Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, a constitutional law expert and former RTC judge, said that efforts to force Chief Justice Renato Corona to inhibit himself in the Gloria Arroyo cases would result in a “damaged democracy.”
“Those crying for the inhibition of the Chief Justice are trying to be a law unto themselves. They seek no less than the unconstitutional power to determine who will judge what cases. The Constitution does not grant that power to anybody, no matter how strident or self-righteous,” she said.
Santiago insisted that pressuring any judge or justice to inhibit himself directly violates the principle of independence of the judiciary.
“If a howling mob is allowed to pressure the chief justice or any justice to inhibit, that would serve as a calamitous precedent. Any litigant would then be able to pressure an impartial judge to inhibit, in order to obtain a group decision from the substitute,” she said.
Santiago noted that the senior associate justice, although an Arroyo appointee, proved in his later decisions to be an arch-critic on Gloria Arroyo.
“In effect the pressure on Corona to inhibit is an effort to substitute him with Carpio. If it can be said that Corona might be biased in favor of Arroyo, it can also be said that Carpio might be biased against Arroyo. We cannot allow the composition of the Supreme Court in a certain case to be determined by an unelected exterior group on the basis of the group’s own political biases,” she said.
Santiago described as “arrogant and supercilious” the efforts of a certain group to force Corona to inhibit.
“This group is suffering from doctrinal confusion on the nature of a tripartite democracy. They want to be higher than the Supreme Court. It is improper for the political branches (executive and legislative) to influence the judicial branch. But this group thinks that it is a fourth branch. You have to admire their hubris,” she said.
Santiago issued a statement from New York, where she is campaigning as the Philippine candidate to the International Criminal Court.
The senator included in her statement certain decisions of Philippine and U.S. courts upholding the principle that judicial inhibition should be discretionary on the part of the judge, and not forced on him by interested parties.
In the 2001 case of Soriano v. Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court held that “For any other reason, a litigant may not demand that a judge inhibit himself. Specifically so in this case where there is a finding of fact that ‘respondent judge has not as yet crossed the line that divides partiality from impartiality.’”
Santiago also cited the 2004 case of Dimo Realty and Development, Inc. v. Dimaculangan, where it was held that, “Suffice it to state that whether judges should inhibit themselves from a case rests on their own “sound discretion.” Otherwise stated, inhibition partakes of voluntariness on the part of the judges themselves. This Court has to be shown acts or conducts of the judge clearly indicative of arbitrariness or prejudice before the latter can be branded the stigma of being biased or partial.”
In the 2006 case of People v. Ong, the Supreme Court affirmed the discretion of the judge to inhibit himself, “This discretion granted to trial judges takes cognizance of the fact that these judges are in a better position to determine the issue of voluntary inhibition as they are the ones who directly deal with the parties-litigants in their courtrooms.”
The senator also cited several U.S. cases such as the 1976 case of U.S. v. Hall, where it was held that a judge is presumed impartial; and the cases of Weiss v. Huna, Higganbotham v. Oklahoma, and Plechner v. Widener College, where it was considered that a prejudice merely based on, or growing out of, a business or professional relationship, or political or social relations ordinarily is not sufficient to disqualify the judge.