Predictably, the Supreme Court decision on Hacienda Luisita had mixed reviews. The left slammed the decision as being blatantly pro-Cojuangco since the Department of Agrarian Reform had long declared the stock distribution option null and void since 1995. Lo and behold, the left lamented that the Court is now saying that the tenants, through yet another referendum, and not the Constitution and our laws, will determine its legality. Hacienda Luisita Inc. was also unhappy with it. It wanted a decision that would recognize the validity of a series of referendum where allegedly, at least 70 percent of the tenants voted in favor of the stock option. But there is someone who ended as a victor with the decision: President Benigno Aquino III. No, it is not because he stands to benefit from this decision. His Statement of Assets and Liability for the past year posted a tremendous increase in cash and assets precisely because he divested himself of his minority shareholdings in the company. And no, it wasn’t also because he made good on his promise to redistribute the Hacienda to its tiller-tenants on or before 2015. On the contrary, the farmers are almost back to square one even if the DAR had already decided in their favor and against the SDO. The President became the ultimate victor in this case because while he could have influenced how the decision would be penned by the highest court of the land, he did not. Proof of this is how his lone appointee to the Court voted. Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno lacked the usual propensity of newly appointed justices to vote in favor of their appointing power, at least while newly appointed. In fact, Sereno was one of four who dissented and declared that the SDO was contrary to the letter and spirit of the land reform law. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo would not have hesitated to talk to her new appointee to vote in favor of her interest. The controversial book by Marites Vitug claimed that she employed regular gofers whose task was just to liaison between her and some Justices of the Court. But in Aquino’s case, I heard Justice Sereno herself declare, in a lunch tendered in her honor by the University of the Philippines, that this President appointed her despite not having personally known her, but also that he did not ask any favors in return, not even regarding Hacienda Luisita which he co-owned at the time she was appointed. We cannot underscore Aquino’s victory in this regard. Arroyo’s unforgivable sin was not just in being corrupt herself, but also in corrupting our democratic institutions, such as our courts. It happened when she left the vetting for judicial posts at the hands of her cousins, the De Leon spouses, who in turn, nominated appointees on the basis of loyalty to Malacañang, and not on the basis of proven competence. Then there was her built in system of influencing and meddling in judicial decision-making through gofers. The lowest point for Arroyo was when she appointed a Chief Justice despite an express and literal prohibition in the Constitution. Not even the decision in De Castro can cleanse the former President of this sin. Credit must be given where it is due. Mr. Aquino could even have played hardball with the court in exchange for a favorable decision on Luisita, but he did not. He could even have promised that his allies in the House of Representatives would let go of the impeachment complaint against one member of the court in exchange for a decision upholding the series of referendums that were already held at Luisita. He did not. Fact is, this was one rare occasion when the most powerful official of the land allowed the Court to perform its constitutional function unhindered by presidential powers and prerogatives. This is truly refreshing. *** I am shocked that a majority of our people find the punching incident of Mayor Sara Duterte acceptable. The reality is those series of punches, including the manhandling that Sheriff Abe Andres suffered under the hands of the mayor’s bodyguards, constituted the imposition of sanctions without according the lowly sheriff his due process right to be heard. Furthermore, such punches were inflicted on a person in authority while the latter was discharging his duties. It was hence the crime of assault on a person in authority, and not just physical injuries. What makes matters worse is that the victim personifies our judicial system. Those punches were hence potent strikes not just on a sheriff, but also on the entire judicial branch of government. This made those punches affronts on the rule of law. The fact that the Mayor’s constituents should come to her defense comes with no surprise. Davao has been notorious for what Human Rights Watch claims to be almost a thousand cases of extralegal killings in the form of vigilante killings. What worries advocates of the rule of law is that in that city, almost everyone, with the possible exception of the Church, have expressed support for these killings. I have heard many Davao locals claim that these killings have kept the city drug free and peaceful. They miss the point. The right to be heard is the cornerstone of human rights law. By punishing a person before hearing his side, we wreck havoc on a legal system that has accorded protection to human beings amidst temptations by despots and anarchists to resort to law of the jungle.