HIGH COURT RULING POLITICAL -- MALAYAManila, April 2, 2003 (By AMADO P. MACASAET, Malaya) -- Now matter how the Supreme Court explains the grant of the motion for reconsideration on the case of Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson, people cannot be stopped from thinking that the ruling is attended more by political interest than by law. The ruling came three days after Lacson declared he will be running for president in 2004. To begin with, rare are the occasions in the tribunal where a unanimous vote is reversed on motion for reconsideration. We are talking here of how five of the 11 remaining magistrates who voted unanimously to remand the Kuratong Baleleng case to the lower court that temporarily dismissed the case against Lacson as an accessory, with the dismissal becoming permanent because of the failure of the prosecutors to revive the case, suddenly changed their minds. The earlier decision appealed from was unanimous at 13-0. Only 11 of the 13 are left because Associate Justices Santiago Kapunan and Sabino de Leon have retired. That means that seven associate justices, including the chief justice, of the remaining 11 changed their minds to get the 10-4-1 vote. Associate Justices Reynato Puno, Jose Vitug, Consuelo Ynares Santiago and Angelina Sandoval Gutierrez dissented. The vote indicates that Justice Renato Corona, who had inhibited himself, along with Justice Antonio Carpio in the original ruling, now voted with the majority. It is to the credit of Justice Carpio that he abstained from voting and stuck to his reasons for his own inhibition. The even bigger anomaly is the refusal of Associate Justice Romeo Callejo to recuse or inhibit himself in spite of a petition. Without being prodded by anybody but his conscience, he inhibited himself from the case when it was under deliberation in the Court of Appeals giving like bible-sourced reasons that he could not render an impartial judgment because his nephew, a deputy chief of intelligence of the PNP, was involved in the investigation of the case. He not merely refused to inhibit himself; he even became the ponente of the decision. Without material proof, his acceptance - or maybe even insistence - that he be the ponente, validates our earlier speculation that he was promoted to the Court at the behest of powerful people on condition that he would write the decision against Lacson. And he did. It now appears that that conscience was lost for reasons only Justice Callejo may explain. The Court appears to have ignored the impact on its reputation of several decisions which have been assailed. It seems to have maintained or stuck itself to the saying that "the Supreme Court is right even when it is wrong." This decision is ill-advised. But it becomes right because the tribunal says so. Which means that the majority in the original decision abstained from the duty of staying on the right. The Court seems to have completely ignored the impact on its integrity and sagging reputation of its previous decisions which have struck fear among those who have chosen to live by the rule of law. The legitimization of the presidency of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo using a diary of then Executive Secretary Edgardo J. Angara, which the Court apparently sought out by itself is still fresh not only in the minds of the supporters of Joseph Estrada but those who respect the rule of law. We remember that just months before, the tribunal dismissed a judge of a regional trial court for relying on a newspaper account in making his decision. Why was what was wrong for an inferior court be right for the Supreme Court? The Court made two conflicting decisions in two recall election cases. In the case of Edward Hagedorn who was elected mayor in a recall poll, the Court ruled that he will serve the unexpired portion of the mayor he unseated and therefore he is not entitled to three terms allowed by the Constitution. In the case of the recall election of the governor of Bataan, the Court decided that the winner, Ding Roman is beginning a new term and therefore may run for three consecutive terms. What is wrong for a mayor is right for a governor? The mistake that the seven "turncoats" made in the case of Lacson is being in the unanimous decision to remand the case to the lower court. If they had ruled then that the case against Lacson may be revived or a new information may be filed - although there is hardly any difference between the two - the people who might have lost hopes that the Supreme Court is the last bastion of justice, might rest easy. At least, they would have appreciated the consistency of the Court. Then Justice Secretary Hernando B. Perez was jubilant when the previous unanimous decision was promulgated. But then, after the judge of the sala to which the case was remanded refused to inhibit herself, the Solicitor General filed a motion for reconsideration. This is the first case I know where the State appealed a decision rendered in its favor. It risked the possibility of a defeat or loss. Or did the state know all along that there would never be any risk, as now proven by the decision? The image of the Supreme Court is already tarnished as it is. That must have been the reason Associate Justice Artemio Panganiban wrote a book, "Reforming the Judiciary". He might as well recall that book because not a few of us believe that the Court and the author of the book himself are not reforming the judiciary. The Court, if it should be reminded, is sinking itself deeper into infamy. I am prepared to be cited for contempt for every word I say here. I have a right to say my piece and the Court can always say I am wrong and cite me for contempt. Be my guest, Your Honors. If the Court wants to participate in the effort to heal the wounds of this country, it should think twice. It may unknowingly be helping create a wider chasm with a decision in the Lacson case and other cases.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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