Recently, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez warned of a constitutional crisis if the Supreme Court orders a joint session of Congress to tackle President Duterte’s declaration of martial law over Mindanao. This, after two petitions were filed before the High Court to compel the Senate and House of Representatives to convene in a joint session to discuss Proclamation No. 216 placing Mindanao under martial law, May 23, after armed clashes between the Maute group and government forces erupted in Marawi City.
This is not the first time that one from among the supposed co-equal branches of government– Executive, Congress, and Judiciary– threatened or courted a constitutional crisis by challenging another. It would be remembered that the Duterte administration’s predecessor did the same. Then President Benigno Aquino III courted a constitutional crisis by openly criticizing and defying the Supreme Court decision of February 2015 finding his administration’s version of pork barrel funds the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as essentially unconstitutional. A little more than a year earlier, November 2013, the Supreme Court adjudged the pork barrel system, which was then called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) under the previous Arroyo administration, as unconstitutional. Thus, the Aquino administration’s invention the DAP.
Another instance of the Aquino administration courting a constitutional crisis was when President Aquino declared in public that he wanted the late Chief Justice Renato Corona impeached. This led to a series of events that resulted in the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona.
Now it is the turn of House Speaker Alvarez, in an effort to defend President Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
Well, it appears that a state of constitutional crisis, where two of the co-equal branches of government stand in open defiance of each other and their conflicting positions and decisions reach a stalemate, has not yet occurred. Perhaps it may be due to the fact that one, mainly the Supreme Court, has not issued a decision openly and categorically going against the will of the Executive.
But the fact that this threat of open defiance, mainly directed against the Supreme Court and in defense of decisions of the President, is being issued with increasing regularity already indicates a crisis. The two previous threats – in defense of the DAP and recently in defense of the declaration of martial law in Mindanao – were meant to bully the Supreme Court not to come out with a decision contrary to what the president wants to do. Even the call of then President Aquino to impeach Chief Justice Corona was meant to bend the will of the High Court to conform to the decisions of the President.
This crisis manifests in the inutility of the so-called checks and balances that exist in the principle of having three co-equal branches of government. Never has the Executive and Congress clashed in this country. The two have always been in agreement. And now, with the constant bullying of the Supreme Court – to the extent of making a precedent of the sitting president having the Chief Justice impeached – the supposed checks and balances under this system of government no longer exists. That is, unless the justices of the Supreme Court would assert their independence and issue decisions based on merits and the imperatives of justice. But then, a stalemate would likely be reached and the state of crisis would take another form.
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