Brickbats, lots of them, were hurled when the Supreme Court dismissed outright the petition for mandamus in Taguiwalo v. Duque (Sept. 1, 2020) seeking to compel the government to conduct mass testing to detect COVID-19.
Without asking for comment from the respondents, the Court en banc, voting 13-1-1, summarily ruled that “courts have no authority to issue writs of mandamus, no matter how dire the emergency, without a showing that an official of the executive branch failed to perform a mandatory, nondiscretionary duty.”
Indeed, under the doctrine of separation of powers, courts cannot order officials to perform jobs that entail the exercise of discretion or judgment. While the judiciary can direct negligent officials to fulfill their duties, nonetheless, it cannot tell them HOW to fulfill them.
Also, mandamus is an extraordinary remedy that cannot be availed of when a plain and speedy relief is available. Here, the Court held that recourse to Executive Order No. 2, Series of 2016 was their plain, speedy, and adequate remedy. Moreover, the Court added, the petitioners have not shown they have exhausted administrative remedies before filing this case.
By giving the petition the short shrift, the Court, I think, was merely following its own dictum in Gio-Samar v. DOTC (March 12, 2018) to reduce its backlog by dismissing pleas that, on their face, are either plainly undeserving or violate the hierarchy of courts.
In refusing to entertain the Taguiwalo petition, the high tribunal, I believe, was not discriminatory or biased, because it also gave short shrift to other baseless suits recently. For example, on Sept. 8, it dismissed outright the petition to void the law renaming the Manila International Airport as the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on the same ground of facial inadequacy.
Another example: On Sept. 15, it summarily denied the Sept. 7, 2020 letter of lawyer Larry Gadon and that of the Office of the Solicitor General, dated Sept. 11, 2020, requesting for certificated copies of the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen for 1990 to 2011 “to look into the possibility of initiating a quo warranto proceeding against Justice Leonen.”
(I will await the Court’s full resolution on the above letters and will thereafter write a column vis-à-vis the new guidelines issued by the Office of the Ombudsman restricting public access to the SALNs of public officials.)
These summary dismissals are, I believe, in line with Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta’s 10-point program to provide “swift, efficient, fair and responsive justice for all,” the first of them being the “Elimination of backlog in the Supreme Court,” and with the United States Supreme Court’s system of filtering out all facially defective petitions and deciding only a very limited number of truly meritorious cases. (For details, see my columns on 4/7/19, 1/12/20 and 8/23/20.)
The short shrift given to unworthy cases is advantageous to all who believe in speedy justice—the Court, our people, the respondents, and even the petitioners; the Court because by clearing its docket early, the justices would have more time and attention to focus on the more crucial pending cases. After all, if on its face, a petition has absolutely no merit, there is no point in asking for “Comment” as this would only clog its dockets with useless paperwork and delay the inevitable.
It is beneficial to the people because their lament of “justice delayed is justice denied” would eventually vanish. It is likewise good for the respondents because they will be able to enjoy their victory immediately without having to spend for additional lawyers’ fees.
Beneficial it is even to the petitioners because they would have timely opportunities to find alternative remedies, considering that not all problems can be solved by the judiciary. Some can be solved by Congress, some by executive officials, some by the ballot, and some by peaceful assemblies.
Finally, it is also advantageous to the legal profession because it would differentiate shysters who take advantage of the gullibility of their clients from the trustworthy lawyers who elevate only truly worthy petitions, fully aware that patently worthless appeals would cause instant embarrassment for them and for their clients.
At bottom, expect more short shrifts as the Court struggles to solve its backlog.