A reflection on the World Cup – politics and the chief justice

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“To jump back to the World Cup, the roster of teams participating seems odd due to the non-inclusion of Italy.”

I have been getting up past my normal waking hours, thanks to the World Cup matches.

Festivities kicked off last week with the formidable host country Russia’s thrashing of Saudi Arabia in the presence of Vladimir Putin. The First Round of matches ended with a string of surprises – defending champion Germany losing to resilient Mexico, Japan becoming the first Asian country to defeat a South American country in its win against Colombia, powerhouse Brazil merely drawing its first match against Switzerland, and Iceland (a country of only 300,000 people) putting up a remarkable performance against Argentina.

The football stars did not disappoint – Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat trick in its draw against rival Spain, and Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku, an expensive Manchester United forward, scored a brace in their win against newcomer Panama. The Second Round, now under way, shows much promises, more sleepless nights.

One of the biggest news on the World Cup took place before the start of the tournament.

Two days prior to its first match, Spain sacked its manager Julen Lopetegui. According to the Spanish Football Federation, the sacking had to be done by principle since Lopetegui had been negotiating with local club Real Madrid F.C., one of world’s richest clubs estimated to be worth $4.1 billion. It is common knowledge football clubs are cash-strapped corporations with layered ownerships, some backed by oligarchs from Russia and rich businessmen from USA and Asia. Real Madrid F.C. was criticized for treating the Spanish National Team as merely another club, when national duty must be above all.

To segue this to our local politics, one may ask if our politicians have been prioritizing businessmen or the country. Of course, ask any politician and the automatic answer is Philippines above all. But looking closely, a number of politicians started out as businessmen, and government officials and their families are not absolutely prohibited from engaging in business. The benefits of uplifting local businesses cannot be ignored, such as the improvement of the economy and the generation of more jobs for the Filipino people.

However, some rich families, arguably, enter politics to protect or improve their businesses. Perhaps, it is time for us to review the conflict of interest provisions in the Constitution and relevant regulations on government employees.

To jump back to the World Cup, the roster of teams participating seems odd due to the non-inclusion of Italy. Having failed to qualify for the first time in half a century, Italy is a mere spectator to the tournament that it always has a chance to win whenever they compete. Italy’s absence, as well as other top teams that did not qualify (i.e. Netherlands, Chile, USA) will allow others to flourish, thereby bringing the beautiful game closer to other corners of the world. Like in any established institution, such a drastic change spreads hope to its stakeholders, as it proves to benefit a far greater number of people, which may soon reach our country’s national team, the Philippine Azkals, now at its highest FIFA ranking at 113.

Relating this to my profession, on June 19, 2018, our Supreme Court finally decided on the Motion for Reconsideration of Atty. Ma. Lourdes Sereno and permanently removed her as Chief Justice. Voting 8-6, the granting of the quo warranto petition by Solicitor General Jose Calida was upheld and affirmed by the High Court, putting all issues to rest. This brings a new day to the Supreme Court and to all lawyers in the Philippines.

This being so, we have to accept the Supreme Court’s decision. As said by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, “our Constitution mandates the Supreme Court to be the final arbiter of legal and constitutional questions. Let us respect its decision, no matter what our persuasions are.” On the impeachment proceedings, the Speaker stated “the Supreme Court ruling has also rendered moot and academic the impeachment proceedings against Sereno at the House or Representatives. As a consequence, we would now have to consign such proceedings to our archives.”

May I, therefore, humbly appeal to the lawyers, legal groups and law school deans, who were vocal in their opposition to the quo warranto petition, to lay down their arms. Instead, I suggest that we watch with close scrutiny the appointment of the new Chief Justice, who, I pray, has the intelligence, experience and reputation to bring the Supreme Court to greater heights.

May the next Chief Justice be supportive of House efforts to update our laws, such as House Bill No. 6204 seeking to establish the Philippine Code of Crimes, repealing the Revised Penal Code and other special laws. Justice Committee Chairman Rep. Reynaldo Umali said a clean bill is expected to be approved by November 2018, which shall be submitted for plenary approval by December 2018.

May the next Chief Justice be sympathetic to fellow members of the judiciary as there is a need to increase the number of judges. The House recognizes this need by its approval of House Bill No. 7309, principally authored by Rep. Tricia Nicole Velasco-Catera, on Third Reading. This House Bill seeks to create 150 Judges-at-Large positions to address the shortage of magistrates in the country. Judges-at-Large as referred to in the bill are those who do not have permanent salas and can be detailed by the Supreme Court as Acting or Assisting Judges to any regional, city or municipal trial court in the Philippines, as public interest may require.

There are many more innovative ways to improve the judicial system, and the Legislative Branch is ready to assist and help the Judiciary the best way it can.

p: wjg

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