Atty. Mel Sta. Maria is the Dean of the Far Eastern University Institute of Law. He also teaches at the Ateneo de Manila School of Law and the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila College of Law.
On June 14, 2017, InterAksyon reported how Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez lambasted three Court of Appeals magistrates over their order requiring an explanation for the detention of six Ilocos Norte local executives at the House of Representative.
Alvarez, himself a lawyer, called it “gross ignorance of the law. Mga gago ‘yang tatlong justices na ‘yan (Those justices are stupid).”
Then on June 17, 2017, the Inquirer reported the Speaker’s warning: “They are not even our co-equal branch … They only exist because they were created by Congress. Anytime, we can dissolve them. So they better start thinking.”
This prompted a lawyer, Mandy Mercado Anderson, an unknown in Philippine politics who happens to work at the Bureau of Customs, to post on her personal Facebook page:
“Im hoping and praying he tries so he realizes what an imbecile he is when he fails….Isnt there anyone else in the House composed of 200+ representatives who can actually be speaker?? Nakakahiya na!”
So, what was wrong with the post of Atty. Mandy Mercado Anderson?
Her remarks may have been lacking in good taste (though I think not) but were a legitimate criticism on the actions of the fourth highest officer of the land — actions which, by themselves, sparked a debate on whether the threat of dissolution was brought about by sheer caprice, arrogance of power, or by an overarching constitutional anchor which, unfortunately, many, including this writer, fail to see.
Even the Supreme Court was alarmed by this threat, compelling it to meet with the Court of Appeals justices. Some Senators also expressed their revulsion at Alvarez’s posturing.
If members of the House of Representative still do not know, the basic assumption of a working democracy is the
“profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” (Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 4; De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U.S. 353,  365).
Atty. Mandy Mercado Anderson’s Facebook post was clearly an expression of that democratic engagement.
And if, in the process, some personal hurt is felt by a criticized public official, he must not be onion-skinned. The interest of the public in the particular issue he, himself, generated outweighs his personal concerns. All avenues for spirited animadversions must be welcomed, read and heard, even if it were coming only from a “lowly” government consultant who, to people feeling so much arrogantly entitled, is “nothing.” Her opinion is still important because she is still a citizen of the Republic.
Atty. Mandy Mercado Anderson was reacting to a threat made by the Speaker as the leader of the House of Representatives — a threat that was totally uncalled for.
That Congress created the Court of Appeals and therefore can abolish it is a legislative prerogative that can be justified only by the clearest danger to the nation. Such justification does not exist here. Assuming that the three justices in the Court of Appeals division are “gago” as the speaker unhesitatingly puts it, that is not enough to squelch the whole Court of Appeals. That is basic to the point of being elementary.
To imperil the existence of a vital part of the government is, to be blunt about it, a crazy notion — a childish “getting-back-at-you” reaction by a legislator supposed to be old enough to know what is constitutionally significant. It may indeed have been an imbecilic move — a description less hurting than “gago.”
And to invoke the separation-of-powers is misplaced because what is involved is the check-and-balance system in a democracy — the heart of a constitutional government.
In the meantime, on July 24, 2017, President Duterte, another lawyer himself, in his State of the Nation address, faced the members of both houses of Congress and let loose his usual profanity and name-calling – “putang ina, fuck, gago, ‘nyeta, bobo, shit, yawa, leche, tarantado, gunggong — some of these said many times over. That notwithstanding, the President’s SONA was met with nothing but applause by members of the House of Representatives.
And on July 26, 2017, Atty. Mandy Mercado Anderson faced the wrath of some members of the House of Representatives for calling the Speaker an “imbecile.” Practically bullied and humiliated, she was condescendingly asked, “Who are you?” Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas even said: “You cannot go into name-calling, ma’am. Para kang hindi abogado (it seems like you are not a lawyer).” Some references to the government code of ethics were recited.
There was even a threat that, unless certain matters were “sufficiently explained to the House,” the BOC will “receive a zero budget for the coming year.” That is more amusing — a Facebook post can now potentially derail the good work of a government agency. That is moronic. The smugglers watching the event must be laughing their hearts out and praying that no “sufficient explanation” be forthcoming to finally cripple the BOC.
But somehow, in the midst of all these, Atty. Mandy Mercado Anderson kept her composure. And rightly so.
Her postings on Facebook were made in the exercise of her freedom of expression and, more fundamentally, within the context of her engagement as a citizen in the debate of an important issue –the threatened abolition of the Court of Appeals. Her statements, therefore, were constitutionally-protected speech for which, under the Bill of Rights, she cannot be held liable for anything much more a felony.
We should thank Atty. Mandy Mercado Anderson for her courage in bringing further into the consciousness of the citizenry the kind of attitude politicians manifest in the exercise of their powers. She is a courageous young Filipina lawyer.
And to some members of Congress, my only advice is: grow up. Give BOC its budget. Take Atty. Mandy Mercado Anderson’s comment as constructive criticism, as all mature legislators should do.
And, if you do not have the stomach to withstand the Facebook observations of millennials, do not read the posts. There are many, many more virulent comments against many of you on that social platform.
And finally, as the saying goes: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”