“The wheels of justice continue to grind despite the COVID-19 pandemic,” Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta said Friday, as he announced the resolution of 825 cases even if members of the court had to deliberate on them through technology while working at home due to the lockdowns.
The court made three major decisions – upholding the constitutionality of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, RA 11469; dismissing ABS-CBN’s petition against a closure order issued by the National Telecommunications Commission, as the issue had become moot with the House of Representatives’ decision rejecting renewal of its franchise; and dismissing a petition to compel the President to release his health records, being based on merely on unsubstantiated surmises and conjectures.
For many people, it was the court’s swift action that released 45,336 detainees that was notable. In 67,481 hearings, the court ordered the release of 45,336 detainees from the country’s jails, who would have had to suffer in the crowded conditions of the jails at a time when COVID-19 was exacting its toll on all kinds of mass gatherings.
Meanwhile, new cases were being filed, notably 30 which questioned the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act, RA 11479, which, the petitioners claim, violates the constitutional guarantee of due process and the right to association, due process, and free speech, and grants law enforcers “unbridled discretion” to define criminal conduct.
There is also one case that should have been decided months ago – technically not by the Supreme Court but by the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), but the SC justices are also the members of the PET. This is the election protest case filed by former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. against Vice President Leni Robredo.
The PET conducted a recount of the ballots cast in 2016 in three provinces named by Marcos – Iloilo, Negros Occidental, and Camarines Sur – but the recount even increased Robredo’s lead. Under its rules, the PET could dismiss the protest but it chose instead to simply announce the results of the recount, then set a meeting on the issue for November 5. That was nine months ago.
Election protest cases in the Philippines have not been known to reach any decision, with protesting candidates allowing cases to lapse, or running in the next election, thus rendering the protest moot and academic. Marcos, however, chose to wait for the PET decision and did not run for any position in 2019. Another election is looming in 2002.
The justices of the Supreme Court – who are also the members of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal—might want to add a final decision on the Marcos-Robredo protest case to their fine record of case decisions.