"x x x.
BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, whose dissenting opinion on the granting of bail to Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile sparked friction on the bench, said the court’s final decisions must be respected even though these are not necessarily infallible.
“The Supreme Court is not perfect,” Leonen said in a lecture on the judicial system before law students of the University of Baguio on Thursday.
But he said its interpretations of law are final due to the legal principle called res judicata (a doctrine which states that an issue may not be litigated again when its merits had been judged by a competent court).
The duty of lawyers is “to recognize the finality of decisions,” he said.
Leonen, who at 52 is the youngest of the 15 justices on the high court, described dissenting opinions as “expressions of hope that [what a dissenting magistrate considers erroneous judgments] may be addressed by some justices… who may be able to sway the majority.”
He said it “is certainly our right as citizens and academics to religiously call attention to the fallibility of the courts,” whether it involves a misinterpretation of rules or its apparent “subservience to the status quo.”
“The Supreme Court should not be immune to public scrutiny. It should thrive on it,” Leonen said, adding that “the Constitution reiterates and underscores our role as guardians against grave abuse of discretion by any branch of government.”
“In my view,” he said, “the legitimacy of a court depends on the quality of its judicial opinions.”
Leonen was the most vocal of four justices who voted last month against the majority decision to grant the 91-year-old Enrile bail on a nonbailable plunder charge on humanitarian grounds.
Enrile is on trial for his alleged role in the P10-billion pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by Janet Lim-Napoles, using fake nongovernment organizations to receive funds from lawmakers’ allocations.
Leonen’s dissenting opinion questioned how the majority decision was finally arrived at, eliciting a complaint from its ponente, Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, who said Leonen broke the high court’s code of silence.
Leonen made no reference to this supposed friction.
But in outlining the judicial framework, he said: “The disposition of cases… is not supposed to be accommodations to a political principal. Rather it should be the result of a deep analysis of the facts as they are established by evidence and the reasoned application and cogent interpretation of the text of the law.”
He said judicial opinions are made public and “are open to critique having passed into the public domain.”
Reacting to a comment from the students, Leonen said: “I am tempted to say that if you knew who we are, you will cease calling us gods [of the judiciary]. The Supreme Court is composed of 15 justices… who serve on good behavior or until they reach 70 years old. So the composition of the court changes [and that is] by design because in reality there is no perfect human institution.”
Law schools should take an active role in examining laws and court decisions, said Leonen, a former law dean at the University of the Philippines.
“[Their] final intellectual task… is to understand how laws really matter [to contemporary Philippine society],” he said, by paying particular attention to court rulings, “which could ripen into doctrine.”
“[The academe] must carry the responsibility of informing the lawmakers if laws [framed the way they were legislated] actually work,” he said.
“In truth,” he said, most laws “reflect lines of contending political interests… [and provide] a balance between competing points of views.”
“Laws and their interpretations change. Hopefully the changes are for the better. In truth, the changes in the text of a law and their interpretation leave much to be desired,” he said.
—Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon
x x x."