Manila, March 31, 2003 -- Powerful figures in Malacaņang are reportedly 
applying full pressure on the justices of the Supreme Court (SC) to reverse 
the earlier high court decision in a 1995 multiple murder case favoring 
Sen. Panfilo Lacson and for it to instead rule in the Arroyo 
administration's favor by ordering the reopening of the Kuratong Baleleng 
case against the senator, as principal accused.

Lacson, said to be a strong opposition presidential can-didate, faces a 
stay in jail without recourse to bail, should the case be reopened.

The case is to be deliberated by the SC when it meets en banc on Tuesday.

Palace insiders told the Tribune that Malacaņang has given the orders to 
have the tribunal rule against Lacson through Associate Justice Romeo 
Callejo, the newest magistrate appointed to the SC by President Arroyo, 
adding the Palace is anyway already assured of a lot more votes from the 
justices, with almost the majority of the member of the high bench 
appointed by her, and with others beholden to her.

Callejo, a court insider said, quickly volunteered to be the "ponente" for 
the decision, which reverses the earlier court decision favoring Lacson.

Under the SC ruling, which was voted unanimously by 13 justices, the 
Kuratong Baleleng case was remanded to the sala of Quezon City Judge Teresa 
Yadao to check on whether the requirements were met on the SC ruling that 
the refiling of a criminal case should be done within two years after it 
was provisionally dismissed.

Government lawyers headed by then Justice Secretary Hernando Perez and then 
Solicitor General, now Ombudsman, Simeon Marcelo, immediately filed a 
motion for reconsideration with the SC, which is now the subject of the 
supposed ponencia of Callejo.

The high tribunal was scheduled to deliberate on the DoJ's motion for 
reconsideration during its en banc meeting last March 25 but Chief Justice 
Hilario Davide Jr. informed Justice Callejo of a motion filed by defense 
lawyer Sigfrid Fortun that calls for Callejo's inhibition in the Kuratong 
Baleleng case.

A highly-placed source said Davide asked Callejo what his personal decision 
was on the matter of inhibition. The associate Justice reportedly informed 
Davide he was not inclined to inhibit himself from the case.

"Since the question was a matter of personal delicadeza, the other SC 
justices did not press Justice Callejo," the court source told the Tribune 

A few of the high court justices were reportedly appalled at the "lack of 
delicadeza" exhibited by Callejo, pointing to the fact that when Callejo 
was an associate justice of the Court of Appeals, he had formally inhibited 
himself from participating in the deliberation on the Kuratong Baleleng 
case just two years ago, saying he had discovered that his nephew-in-law, 
Chief Supt. Jaime Caringal, who was then deputy chief of the 
PNP-Intelligence Group, conducted the investigation of the case.

A copy of Callejo's note inhibiting himself from the case has been obtained 
by the Tribune.

Callejo is also a brother-in-law of retired Gen. Fortunato Abat, who is 
also the father-in-law of Caringal, who now serves as director of the 
PNP-Intelligence Group.

Abat worked on the retired generals to persuade the active generals to 
withdraw their support from their then commander-in-chief President Joseph 
Estrada. He is now a board director of Camp John Hay.

In a letter to the Court of Appeals' Raffle Committee, Callejo wrote: "I 
discovered, upon going over the records, that the complainant is Director 
Leandro Mendoza of the PNP who has direct supervision and control over my 
nephew, the Deputy chief of intelligence of the PNP, which, I understand, 
conducted an investigation of the case against the Petitioner, et. al. 
before the complaint was filed with the Secretary of Justice."

"I am thus constrained to inhibit myself from participating in the 
resolution disposition of the Petition, to avoid any suspicion of my 
impartiality. Please have another raffle for another justice to replace me 
in the Division of Five," Callejo said.

Having made his position clear two years ago, the source said it is strange 
for Callejo to insist on not inhibiting himself on the same case.

That the hand of Malacanang is at work, is evident, the court insider said, 
as Callejo has even had the temerity to write a draft ponencia on the DoJ's 
motion for reconsideration, copies of which were distributed to the SC 
justices last March 25 for their perusal.

A senior justice, however, inquired why Callejo did not sign his 
"ponencia," which is usual, to which Callejo replied that in the previous 
"13-0 ruling," the ponencia was drafted after an en banc deliberation.

Another justice commented that the previous "13-0 ruling" was a "per 
curiam" decision, unlike in this instant case when a volunteer ponente in 
the person of Justice Callejo wanted to reverse a per curiam decision of 13 
"The justice's rather sarcastic comment, while correct, was greeted by 
silence. Neither Justice Callejo, who was being averted to, nor the Chief 
Justice, commented or responded," the source said.

It was pointed out by the source that the Chief Justice could have easily 
put things right then and there, but that he preferred not to say anything.

Court observers noted that Callejo's voluntary ponencia, made on the basis 
of his being the replacement of retired Associate Justice Sabino de 
Leon  the original ponente on the Kuratong Baleleng case  was out of line 
since under normal procedure, and out of courtesy for the senior Associate 
Justice Reynato Puno, who wrote the per curiam decision of 13-0, the 
ponencia for the motion for reconsideration, should be given to him.

"Here, a neophyte associate justice who had no part in the previous ruling 
of the SC was taking it upon himself to write a ponencia," a court observer 

It was learned that the Callejo ponencia has been passed around and it is 
up to the Supreme Court justices to decide on the motion for 
reconsideration when the matter is taken up en banc on April 1.

In a related development, Palace sources revealed that a special media 
operations group attached to the Office of the Press Secretary is now busy 
spreading "news feeds" that Lacson would be immediately served an arrest 
warrant on the basis of the Callejo ponencia. (Tribune)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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