What does Justice Leonen mean when he says we ought not demonize?

Associate Justice Leonen [Photo from Rappler]

By Joe America

I retweeted a tweet and was immediately blocked by Associate Justice Leonen.

Well, these things don’t happen for one tweet, so my guess is that the good Justice had been reading my host of earlier tweets critical of the Supreme Court for not certifying the election of Leni Robredo as the nation’s Vice President.

I was persistent. He considered me a troll. “Be gone, JoeAm!”

Let’s ponder this, for it raises some important questions. All of us are affected when the Philippines wanders from the ideals expressed in the Constitution. Are we supposed to ‘be vigilant’ or ‘sit down and shut up’? Justice Leonen counsels his followers on Twitter to be thoughtful rather than abrasive.

He did that in the tweet exchange that got me blocked.

Read Justice Leonen’s comment first, then CatcherInTheRice’s tweet forwarding it to his followers, and then imagine me sending it on to the 8,000 people who think I occasionally say something meaningful.

I can only guess at Justice Leonen’s reasoning for deciding this exchange was worth a block.

  • Perhaps he took CatcherInTheRice’s question “But what if he is [evil]?” as ad hominem. That is, applying to him, personally. And blamed me for retweeting it in the face of his counsel.
  • So I wonder, did he take my series of critical tweets as ‘demonizing’ the Court, and members on it, personally?

Hmmmm. Are justices above criticism? And when does criticism become an act of demonizing?

As CatcherInTheRice recognizes, the answers to these questions depend on the motives behind the Court’s thinking. If the Court is morally and ethically upright, then, yes, attaching the term ‘evil’ to them would be demonizing. But if the Court is not morally and ethically upright, it would be a fair description.

Well, the Court’s ways are mysterious to we, the laymen. It was mightily mysterious to many of us when the Court went outside the Constitution to oust a Chief Justice because, um . . . . either the elderly justices didn’t like Sereno’s youthful upstart ways or she was in the way of someone’s political agenda. ‘Someone’, in most conspiracy theory circles, is defined as Duterte or Marcos.

Justice Leonen seems to think we observers operate with a high level of legal knowledge, trust, and discipline. Alas, we are mere ambulance chasers when it comes to truth. Sometimes we have a hard time finding the ambulance. The Court operates in secret . . . like how it came up with a way to trans-mutate a very simple issue about Vice President Robredo’s authenticity into a lengthy 57 page judgment that achieved the mighty result of . . . wait for it now . . . asking for more information.

The PET vote recount said she was duly elected. The Court said we need more information.

Well, a lot of people for sure don’t trust the Marcos family because they have memories. And they are aghast that so many members of the court appear to be tied closely to the family that stole the nation’s wealth, a family that admits no fault to this date. The Court allowed the corrupt patriarch a hero’s burial, after all.

So if we are suspicious, if we are wary, if we don’t understand . . . and if we say so . . . are we demonizing the Court’s esteemed members?

The difference between criticism and demonizing has two qualities, I think.

  • Trust
  • Information

Both of these qualities are under the control of the Court, not the people.

We, the general public, being loyal to the Constitution, for it empowers us, today lack both trust and information. But Justice Leonen does not look inward at the Court’s record and grasp our wariness. He would have us continue to trust unequivocally. We are to set aside jurisprudence we consider peculiar and go with the flow. Sit silently to wait for further information like right proper patient citizens, obedient to the powers that overrule us.

Is he totalitarian, I am inclined to ask?

Oddly enough, I agree with him that, if we demonize, we lose the ability to engage. I entertain a decent enough engagement with Secretary Locsin as others demonize him, and I grow enlightened as a result. Maybe he is once in a while inspired to think new ideas as well.

But the Court is an institution and that institution made a ruling that grinds against the simple responsibility of recognizing Leni Robredo as Vice President. She is a thoroughly decent person, intelligent, patriotic, a hard, productive worker, and as apolitical as they come. She represents all Filipinos with dignity. The Court, the highest convener of justice in the land, can’t comprehend that FACT? And they must certainly know that, without their endorsement, she must operate under the additional burden of questionable legitimacy?

By what Constitutional imperative would they withhold that legitimacy one day longer?

The Court’s blindness has to be politics. It has to be.

So excuse me if my trust in this Court has fallen to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. It is up to the Court to earn that trust back, from me and from millions of others.

Sigh. Disagreeing is so disagreeable, I agree.

As I look over my recent tweets, I admit, IF THE COURT IS NOT BEING POLITICAL but is ruling solely on the facts and arguments, I UNFAIRLY DEMONIZED THE COURT.

Here is my record of my opinions stated on Twitter, going from latest to earliest:

  • [Tweet] You hear CJ Bersamin rationalize why they did not act on the malicious Marcos protest, and you hear AJ Lenonen explaining the need for due process amidst all the criticism they are getting, you almost think these guys think they are doing the Vice President justice. They’re not.
  • [Tweet in response to headline in the Inquirer re. ‘condemning without hearing’] I’m not sure how it is condemning to certify the Vice President as duly elected. Oh, condemning a specious, malicious protest from a bitter loser, that kind of condemning? Oh, ok. Gotcha. And I am sure your remarks are not intended to chill criticism.
  • [Tweet retweeting a comment by Richard Heydarian] Poor judges. They cannot certify Leni Robredo because that would betray their benefactors. They cannot certify Bongbong Marcos because that would betray the nation. They would also put themselves into Philippine history books as top bananas in the republic. So, they kick the can.
    • Richard Heydarian: We know WHY the “protest” is NOT JUNKED. This legal trolling can go on 2021… even in best case (worst for reality), Leni will likely ALMOST finish the whole term . better luck next elections
  • [Tweet on the overbearing presence of the Marcos Family] The Philippines will somehow be more upright when the clingy Marcos family is removed from any role in governance. It seems to me to be an insult to the dignity of the nation to allow historical scoundrels to mess with the People’s work, wealth, and security.
  • [Tweet about the lengthy text of the non-decision] About 500 years of judicial experience and several reams of paper have been used to unnecessarily kick this rusted can down the road. Leni Robredo won the election. The rest is legalistic nonsense for mysterious motives, it seems to me. Hard to find the honor in all this.
  • [Tweet musing on Filipino resilience; satirical] Resilience is seeing a Supreme Court abiding by allegiances rather than law, and hoping it does not affect you. If it does, you find an Aquino to kick, then move on.
  • [Tweet, first response to the non-decision] No matter how CJ Bersamin carves the words, the Court did not honor the nation’s electoral and protest laws, or the Vice President of the Philippines. The Court had a chance to stand tall. It acted small.

Well, I am for the Constitution, against corruption, for civility, intelligence, and free speech. The Court’s ‘kick the can’ ruling on Robredo as VP makes no sense to me. And Justice Leonen’s tweet seems a tad totalitarian to me, asking people like me to be quiet about it.

If the rulings are fact-based and just, what harm is there to affected people “being vigilant” in the most aggressive sense of that term?

And if the Court fails to act when it reasonably could, it sure seems to me that is a decision worthy of vigilance. Nay, worthy of criticism. Nay, lacking trust and proper information, worthy of demonizing.

That’s the people’s totally righteous institutional role in all this, is it not?


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