Another ex-SC justice gone astray

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What is it about employment in the Supreme Court (SC) that makes its retired justices go astray?

The retirement benefits of a member of the SC is one of the biggest in the entire country. Why then do some retired SC justices continue to work in government long after reaching the compulsory retirement age of 70 years?

Appointive public officers outside of the judiciary must retire upon reaching 65 years. Why are judges and justices afforded special treatment by allowing them to hold office until 70 years?

Those questions are worth thinking about, in the light of recent and not so recent examples.

There is ex-Justice Jose Melo who, after his compulsory retirement from the SC, became chairman of the Commission on Elections (Comelec). Melo promised to end all “shenanigans” in the Comelec during his watch.

In the end, Melo’s Comelec was lackluster, and no vital election reforms took place. Perhaps, Melo was too old for the job and was better off staying retired.

There is Conchita Carpio-Morales. After her compulsory retirement from the SC, Morales accepted an appointment as Ombudsman from then President Benigno Aquino III.

Morales wasn’t expected to turn down Aquino’s offer. In 2010, Morales agreed to administer the president’s oath of office to Aquino. By doing so, she consented to bypassing then SC Chief Justice Renato Corona for the traditional honor, and in the process insulted the latter.

She was also instrumental in Corona’s removal from office. In the course of Corona’s impeachment trial in the Senate, Morales made public revelations that helped in her colleague’s ouster.

Morales’ term as Ombudsman turned out to be a disaster for the public accountability of government officials. Under her stewardship, cases were readily filed against perceived enemies of the Aquino administration, while top officials of the Aquino government were either spared from prosecution or got their cases dismissed. In many instances, only lower echelon public officials were charged.

A lawyer once complained that some investigators in the office of the Ombudsman charge a hefty “parking fee” from respondents who want the prosecution to sleep on their cases indefinitely.

After stepping down as Ombudsman, Morales joined another Aquino ally, ex-Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, in a criminal suit the latter filed against the president of China before the International Criminal Court (ICC) operated by the United Nations.

As an ex-justice of the SC, Morales is expected to know that the ICC has no jurisdiction over China, which is not a member of the ICC. That notwithstanding, Morales insists on pursuing the case.

Several weeks after filing suit in the ICC, Morales attempted to enter the Chinese port of Hong Kong. After Hong Kong immigration authorities expectedly refused to allow Morales entry at the port, she went back to the Philippines to drumbeat public opinion against her treatment in Hong Kong, conveniently overlooking a doctrine in International Law that a sovereign country, in this case China, has the prerogative to decide who may and may not enter its territory.

There is Ombudsman Samuel Martires, who replaced Morales. In an assembly of members of the judiciary and other sectors of society held last July, Martires announced that religious education and values formation will be the focus of his office, in lieu of his constitutional mandate to prosecute corrupt public officials.

It looks like Martires has converted his office from the country’s top anti-graft office to a religious formation agency that will preach, at public expense, religion and moral values.

Apparently, the prosecution of graft and corrupt practices will take a back seat.

Martires’ plan violates the constitutional ban against the use of government resources for religious purposes. It also amounts to a dereliction of a duty mandated by the Constitution and by law. Thus, Martires may be impeached for his plan.

A possible result of Martires’ new plans for his office is that ordinary people may finally understand why a politician like Senator Bong Revilla was acquitted of graft, and yet directed to return public funds which the senator supposedly spent illegally.

Martires should either resign as Ombudsman, or Congress should file impeachment raps against him.

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