For lawyer Theodore Te, the bid to impeach Chief Justice Reynato Puno smells of “political maneuverings” that would benefit the current Malacañang occupant.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Does President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo stand to benefit from the impeachment of Chief Justice Reynato Puno?
This is a question that has arisen amid alleged moves to impeach him, which were recently exposed by Supreme Court spokesman Midas Marquez. The impeachment bid against the Chief Justice reportedly stems from the non-promulgation of a ruling unseating an opposition member of the House of Representatives.
For Theodore Te, a law professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) and Metro Manila regional coordinator of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), the bid to impeach Puno smells of “political maneuverings” that would benefit the current Malacañang occupant. “At this point, Gloria stands to gain from any measure that would ensure that she is not prosecuted for the crimes she has committed – all the impeachable offenses she would have been found liable for had it not been for Jose de Venecia’s and later Prospero Nograles’ respective Houses,” Te told Bulatlat in an interview.
In a press conference last month, lawyer and businessman Louie Biraogo denounced what he described as an “irregularity” in the Supreme Court’s decision-making process.
He was referring to the non-promulgation of a July 15, 2008 draft decision unseating Negros Oriental Rep. Jocelyn Limkaichong, who had won by over 7,000 votes over her closest opponent, Olivia Paras, in the 2007 elections. The ruling upholds Limkaichong’s disqualification from holding office for being a Chinese citizen.
“My suspicion is the Chief Justice may have a hand in this irregularity,” Biraogo said. “These circumstances led me to believe the Chief Justice may have been dishonest in his dealings … and may prejudice the faith of people in the judiciary.”
Paras is the wife of former Rep. Jacinto Paras, a member of Arroyo’s Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi or Partner of the Free Filipino).
Penned by Associate Justice Ruben Reyes, who has recently retired, the July 15, 2008 draft decision on the Limkaichong case had been signed by all justices except Puno himself. But nine of the 14 justices who signed it concurred only “in the result” and did not agree with Reyes’s reasoning. Puno thereafter convinced his colleagues to reconsider the ruling, and subsequently, the Supreme Court “unanimously decided to withhold” its promulgation. The High Tribunal also scheduled oral arguments to be held last August.
“As Chief Justice, (Puno) has the function of ensuring that the decision would be authoritative, meaning it would be followed as law, not only by the parties to the case but also other parties similarly situated,” Te told Bulatlat in an interview. “Under these circumstances, it might have been necessary for Puno to step in considering that the Reyes ponencia did two things: 1. declare a candidate who had been allowed to run by the Comelec (Commission on Elections) as disqualified, and 2. declare a clear winner, by over 7,000 votes, as ineligible to occupy the office to which she was elected and to strike her off the rolls of the House of Representatives. Had the decision been promulgated with majority concurring only in the result, it would have been unclear, at least to Limkaichong’s constituents who had elected her to office, why their duly-elected representative was now disqualified.”
Te also noted that in his reflections on the draft decision, Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said that the Comelec resolutions of May 17 and June 29, 2007 disqualifying Limkaichong were rendered “in grave abuse of discretion” and pointed out his reasons for saying so. These were the same Comelec resolutions affirmed by the ruling Reyes penned.
Te said that a ruling where majority of the justices concur only “in the result” is worthless. “A ruling where majority concurred only “in the result” has no authoritative value. The latter feature is that which makes Supreme Court decisions part of the law of the land and that which makes its Decisions ‘precedent-setting’. Reyes’s reasoning was, to the mind of the majority, so bad that they could not accept it but they all agreed that the result was correct. A ruling that is not binding as precedent is a waste of time,” he said.
There have been similar incidents where Supreme Court decisions were not promulgated, Te said, citing the cases of Misolas v. Panga and People v. Caruncho.
Justice Abraham Sarmiento (now retired), in 1990, wrote in Misolas v. Panga:
It perplexes me why this dissent should first of all merit what appear to be repartees from the majority. I am but casting a contrary vote, which, after all, is in performance of a constitutional duty.
I am also concerned at how this case has journeyed from ponente to ponente and opinion to opinion, which, rather than expedited its resolution, has delayed it-at the expense of the accused-petitioner.
I was originally assigned to write the decision in this case, and as early as June, 1989, I was ready. On June 14, 1989, I started circulating a decision granting the petition and declaring Presidential Decree No. 1866, as amended by Presidential Decree No. 1878-A, unconstitutional and of no force and effect. Meanwhile, Madame Justice Irene Cortes disseminated a dissent. By July 18, 1989, my ponencia had been pending in the office of the Chief Justice for promulgation. It carried signatures of concurrence of eight Justices (including mine), a slim majority, but a majority nonetheless. Five Justices, on the other hand, joined Justice Cortes in her dissent. The Chief Justice did not sign the decision on his word that he was filing a dissent of his own.
Subsequently, and as events would soon unfold quickly and dramatically, the Chief Justice returned my decision to the Court en banc, and declared that unless somebody changed his mind, he was promulgating my decision. Justice Edgardo Paras, who was one of the eight who had stamped their imprimatur on my decision, indicated that he did not want to “clip the wings of the military” and that he was changing his mind. This sudden reversement under the circumstances surrounding its manifestation, took me aback for which I strongly voiced my protest for a case (although the majority is very slim) that I had thought was a settled matter.
I am aware that similar events in the Supreme Court are nothing uncommon. The following are the ringing words of my distinguished colleague, Justice Ameurfina Melencio-Herrera, but they could just as well have been mine, as far as the instant controversy is concerned, and I could not have put it any better:
“It has taken all of a year and four months to what, I hope, will see the final disposition of this case, notwithstanding periodic reminders for an earlier resolution. It is this delay that has caused me a great deal of concern. It is, to me, a crying example of justice delayed and is by no means ‘much ado about nothing.’ … Nor is the question involved ‘none too important.’ … The bone of contention is whether or not a criminal complaint, which is an offense against the State, may be dismissed on the basis of an amicable settlement between the complainant and the accused, who is a public officer.
“As assigned initially, I was to prepare the opinion of the Court. My original ‘ponencia’ annulling the Order of respondent Municipal Judge Eriberto H. Espiritu dismissing the criminal case against respondent Mayor Emiliano Caruncho, granting the petition for Certiorari and Mandamus, and ordering respondent Municipal Judge to reinstate and proceed with the trial on the merits of the criminal case against respondent Mayor without further delay, was circulated beginning July 30, 1982.”
Te said that stopping the promulgation of a Supreme Court decision does not fall under impeachable offenses – particularly betrayal of public trust, which Biraogo appeared to be alluding to in his statement during last month’s press conference. “I do not believe that the failure to promulgate, for so long as the reason is clear and is not intended to favor a specific party, would be actionable,” Te said.
Considering the legal basis for the non-promulgation of the July 15, 2008 draft decision on the Limkaichong case, the issue of the alleged impeachment moves against Puno has assumed political color. Suspicions are rife that Malacañang may have a hand in the impeachment bid against the highest official of the Philippine judiciary.
Malacañang, through Press Secretary Jesus Dureza, has denied having a hand in the alleged moves against Puno. “In fairness, that speculation is so unfair,” Dureza said in a radio interview last Jan. 11.
Asked whether Arroyo stands to benefit from Puno’s impeachment, Te replied in the affirmative. “At this point, Gloria stands to gain from any measure that would ensure that she is not prosecuted for the crimes she has committed – all the impeachable offenses she would have been found liable for had it not been for JdV’s (Jose de Venecia) and later Nogi’s (Prospero Nograles) respective Houses,” he said.
Te warned that even if Puno survives the alleged moves to impeach him, he should brace for more plots by those who want him out of the Supreme Court.
“Take note that it is not only through impeachment that Puno can be ousted,” Te said. “If he is forced to resign, same effect. If Puno weathers this, expect more to come out in the future because Gloria’s supporters might be hoping that Puno would find it untenable to continue.”
He said Puno should expect his connections with businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco and his closeness to Estelito Mendoza during the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos to be played up.
One of Puno’s sons is a top-ranking executive at San Miguel Corporation, where Cojuangco – a top Marcos crony – is the present chief executive officer. From 1971 to 1974, Puno was a solicitor at the Office of the Solicitor-General (OSG), which was then headed by Mendoza.
Te also said that those who want Puno out will not stop even if he will be the only non-Arroyo appointee in the High Tribunal by the time Arroyo completes her appointment of seven new justices later this year.
“One may ask, why the big deal?” Te said. “It is a big deal because the spectacle of a Puno and Carpio dissent every time would be a great blow to legitimacy. I think Gloria wants what Marcos never got – an exit into history without a cloud. Her last best chance is for a Supreme Court to rewrite history. With Puno and Carpio still there, I don’t think this would be possible.”
He also said the best way to maintain whatever independence the judiciary still has is for Puno to “stay put” until 2010, when he reaches the age of 70 – the mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court justices. (Bulatlat.com)