Taming the beast

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Pisa, Italy: Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna – Populism, Constitutional Democracy, and the Rule of Law workshop

Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna

Next on the agenda for today was Dr Imelda Deinla,* speaking to her working paper entitled Taming the beast: judicial activism and institutional conservatism of the Philippine Supreme Court.

Dr Deinla observed that the rise of a populist president has facilitated a progressive deterioration of the rule of law and further weakening of legal institutions in the Philippines, but also that constitutional democracy in the Philippines has been a paradox since liberal democracy was restored in the 1986 people power revolution.

She went on to discuss democratic developments which have fluctuated over the years: the Philippine Supreme Court has played a critical role in sustaining the constitutional balance of power, or in resisting attempts at altering the boundaries, but the judiciary as a whole has, while being activist at times, become a ‘conservative’ institution whose privileges and power are subjected to low accountability standards. Members of the judiciary came to be known as ‘gods of Padre Faura’ whose decisions are regarded as definitive interpretation of the constitution. This new-found power by the Court has also become the very tool by which constitutional democracy – and judicial independence – has been constantly challenged within and outside of the court system as seen in the succession of impeachment proceedings in the last fifteen years. The paradox of judicial power then presents a dilemma for judicial reform initiatives.

*Research Fellow, School of Regulation and Global Governance, and Director of the Philippines Project, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia