SHADOW  OF  DOUBT:
PROBING THE SUPREME COURT
(New book by Marites Danguilan Vitug)


MANILA, MARCH 22, 2010
(STAR) KRIPOTKIN By Alfred A. Yuson - Shedding light on dark corners - Photo is loading... With the full backing of her Newsbreak team, the author Marites Danguilan Vitug unleashes a moment of joy in the face of what appear to be critical times. Photos by LeAnne Jazul of Newsbreak | Zoom

Years, decades from now, historians will look back in proper assessment, from that distance, and manage to dedicate a chapter to tipping points in our national narrative brought about by heady journalism.

From the heroic vitality vested on Solidaridad in the 1890s by our ilustrados in Madrid to the pesky courage lavished on the streets by Malaya and Mr. & Ms. in the 1980s, the roll will be called — for when the pen was wielded for documentation and emotion both, with a resonant flourish at that.

There will be other publications and single articles of faith that will be cited. For 2010, very proudly do we note that a book launched last week should find representation.

We all have to laud the sincerity, earnestness, reportorial and writing skill, professionalism and dedicated effort of Marites Danguilan Vitug, author-of-the-moment, for her controversial title, Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court, published by the Public Trust Media Group Inc.

That this book was launched on the eve of breaking news that continues to concern thinking Filipinos is happenstance, far from any imputation of canny timing.

It is unfortunate that the “last bulwark of democracy” that is the Supreme Court will now be tested by its own recent decision on the President’s appointive powers, especially since those who voted in her favor are all her appointees.

But it may have been happily destined for the book to suffer certain travails, including the loss of its intended publisher and distributor (Anvil Publications) and a libel suit filed against author Vitug by a Justice (for an article that appeared online) before its release, which in turn came close to the day that the book’s subject turned critical attention on itself. One might even say that the subject met its match in the author, and helped her along by making her a protagonist, if not a nemesis of an antagonist.

Thus intersect journalism and the highest court of the land. Thus are we led to reflect on a possible new truism: No sacred cows may chew the cud in the turf known as the Fourth Estate.

In her prologue, Vitug recalls being questioned by certain Justices regarding an article she wrote about an alleged bribe involving a colleague of theirs.

“Two things have stayed with me from this experience. A gaping divide became clear: the Justices could not comprehend how journalists work. They used the prism of the court — that we should only write stories that we have first-hand knowledge of, that we witnessed. Information from trusted sources does not count; it will crumble under the court’s scrutiny.

“But journalists, by and large, experience the world secondhand. We are not insiders: we are not allowed into the conference rooms of the Justices, the Cabinet meetings of the president, and boardrooms of corporations. Except for events that we witness, like disasters, demonstrations, and wars, we rely on credible sources for information, people who have proven to be reliable through the years and have earned our trust.

“The other is the zealous belief that the Supreme Court deserves special, if not delicate, treatment.”

The quality of the writing makes it a page-turner, especially given the current interest in the subject. It raises questions as much as it fairly describes the workings of the Court. It selects and features certain episodes that establish, well beyond the service of background material, the complex matrix of the Philippine judicial system — and how that system often finds itself having to address complicated relationships among Filipinos in high office.

It also presents a fascinating chronology that is wonderfully pared to the bone. No superfluous sub-narratives here. The stories that gain focus are dipped in the inkwells of cogency, clarity and brevity.

Parallels are drawn between the relations that former president Diosdado Macapagal, and now his daughter, the current President, have had with the Supreme Court.

We learn that then Chief Justice Hilario Davide had been “overwhelmed” by the occasion climaxing “EDSA Dos” so that he dropped the qualifying phrase regarding an “acting capacity” when he administered the oath of office to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at the EDSA Shrine.

A chapter is also devoted to the subsequent impeachment case against Davide over the Judiciary Development Fund or JDF, and the role that the Nationalist People’s Coalition or NPC played in that contentious affair.

Another is on Justice Presbiterio Velasco, who filed the libel case of 13 counts against the author (one for each day that her article appeared on a website). A passage from this chapter was read by former Senate President Jovito Salonga at the book launch. After all, his advocacy group Bantay Katarungan had been instrumental in scrutinizing Justice Velasco’s alleged penchant for interceding for litigants.

A chapter titled “Packing the Court” dwells on GMA’s appointments. Another is titled “When Justices Flip-flop,” with an intriguing part on the powerful businessman Enrique Razon, Jr., presidential ally and alleged conduit. Then there’s a substantial section on the present Chief Justice, Reynato Puno, dubbed as “The Chameleon,” followed by the chapter titled “The Successor,” which features a virtual face-off between Justices Antonio Carpio and Renato Corona.

It had to take Marites Danguilan Vitug, a veteran of investigative reportage, whose credibility as a journalist is beyond question, to pry open the curtains veiling a sanctum sanctorum.

She writes:

“One of (the) unchanging tenets is the demand for the Justices to be above the fray. Judges are supposed to be creatures different from everyone else. We expect a lot from them because we look up to them as our arbiters. They resolve conflicts through their decisions and prevent chaos in society. For us to obey them, they need to show that they are beyond suspicion.”

At the book launch held at Serendra One’s Social Hall, where a horde came for the first copies of what has now become a hot seller, Marites spoke, giving thanks to the co-sponsors: the Supreme Court Appointments Watch, Libertas, and Bantay Katarungan, “groups with whom we have a kinship of values.”

Tongue in cheek did she also thank “one person who has made this book timely, putting the Supreme Court at the center of a storm: Congressman Mat Defensor, for insisting that President Arroyo appoint the next Chief Justice.”

She recounted the troubles encountered in getting the book off the press — which “says a lot about the Supreme Court and its awesome power.”

Her final words need to be shared:

“This book, as some fear, will not destroy the institution. Rather, it will help strengthen it — if the Court takes notice of its weaknesses and corrects them. And if the appointing power is not callous and treats the Court with respect.

“... If there is any sadness I feel, it’s a tiny core of profound sadness that, in our society, we seem not to understand the meaning of independence, the value of research, and the role of journalists. There is such a thing as heeding the call of our profession — to shed light on dark corners.

“Still, I am convinced that it is important to have written this book even if, as academics like to say, ‘it’s only journalism.’”

Eventually, that equation will be the final arbiter for this momentous book. It will be weighed as journalism, and be found a paragon of an undertaking. More than that, it will be seen as having triumphed in lifting yet another veil to cast sunlight on dark corners, where no shadows should reign to begin with.

* * *

Shadow of Doubt is available at Popular Book Store in Quezon City, the University of the Philippines College of Law, Solidaridad Book Store in Manila, and in Newsbreak. Soon, the book will be sold in Fully Booked and Libros Filipinos at the Heritage Library in Makati. You can also log in to www.shadowofdoubt.info for online orders.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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