The Supreme Court (SC) has started its deliberations on a petition for a writ of kalikasan filed by fishermen from Palawan and Zambales. The petition, instituted in early April, asks the SC to compel the government to protect, preserve and rehabilitate Scarborough Shoal and adjacent reefs in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) owned by the Philippines in order to maintain the natural environment there.
SC Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, a vocal critic of China’s illegal land grabbing operations in the WPS, saw no reason to inhibit himself from the proceedings apparently because he has not issued any public statement on the petition.
Even then, it is not denied that Carpio has made several public speeches against Beijing’s illegal activities in the WPS. He also published a book about his views on the maritime issue. Opinion leaders say that because Carpio made those public commentaries, he no longer has the requisite impartiality of a neutral magistrate to participate in the deliberations on the petition.
So far, the SC has ordered the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to comment on the petition. It is not known if the OSG will ask for Carpio’s inhibition.
Even if the OSG does not seek Carpio’s inhibition, delicadeza demands that Carpio should inhibit. As the legal adage goes, a party to a case is entitled to nothing less than the cold neutrality of an impartial judge. In view of Carpio’s public pronouncements on the issue, his impartiality is doubted.
Justice Carpio’s inhibition issue recalls a separate incident involving incumbent SC Justice Marvic Leonen.
Before President Benigno Aquino III appointed him to the SC, Leonen was Aquino’s point man in the drafting of the ill-fated Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which called for the dismemberment of Mindanao and the creation of a Moro sub-state. Fortunately, then Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. succeeded in derailing the BBL.
Under President Rodrigo Duterte, Congress enacted the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), a modified version of the BBL and minus some of the latter’s legally objectionable contents.
Last year, the Governor of Sulu and the Philippine Constitution Association filed separate petitions questioning the constitutionality of the BOL. The cases were raffled off to Leonen.
Many opinion leaders maintain that Leonen should inhibit himself in the BOL cases. Delicadeza demands that if a justice of the SC participated, prior to his appointment to the SC, in an official project intimately connected with the enactment of an existing statute, and the constitutionality of that statute is questioned in the SC with him as an incumbent justice, he should voluntarily inhibit himself from any participation in the proceedings.
To say the obvious, Leonen has a binding tie with the enactment of the BOL because it contains many provisions taken from the BBL he helped create. So far, Leonen has not inhibited himself from the BOL cases.
Attention is invited also to SC Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, a good friend and an appointee of President Aquino III.
Ex-Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has a pending election protest against Vice President Leni Robredo before the SC sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). Marcos Jr. purportedly lost the 2016 vice presidential race to Robredo by a little more than a hundred thousand votes. Marcos claims Robredo, the administration candidate, benefited from massive cheating undertaken by her party, the now discredited Liberal Party of President Aquino III.
When the election protest was raffled off to Justice Caguioa, Marcos sought the inhibition of Caguioa for lack of impartiality, considering that Caguioa’s wife was a top, organized campaigner of the Robredo camp in 2016.
Instead of inhibiting in the election protest, Caguioa went through the charade of consulting his colleagues in the PET. After claiming he was duly advised, Caguioa refused to inhibit.
Why are Justices Carpio, Leonen and Caguioa behaving this way? Analysts opine that Carpio is interested in seeking the presidency in 2022 and his stance on the WPS will be his platform; Leonen wants to be remembered, at any cost, as the father of Mindanao autonomy; and Caguioa wants to save whatever he can of the political party that placed him in office.
They simply have no delicadeza, period.