Doctrine of immutability of judgment gained legal attention in its citation by Judge Andres Soriano of Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 148, in his denial for the issuance of an arrest warrant against Sen. Antonio Trillanes. What is this doctrine? In a nutshell, it simply means that cases cannot be reopened at the whim of any person, including the magistrates.
Millennials would say, #WalangForever in court decisions.
The Supreme Court (SC) held that this doctrine has a two-fold purpose: (1) to avoid delay in the administration of justice and thus, procedurally, to make orderly the discharge of judicial business and (2) to put an end to judicial controversies, at the risk of occasional errors, which is precisely why courts exist. Thus, controversies cannot drag on indefinitely. The rights and obligations of every litigant must not hang in suspense for an indefinite period of time (Land Bank v. Arceo, G.R. 18270, 21 July 2008). However, this doctrine has several exceptions, such as: (1) the correction of clerical errors; (2) nunc pro tunc judgments; (3) void judgments; and (4) whenever circumstances transpire after the finality of the decision rendering its execution unjust and inequitable (Temic Semiconductors Inc. Employees Union v. FFW, G.R. 160993, 20 May 2008).
It is this writer’s humble opinion that among the grounds to be relied on by the Department of Justice (DoJ) in its appeal would be that the subject judgment is actually a void judgment, thereby allowing the RTC-Makati to reopen the case against Trillanes. It may be held to be a void judgment should the DoJ prove the same is based on an alleged incomplete or non-existent application for amnesty, on appeal.
What happens next? Bring it up to the SC by Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 within 60 days from receipt of notice. In doing so, the DoJ would be entering familiar territory that has always sided with the administration. Perhaps, it is now time for Solicitor General Jose Calida to share notes on his unblemished SC record with Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.
By passing the ball to the SC, the highest court of the land is afforded the spotlight in determining whether the issuance of an arrest warrant must be done. And this is what is being requested by Judge Soriano, as he profoundly stated in his decision, in what can be the most eloquent “assist” made in a court decision, to wit: “The law is vibrant. Jurisprudence is its lifeblood. Subsequent jurisprudence may forge new horizons in which exceptions to the immutability of a final and executory judgment may be born.” (NB: I must say that this is my favorite part of Judge Soriano’s decision.)
In the event that the SC rules in the DoJ’s favor, we can expect it to remand the case back to RTC-Makati to begin hearings on the main case. The question now would be: Who will be the Chief Justice that would rule on this Petition? Will it be acting Chief Justice Carpio or a new Chief Justice? Should we have a new one, we would not know his/her inclinations since, in a surprise move, interviews for the position of CJ would no longer be made public, as recently stated by Guevarra.
What is the significance of the denial of the arrest warrant? Subject to verification, it appears that the denial by Judge Soriano is perhaps the first and one only time an incumbent member of the Judiciary has stood up against the administration, except for SC acting Chief Justice Carpio on his open criticism of the President’s stand on the West Philippine Sea. What we witnessed is not a mere opposition to the strong will of the administration, but an adherence to the principles of law. Its effect is not merely its purported benefit to the camp of the Trillanes (since the true battle lies before the SC); the significance is that the judicial institutions has been effectively strengthened, even by a little bit.
In this age where lawyers and politicians unearth the past in search for legal basis — may it be in the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, amnesty applications, or, in the case of US SC Justice Brett Kavanaugh, high school yearbooks — to be used as basis for the disqualification or ouster of a person, the SC has been always given the task of convincing the public on something that is quite difficult to swallow. Now, the SC has the grand opportunity to introduce jurisprudence on this case that would surely find its way in every law book once it is issued.
To end, this writer credits Judge Soriano for pushing the envelope and resisting the temptation of taking, what people say, is the easy way out. There is a fervent need to revitalize the judicial system by introducing novel questions of law. Yet, this writer is still of the position that the inevitable has just been delayed, unless the tide of politics changes, come election year in 2019.
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