Defying the courts

If the judiciary gets in the way, President Duterte warned over the weekend, he would disregard court orders and forge ahead with the government’s projects and programs. The President issued the warning as he and his officials touted his economic development program during his latest trip overseas.

Temporary restraining orders issued by the courts, the President lamented, had unduly held back executive actions and government projects. He had earlier issued an executive order to implement the reproductive health program, a priority of his administration, as a two-year-old TRO of the Supreme Court remains in place on the RH law.

Duterte is not the first chief executive to complain about the judiciary. Benigno Aquino III, who resisted efforts to amend the Constitution, said at one point in his presidency that he might go along with Charter change if only to end “judicial overreach.”

Aquino openly fought particularly with the Supreme Court, which was packed with appointees of his predecessor. Under Aquino’s watch, a chief justice was impeached and unseated after an unprecedented impeachment trial over omissions in his official asset statement.

President Duterte has given no indication that he wants to impeach any member of the judiciary. But he warned that he was ready to risk a constitutional crisis by defying court TROs on executive actions and projects.

Instead of bracing for a confrontation with the executive, the judiciary should review its use of TROs and the state of the justice system in general. The President is not the only person complaining about the abuse of TROs and judicial power in this country. Studies conducted by foreign groups have noted the corruption and inefficiency of the Philippine judiciary. The weak rule of law discourages job-generating investments and weakens democracy.

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The snail-paced administration of justice and the reality of justice for sale are among the principal reasons for continuing high public support for short cuts to law enforcement, including the thousands of drug-related killings. If President Duterte decides to ignore a compromised justice system to pursue his governance objectives, he will likely get public support.

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