged foreign investors to set up more businesses in the country. (Sunnex)

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