5 Bad Decisions of the Supreme Court

As Justice Robert Jackson put it with eloquence, the Supreme Court is not final because it is infallible; it is infallible because it is final. And because its decisions are final, even if faulty, the Supreme Court has had much occasion to mention that, "There must be every energy expended to ensure that the faulty decisions are few and far between."

In fact, in that case of Spouses Sadik v. Casar (A. M. No. MTJ-95-1053, January 2, 1997), it emphasized, "The integrity of the judiciary rests not only upon the fact that it is able to administer justice, but also upon the perception and confidence of the community that the people who run the system have done justice."

Although errors committed by the Supreme Court are only a few and are far apart, lawyers, bar candidates and law students somehow have a way to trace such errors and discuss them in academic forums. Below is a list of those pieces of jurisprudence that just, with all due respect to the Supreme Court, seem not right.

Cayetano v. Monsod
G.R. No. 100113, September 3, 1991

This case is very popular in the field of legal and judicial ethics and conduct. This particular pieces of jurisprudence dots the first pages of every book on Legal Ethics. The reason here is that Cayetano v. Monsod defined "practice of law" in the Philippines.

Practice of law means any activity, in or out of court, which requires the application of law, legal procedure, knowledge, training and experience.

What many lawyers and law students think is that this definition appears to be so broad that it does not seem to reflect the intent of the framers of the 1987 Constitution in using the phrase "practice of law." Some even say that this particular landmark case has stretched the meaning of the phrase beyond rational limits.

It appears, from a glance at this definition, that buying a piece of cake from a local bakery can very well fall within the meaning of "practice of law" as defined in the Cayetano case. Expressing legal opinions, another example, can also be considered to be within the broad definition of practice of law. As a non-lawyer, such a person is engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, which constitutes indirect contempt under the Rules of Court.

Justice Cruz gave a crisp critique of this definition by saying, "The effect of the definition given in the ponencia is to consider virtually every lawyer to be engaged in the practice of law even if he does not earn his living, or at least part of it, as a lawyer. It is enough that his activities are incidentally (even if only remotely) connected with some law, ordinance or regulation. The possible exception is the lawyer whose income is derived from teaching ballroom dancing or escorting wrinkled ladies with pubescent pretensions."

Enrile v. Sandiganbayan
G.R. No. 213847, August 18, 2015

This case has opened the gates of hell allowing bail on humanitarian grounds contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Justice Leonen, a member of the Supreme Court, picked the rights words when he said that this case would bring us to the era of selective justice. Such era would be a time when decisions are no longer be grounded on “legal provisions” but based on “human compassion.”
Arturo Pascual vs. Honorable Provincial Board of Nueva Ecija
G.R. No. L-11959, October 31, 1959

This case involves a 56-year-old doctrine that that clears an official of any administrative liability if he is reelected in a subsequent election. This is called the doctrine of condonation or the condonation doctrine.

Even Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno expressed her distaste of the doctrine, saying that it could “wreak havoc” on the 1987 Philippine Constitution. She even went to the point of saying, “Isn’t this tantamount to telling officials that they can commit all forms of offenses so long as they get re-elected, because they cannot be held administratively liable?”

NOTE: The "condonation doctrine" has been abandoned by the Supreme Court when it promulgated the case of Morales v. CA. Click here for the full text of the case: 

MMDA v. Concerned Citizens of Manila Bay
G.R. Nos. 171947-48, February 15, 2011

This case catapulted the existence of the Writ of Continuing Mandamus in the Philippines.

The writ of continuing mandamus is an extraordinary writ issued by the court commanding the respondent to do an act or series of acts until the judgment is fully satisfied. To see to it that judgment is indeed satisfied, the court may this writ requiring periodic reports to be submitted by the respondent detailing compliance with the judgment shall be contained in partial returns of the writ. Upon full satisfaction of the judgment, a final return of the writ shall be made to the court by the respondent. If the court finds that the judgment has been fully implemented, the satisfaction of judgment shall be entered in the court docket. 

Does this not sound like a judicial oversight? Does this not violate the principle of separation of powers, by charging this court with the administrative function of supervisory control over executive officials, and simultaneously reducing pro tanto the control of the Chief Executive over such officials?

Is it not that no matter how urgent and laudatory the cause of environment protection has become, it cannot but yield to the higher mandate of separation of powers and the mechanisms laid out by the people through the Constitution?

Disini v. The Secretary of Justice
G.R. No. 203335, February 11, 2014

This case affirmed online libel as a crime.

Although it is true that the "libel" is indeed not only a legally repugnant act but also a morally repulsive behavior, it must be pointed out that the Internet is completely different from its predecessors - the radio, the television and the newspapers. The Internet hosts a market of ideas and has become a "freedom park" for everyone.

To criminalize expressing one's self on the Internet creates a chilling effect on our constitutionally guaranteed and preferred freedom of expression.

Justice Carpio's Dissenting Opinion splashes cold water on anyone who reads it. "Indeed, the free flow of truthful and non-misleading commercial speech online should remain unhampered to assure freedom of expression of protected speech. In cyberspace, the free flow of truthful and non-misleading commercial speech does not obstruct the public view or degrade the aesthetics of public space in the way that billboards and poster advertisements mar the streets, highways, parks and other public places. True, commercial speech does not enjoy the same protection as political speech in the hierarchy of our constitutional values. However, any regulation of truthful and non-misleading commercial speech must still have a legitimate government purpose. Regulating truthful and non-misleading commercial speech does not result in "efficiency of commerce and technology" in cyberspace."

On the other hand, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago likewise expressed her sentiments against Online Libel. She said that it must be stricken down for being vague and for being overly broad and sweeping.

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