The Independence and Activism of the Philippine Supreme Court: the Case of La Bugal v. Ramos



The paper assesses the Philippine Supreme Court’s ruling reversal in La Bugal versus Ramos (or the Mining Act case) in terms of what it tells us about the independence and activism of the post-Marcos Supreme Court. “Judicial activism” is used in the paper to refer to “active intervention in policy making” by courts or judges. The text of the 1987 Philippine Constitution provides for the legal moorings of judicial activism in the post-Marcos era. Constitutional provisions, alongside favorable political conditions, have contributed to the emergence of a generally independent post-Marcos Court. Focusing on judicial activism in the form of judicial invalidation of legislation and/or actions of executive officials, the La Bugal reversal tells us that justices of the Philippine Supreme Court indeed have the resources and incentives to be activists. Two plausible accounts of the reversal have been identified: an attitudinalist issue change account and a strategic defection account. Despite their differences, both accounts indicate a condition of considerable, but not overwhelming, independence in January 2004 when the Court issued its first La Bugal ruling. As to the December 2004 ruling which reversed the original La Bugal decision, an attitudinalist issue change account provides the plausible explanation that the reversal was brought about by a change in case stimuli. Judicial activism, however, does not necessarily result in “pro-poor, pro-people, pro-Filipino” rulings. The Court can employ its activism to pursue more “conservative” policy goals.

Keywords: judicial activism, judicial independence, issue change, strategic defection, judicial veto

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