In our judicial hierarchy, the Supreme Court reigns supreme. It has, after all, the last word on what the law is; it is the final arbiter of any justiciable controversy (DBP v. NLRC, 242 SCRA 59).
We may then ask, can a decision of the Supreme Court, like the one which allows the burial of Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, still be overturned?
The answer is yes. Let me count the ways.
First. The Supreme Court may reverse itself upon motion for reconsideration, a remedy provided under the Rules of Court. Thus, in cases like the League of Cities v. COMELEC, the Supreme Court, upon subsequent motions for reconsideration, reversed itself: THRICE.
Second. The Supreme Court, in succeeding cases, may overturn its own decision. A good example that many are familiar with is the case of Morales v. Court of Appeals where the Supreme Court abandoned the so-called Aguinaldo doctrine, a principle that effectively extinguishes an elected official’s administrative liabilities from wrongdoing in his previous term by virtue of re-election.
Third. A decision of the Supreme Court may cease to be effectual when an act of Congress or the Executive renders the basis for the said decision nugatory. This is specially true when the basis of the Supreme Court is the absence of a law; such as when the Supreme Court rejected the defense of Battered Women Syndrome (BWS) in the case of People v. Genosa even if their “hearts empathize with recurrently battered persons, [for they] can only work within the limits of law. [The Supreme Court] cannot make or invent them. Neither can [they] amend the [law].” The case of Genosa helped pave way for the passage of the Violence Against Women and their Children Act (VAWC) which recognized BWS as a legal defense notwithstanding the absence of any of the elements for justifying circumstances under the Revised Penal Code. Effectively, the decision of the high court in Genosa was superseded by the passage of VAWC.
Fourth. The decision of the Supreme Court may be overturned by the source of its authority: the people. As enshrined in our Constitution, “The Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.”
Thus, in 1973, the Supreme Court dismissed the ratification cases in Javellana v. Executive Secretary only to be overturned by the sovereign Filipino people in 1986.