Monday, December 13, 2010

Arroyo must be laughing hard


By Val G. Abelgas
Just five months after she stepped out of Malacanang, it is becoming clear that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has outsmarted all her critics, including her successor, President Benigno S. Aquino III. After naming Aquino’s mother, the late President Cory Aquino, one of the 25 most powerful women of the century, Time should seriously consider Arroyo as one of the shrewdest women of the century.
Arroyo has not only survived all moves to impeach or oust her in her nine years at the helm, she is now also successfully dodging all moves to prosecute her for graft and corruption during her term. Arroyo outmaneuvered the political opposition and the street parliamentarians every step of the way during her term and, in fact, nearly succeeded in remaining in power through proposed amendments to the Constitution until she ran out of time.
If she had completed her Arroyo Court, otherwise known as the Philippine Supreme Court, and named Renato Corona as chief justice earlier, who can say she would not have succeeded in going on with the cha-cha, change the presidential form of government to a parliamentary one, and with the help of her rah-rah boys in Congress, have herself elected as prime minister?
And now that same Supreme Court, with all 15 justices appointed by her, including the chief justice, has declared Aquino’s Executive Order No. 1 creating the Truth Commission as unconstitutional, scuttling Aquino’s vow to go after Arroyo for graft and corruption.
I will not argue the Supreme Court’s reasons for voiding the Executive Order on the Truth Commission, not being a lawyer, but the names of those who voted in declaring it unconstitutional and those who dissented should give us an idea on how Arroyo continues to manipulate this government.
The five justices who dissented were mostly the same justices who have consistently dissented against the majority decision: Antonio Carpio, Conchita Carpio-Morales, Antonio Eduardo Nachura, Ma. Lourdes Sereno, and Roberto Abad.
Among those who concurred with the majority decision were Chief Justice Renato Corona, Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Teresita Leonardo De Castro, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano Del Castillo, Martin Villarama and Jose Perez – all appointed by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The same Supreme Court has struck down other executive orders by Aquino, including one that cancelled all midnight appointments made by Arroyo, and issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on Congress in its moves to impeach Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, another Arroyo appointee and perceived Arroyo loyalist.
In issuing the TRO against the House committee on justice, which was hearing the impeachment complaint against Gutierrez, the high court clearly stepped out of bounds. Impeachment proceedings are political in character and should have been left to Congress to decide. Former Akbayan party-list Rep. Rita Hontiveros, in reaction to the SC ruling, stressed that the Court should respect the “constitutionally mandated independence and authority of the House of Representatives” to determine the sufficiency and the validity of the impeachment complaint against Gutierrez.
With the impeachment moves stopped, Gutierrez remains the highest authority to decide whether to file graft or plunder charges against Arroyo, being the Ombudsman and head of Tanodbayan, the constitutional agency tasked with prosecuting anomalies perpetrated by government officials.
With the Truth Commission out and Gutierrez staying as Ombudsman, the Aquino administration will have difficulty going after Arroyo and other officials of the previous administration, a pledge he made during the campaign and during his inaugural speech. Aquino rode on his anti-corruption battle cry to victory, and he now has to carry on his quest virtually without a sword.
The House of Representatives, from which impeachment proceedings are initiated, has remained quiet about the TRO after an initial outburst that threatened to put the country in constitutional crisis, and has gone back to “business as usual” with nary a word about defending its constitutional mandate on impeachment.
The Supreme Court has encroached on Legislative territory and now has breached Executive powers. Both the Legislative and Executive branches seem to have quietly surrendered their powers to the now powerful Supreme Court, which raises an alarm because of the perception that Arroyo controls two major arms of the Judicial branch – the Supreme Court and the Ombudsman, meaning even from her lowly loft in the House of Representatives,  Arroyo is able to wield power through the Judicial Branch.
Aquino’s mother, the late President Cory Aquino, had an easier time going after Marcos and other martial law officials because the constitution was not in place, the Cory government having taken a revolutionary character. Arroyo herself had an easy time convicting her predecessor, President Joseph Estrada, because the latter had just been ousted by a coup cum People Power.
So now, while Marcos had to live in disgrace and in exile in a faraway land and Estrada had to spend lonely days in a concentration camp and later in his rest house in Tanay, Arroyo and his two children Mikey and Dato and brother-in-law Ignacio Arroyo, all of whom have also been implicated in other graft scandals, now sit with “distinguished ladies and gentlemen of the House” as if everything is alright with the world.
Arroyo must be laughing hard.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Arroyo’s Court of ‘Last Defense’


By Perry Diaz
The Supreme Court’s 10-5 decision that ruled the Truth Commission unconstitutional did not come as a surprise.  It was expected.  Indeed the seeds were sowed during the last few years of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when she appointed nine Supreme Court justices who were perceived to have been appointed based on their loyalty to Arroyo more than their judicial credentials.  By the time she stepped down from the presidency, fourteen of the justices – the 15th seat was vacant — were all her appointees including Chief Justice Renato Corona whose controversial “midnight appointment” stained the high court’s integrity.
But what is strange – and seemingly anomalous — is that the Supreme Court, through its spokesperson Gleo Guerra, announced that the high court had voted to nullify President Benigno Aquino III’s Executive Order No. 1 – which created the Truth Commission — even before theponencia was written by the ponente, Justice Jose Mendoza“The majority, among others, held that EO 1 violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution in as much as it singles out for investigation the reports of graft and corruption in the previous administration,” Guerra said.  Guerra also said that Chief Justice Corona gave her a “quick briefing” on the outcome of the vote and the main points of the decision indicating that “violation of the equal protection clause was the common ground in the opinions of the majority.” So far, no dissenting opinions have yet been written; however, it is expected that there would be.
Arroyo bloc
The 10 justices who voted with the majority decision were Chief Justice Renato Corona, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Arturo Brion, Presbiterio Velasco, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Martin Villarama, Jose Perez, and Jose Mendoza (ponente).  The five who dissented were Antonio Nachura, Antonio Carpio, Conchita Carpio-Morales, Maria Lourdes Sereno, and Robert Abad.
Of those who voted with the majority in 10-5 ruling against the Truth Commission, eight of them also voted on the March 17, 2010 ruling allowing Arroyo to appoint the Chief Justice in spite of the constitutional ban on “midnight appointments.”  They were Leonardo-de Castro, Brion, Peralta, Bersamin (ponente), Del Castillo, Villarama, Perez, and Mendoza.  Corona abstained and Velasco voted to dismiss the petition.  Interestingly, Abad who voted for the appointment of a midnight chief justice this time voted with the dissenting minority bloc on the Truth Commissionponencia.
It is interesting to note that the eight justices who voted for appointing a “midnight chief justice” and declaring the Truth Commission unconstitutional were all appointed by Arroyo between December 2007 (Leonardo-de Castro) and January 2010 (Mendoza).  They comprise the core of the “Arroyo bloc” led by Chief Justice Corona.  Velasco (2006) and Abad (2009) are leaning to the “Arroyo bloc” but would occasionally vote with the minority bloc consisting of Carpio, Carpio-Morales, Nachura, and Sereno (the only Aquino appointee on the high court).
Setbacks for Aquino
In addition to nullifying the Truth Commission, the Supreme Court on an 8-3 decision issued a “status quo ante order” last September stopping the House of Representatives from proceeding with the impeachment petition against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.  Those who voted with the majority were Chief Justice Corona and Associate Justices Velasco, Peralta, Bersamin, Del Castillo, Abad, Villarama, and Perez.  They are noticeably members of the “Arroyo bloc.” Associate Justices Carpio, Carpio-Morales, and Sereno dissented while Associate Justices Nachura, Leonardo-de Castro, Brion, and Mendoza were on official business.
The following month, October 2010, Aquino suffered another setback.  The Supreme Court issued a “status quo ante order” in the termination of National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) commissioner and secretary Bai Omera Dianalan-Lucman.  Dianalan-Lucman was one of more than 900 midnight appointments made by Arroyo.  Aquino removed all them by issuing Executive Order No. 2.
The question is: Will the Supreme Court eventually nullify Executive Order No. 2 reinstating all of the terminated midnight appointees?  Jubilant over the “test case” on Dianalan-Lucman, the Arroyo camp urged other “midnight appointees” to petition the Supreme Court to revoke Executive Order No. 2.  In reaction, Aquino said, “The potential result of this will be chaos and paralysis in the Executive Branch of government, as the legitimacy of officials appointed to replace those already removed will be cast in doubt.”  Indeed.
With the Truth Commission nullified and the impeachment of Gutierrez in jeopardy, Aquino’s campaign promise to investigate all the allegations of corruption during the Arroyo regime seems like its going down the drain.  If Congress fails to impeach Gutierrez, it will be hard for Aquino to investigate and prosecute Arroyo while Gutierrez remains as Ombudsman, whose term will run through December 1, 2012.
Last line of defense
But even if the Ombudsman were compelled to prosecute Arroyo, the final arbiter would be the Supreme Court.  In other words, if Arroyo were convicted of any criminal act by the lower and appellate courts, the Supreme Court would be Arroyo’s last line of defense.
With only three justices – Carpio-Morales, Nachura, and Abad — retiring before the ban on “midnight appointments” in 2016 elections, the “Arroyo bloc” would still maintain a solid majority of nine votes.   It would only be after Aquino’s successor took over in 2016 that three more members of the “Arroyo bloc” would retire; thus, losing their control of the high court.
Indeed, with the Ombudsman as her line of “first defense” and the Supreme Court her line of “last defense,” Arroyo stands on a solid footing safe from prosecution.  She could be “untouchable.”
However, if Aquino were to exert his political influence and consolidate his forces in the House of Representatives to take a bolder approach in impeaching Gutierrez, they might find a way to proceed with the impeachment proceeding and break the impregnability of Arroyo’s Court of “Last Defense.”
Now is the time for Aquino to come down from his ivory tower and take the lead in bringing the corrupt to justice.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

SC decision should not be hindrance to make Arroyo accountable

By Ellen Tordesillas

I’m not surprised that the Supreme Court slammed President Aquino’s Truth Commission, 10-5.
I’m bothered, of course, that we have a Supreme Court, beholden to a person who held power illegally for nine years, plundered taxpayers money and destroyed democratic institutions.
But even if the Truth Commission were declared “constitutional”, I was not really optimistic that Gloria Arroyo would be held accountable because Aquino chose to head it former Supreme Court Hilario Davide, who is also beholden to Arroyo.
I also believe that even without the Truth Commission, Aquino can make Arroyo accountable for her crimes against the Filipino people. What is needed is political will and a brilliant and efficient team to implement that “will.”
The High Court’s decision on the Truth Commission should impel the people to make known their displeasure over their betrayal of the people’s trust in the law. People should mark their name: Renato Corona, Lucas Bersamin, Arturo Brion, Teresita de Castro, Mariano del Castillo, Jose Mendoza, Diosdado Peralta, Jose Perez, Presbitero Velasco, and Martin Villarama.
Maybe it’s high time to stage People Power against the degradation of the Supreme Court. When you meet any one of the 10 justices outside the court, make known your anger. Tell it to their faces. Boo them. Make them uncomfortable. Throw rotten tomatoes or eggs at them.
People should also support justices who keep us from losing our faith in the rule of law in this country: Antonio Carpio, Conchita Carpio-Morales, Roberto Abad, Antonio Nachura, Maria Lourdes Sereno.
Harry Roque of CenterLaw Philippines asks, “Why and how can the search for the truth be unconstitutional ?”
His statement: “Centerlaw expresses its utmost disappointment with the decision of the Supreme Court declaring EO 1 which created the Truth Commission as unconstitutional. While Centerlaw has always maintained that the power of the proposed Commission may be exercised by the Department of Justice and other branches of government while the current Ombudsman has proven itself oblivious to the sins of the past dispensation, still this recent decision declaring EO 1 as unconstitutional would bolster impunity in the country and render nugatory the constitutional precept of accountability of public officers.
“Even assuming that the powers of the Truth Commission would duplicate the powers of the Ombudsman, there is nothing in the constitution that says that the power to enforce the country’s laws on the accountability of public officers is a monopoly of the Ombudsman.
“Neither may it be said that EO 1 violates the equal protection clause. The power of the Commission is only investigatory in nature and hence, its activities could not affect the constitutional rights of anyone under investigation. As a purely investigative body, its powers are clearly executive in nature and hence, it is within the powers of the President to create such a commission and to fund its activities using resources previously allocated by Congress to the Office of the President.
“What is objectionable to this recent decision of the court is its implications. Amidst the failure of the criminal justice system to investigate anyone in the past dispensation, the decision can be read to mean a grant of impunity to the past dispensation. Certainly, it sends a very loud message that this Court cannot be counted upon to support PNoy’s declared promise of promoting honesty in government by taking effective steps to investigate, prosecute and punish those who may have violated our criminal laws on public officers. The ultimate question of course is why and how could the search for the truth be unconstitutional?”
Blogger Olan wrote “Malaking insulto ito sa mahigit 15 milyong bumoto sa pagbabago!”
Terry Rindon of the League of Filipino Students said “Unconstitutionality should not be an excuse by Aquino not to send Arroyo to jail. He should have known the legal infirmity of the TC from the start. We reject this kid glove treatment of GMA and demand that Pnoy do all means to send GMA to justice.”

Friday, December 10, 2010

Release them

Theres The Rub

By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
BE ASSURED, says presidential deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte, that Malacañang is studying the case of the Morong 43. It cannot as yet release them because their case is different from that of the military mutineers.
But of course their case is different from that of the military mutineers. They have more right to be released than the military mutineers.
Unlike the military mutineers, the Morong 43 are innocent. They are innocent because the law must find them innocent. They were arrested on the strength of a warrant against someone who has no fixed address and who is nowhere to be found—very likely a fictitious person. They were given no legal recourse, prevented not just from seeking any legal counsel but also from seeing relatives and friends, and thrown in the dark for months. Some of them were probably tortured; at least they have claimed so. No group of persons have been so systematically denied their basic rights since 1986 other than those who have been summarily fed to the worms by their captors.
Whatever has been found in their possession or extracted from them by way of confession is the “fruit of the poisoned tree,” as lawyers put it, which is inadmissible evidence. And in any case, they have resolutely stood by their word that the arms and explosives that materialized in their persons were planted, and confessed only to being so dedicated to their calling they were holding a medical seminar when swooped down upon by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s stormtroopers.
What is there to study? If only by the circumstances of their arrest, Malacañang should have thrown their case out the window as soon as it welcomed a new tenant. If only by the ordeal they have endured—10 months and counting—Malacañang should have offered them its deepest apologies and vowed to bring the tyrant who brought them to that pass to justice.
Even if they are NPA sympathizers, or NPA themselves, what of it? At the very least, the mutineers themselves took up arms against government, even if as in the case of Danny Lim that lay more in the threat and the execution, and they have been freed, to much rejoicing by the military. Even Tony Trillanes, who quite literally took up arms against GMA while she was still legitimate, has been freed, to much rejoicing by his family and friends. Why can’t the Morong 43, who haven’t even been proven to have taken up arms, be so? The selectiveness is patent and should be a source of shame for government.
At the very most, whose case is really thornier and requires interminable study?
Military officers are there to defend the citizens, for which they get benefits and privileges and guns for the role they play. When they turn those guns against government, they do not just commit rebellion, they commit treason. They betray the very thing they are sworn to uphold. The only compelling justification in the case of Lim and company is that they did so against a government that had no right to exist, that did not represent the citizens. They did so against a usurper, one who made fighting back a matter of self-preservation. The presidential amnesty given them naturally implies that justification, specifically the part about GMA’s illegitimacy. Otherwise, nothing justifies it. Treason is unjustifiable.
You grant that the Morong 43 are NPA sympathizers, or NPA themselves, then their case is far simpler and more forthright. They are rebels, they exist to fight government, they enjoy no pay or privileges in doing so. On the contrary they suffer privations and are hunted down as outlaws. Their added justification for fighting government over the last six years is that it is a coup regime, wrought by ballot if not by bullet. For which they have paid the gravest price: Hundreds of their fellows have been killed or made to disappear; many, like Jonas Burgos, judged, juried and executed without proof of their being NPA.
Between those two groups of political prisoners, the second is far more easily pardonable. That is tacitly implied by the peace talks with the NDF. You do not negotiate with bandits, you negotiate with rebels, or with people you consider to have principles. Yet the military mutineers have been released and the Morong 43 not so. Why so?
The only reason I can think of is that government doesn’t want to piss off the military. That’s what P-Noy’s own mother, Cory, did after 1986, and succeeded only in emboldening them to mount one coup after another. Led by Juan Ponce Enrile who, in one of life’s sublime ironies, or in one of this magic realist country’s not so magical twists, is now a staunch P-Noy ally. There’s no other explanation for it, certainly nothing approaching legal or moral. It’s just plain double standards.
It’s also just plain injustice. Government has no business appeasing the military, it has every business punishing the military. Or those of them that helped GMA mount a rule so vicious it made rebellion an act of grace. Or those of them that helped GMA steal the vote in Muslim Mindanao and propped up the even more vicious rule of the Ampatuans in Maguindanao to accomplish it. Or those of them that helped GMA stamp out any and all resistance against her, scuttling rallies, arresting protesters, mounting a cynical war against enemies of the State—State defined as the state of health of GMA and her husband, which buried hundreds of political activists, many of them in the flush of youth, in shallow graves. Or those of them that should even now be facing the Truth Commission to tell the truth about how they made the truth, quite apart from people like Jonas Burgos, disappear from the face of the earth.
What’s to study? The matuwid na landas is clear enough: Release the Morong 43.
And jail those that put them in jail.