“There is no peace without justice, and no justice without forgiveness”
(St. John Paul II, February 8, 2003)
I HAD always thought that justice was blind. Now, with the efforts to again impeach a Supreme Court Chief Justice, I realize it is we the people who have been blind all along to the mystique represented by the Justices of the Philippine Supreme Court. Filipinos have mostly held the Supreme Court and its Justices to a supreme degree of respect and even, in certain instances, adulation. Then came Chief Justice Corona’s sobering impeachment. It ended in a loud whimper of everything but grace. He was removed from the highest pedestal of the Supreme Court by a majority vote of the then sitting senators acting as judges. I had thought that, minus the politically charged public excoriations by then President Pinoy of former CJ Corona, it was nonetheless a necessary tool of government towards a more credible justice system in the country. I now realize how naive I was.
A relatively young lady judge took his place, bypassing more senior justices who joined the SC before her. Now it is her turn, under a new administration, to face another impeachment roller-coaster. Her case is a similar and yet a different story on its own.
Like her predecessor, she earned the ire of the chief executive, but for different reasons. To someone outside the legal profession the current CJ’s predicament began when she criticized the anti-drug-campaign-related killings since the launching of OPLAN TOKHANG in 2016 by the administration. It seemed that she is about to join the fate of a lady senator before her who initially also opposed TOKHANG killings and initiated senate hearings on the issue, but later ended up in jail on charges of being a big time drug operator herself. Two ladies who, for all intents and purposes, have been doing everything to serve the country’s justice system now seem to have fallen instead into a systematic operation against critics of the anti-drug war.
If that is not supreme irony, I would not know what is.
On top of that, ordinary citizens were served unprecedented scenes in the House of Representatives of Supreme Court justices clearly at odds with the current CJ testifying against her on various charges. Associate Justices gave vent to their supreme dissatisfaction against their present head through a litany of grievances at once eye-opening and at the same time disheartening. To me the exercise was not unlike the case of a beleaguered prominent family, with sons and daughters exposing their mother’s dirty linen in public so as to force her to leave the house. And they have managed, as admitted by the acting CJ, to make her consent to an indefinite leave ostensibly to allow her to prepare for her impending impeachment.
Why is this matter important to people of faith such as ourselves?
In the first place, faith and justice are inseparable. In truth, faith must do justice. When our system of justice in the country is therefore made more problematic by a chief executive who has a low tolerance for any opposition to his policies and a Supreme Court whose independence is becoming more and more in doubt, the practice of faith is also wounded. If the God of Abraham could not tolerate the oppression of his people in Egypt, his people today betrays him if they allow a travesty of true justice.
Second, faith entails listening to and doing God’s Word that reveals God’s will to us. This, to people of faith, is the real foundation of genuine law and order being served by a working justice system. Although, for instance, Paul the Apostle tells us to “be in subjection to all governing authorities” (Rom 13:1), he also shows us that our “rulers are ministers of God” (Rom 13:6). Therefore when a political authority contradicts God’s will, such as the sanctity of life (Ex 20:13) or of marriage (Ex 20:14; Mt 19:6), or the rendering to “Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mk 12:17), which includes genuine justice inside and outside the courts, Peter’s advice gives us our clear direction: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Third, Supreme Court Justices must be supreme examples both of civilized human conduct and, if they are Christian, of Gospel-inspired behavior. The House hearings have opened a can of worms on the CJ’s part; whether they amount to impeachable offenses remains to be seen. But her detractors do not come off as saintly either. Paul’s words could apply to them when he urges Thessalonian Christians to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to attend to your business, and work with your hands, just as we commanded you,” (1 Thess 4:14). Most of all, they must bear in mind the Master’s words: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Mt 5:6), not those who hunger for power, political patronage, popularity or wealth. This kind of faith should inspire the justices’ acts to truly seek after protecting the court’s Integrity. It should also warn them that whenever they give in to political pressure or personal ambitions and interests rather than the dictates of true justice, they become living contradictions.
And that is Supreme Irony.