MANILA, DECEMBER 29, 2010 (STAR) By Delon Porcalla - President Aquino yesterday lamented that the Supreme Court (SC) was “singling out” his administration, compared with his predecessors, in putting legal obstacles in his reform program.

In a chance interview at the Rizal Hall after signing the 2011 national budget, Aquino cited the case of deposed President Joseph Estrada and even former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who both created commissions for particular tasks during their respective terms of office.

The President was obviously still disappointed with the way the SC, with 14 justices appointed by Arroyo, has voided his order creating the five-member Truth Commission that was supposed to investigate unsolved anomalies in the past administration.

“When my mom started in office, there was PCGG (Presidential Commission on Good Government). It’s still existing. It was not declared unconstitutional. During President Estrada’s time, there was a Saguisag commission to study a particular act of President (Fidel) Ramos,” he said.

The Saguisag commission tasked to investigate the (1998) Centennial Expo had not “been considered unconstitutional,” according to him.

“Ms. Arroyo herself had set up so many commissions investigating particular subsets of our society. None of them were deemed unconstitutional,” Aquino pointed out, referring to the Melo and Zeñarosa commissions, among others.

“I think it’s in the same vein as what they have done. I think it’s only ours that is being singled out as unconstitutional. So, that will have to be the biggest challenge that we face,” he told Palace reporters.

“The greatest difficulty, I think, has been no secret – it has to do with the judiciary.”

The President cited the legal setbacks his government had suffered in the judiciary, among them the looming approval of the plea bargain of retired Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, the one percent conviction rate in drug cases, and the voiding of the Truth Commission.

Carandang: SC is an Arroyo court

Secretary Ricky Carandang, on the other hand, said the SC, notoriously touted as the “Arroyo Court,” was determined to nullify the creation of the five-man Truth Commission, regardless of how many legal luminaries had helped craft the presidential edict.

“If you believe that that was a political decision, then I think you would ask yourself, regardless of how that EO was written, that would have been struck down anyway,” Carandang declared over radio dzRJ.

In an interview with anchor former Senate president Ernesto Maceda, Carandang took note of the dissenting opinions of Justice Antonio Carpio – who, although an Arroyo appointee, had a falling out with the Arroyos in 2006 – and newly appointed Justice Lourdes Sereno, the first appointee of President Aquino in the high court.

“If you read the dissenting opinion of Justices Carpio and Sereno, they said that the SC ruling on EO1 was an absolute prohibition on the investigation of the Arroyo administration,” he said. There were five dissenters in the majority opinion.

“Those are not words from the administration, those are words from two very respected SC justices who disagreed with the majority opinion,” Carandang said.

He, however, acknowledged that the nullification of the panel that was to be headed by former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. was among the “setbacks” the Aquino administration suffered after the hostage crisis and defective presidential orders.

“In the SC case on EO1, we came in pledging to fight corruption, we should investigate the last administration to the extent that EO1 has been nullified by the SC. Definitely that was a negative,” he related.

Already, Malacañang had sought a reconsideration of the ruling, arguing that the scope of the commission’s mandate was not limited to the nine-year term of Arroyo that ended last June.

The Office of the Solicitor General, in filing a motion for reconsideration, clarified that “the language of (the) executive order shows that there is no intent to unfairly discriminate against the previous administration.”

“The Truth Commission does not single out specific individuals but refers to questionable transactions in the administration of Mrs. Arroyo, and there is no invidious classification of the transactions during the previous administration since this is based on substantial distinctions that make for real differences,” it stated.

Enrile: Charge Arroyo in court

Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has called on Arroyo’s critics to bring possible graft cases against her to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

“I cannot understand why they (Malacañang) could not use the Department of Justice. If the purpose is to investigate the past activities of a previous administration, then why not the Department of Justice?” Enrile said.

“If I remember correctly, the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman is for people in government, if they commit venalities. The former president is no longer in the government although she is a member of Congress but you’re investigating her acts, not as a member of Congress but as a member of the executive,” he explained.

He said the Palace cannot apply the ruling of the Supreme Court’s position in connection to the Truth Commission as a basis to deny the DOJ from investigating Arroyo because it is mandated to investigate any crime committed in the country.

Enrile said he still has some legal questions raised about plans to tap the PCGG to investigate alleged cases of illegal wealth of the former president.

“PCGG can be a vehicle to investigate that aspect of the case (ill-gotten wealth). But suppose there are corruptive activities that happened that did not entail accumulation of ill-gotten wealth?” the Senate president asked. – Christina Mendez

Supreme Court: We're not anti-P-Noy By Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) Updated December 29, 2010 12:00 AM Comments (67) View comments

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court (SC) yesterday denied allegations of President Aquino that it was “singling out” his administration in several rulings that purportedly put legal obstacles to his reform program.

SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said the SC is “applying the law fairly and equally to all… the Court is not, and will not, single out anyone.”

Marquez stressed that the decision of the High Court, which nullified Executive Order 1 that created the Truth Commission, in fact showed the judiciary’s support for the reform program of the new administration – if only it were correctly understood.

The SC has declared EO 1 as unconstitutional, pointing out the presidential order that created the Truth Commission that would supposedly investigate anomalies of the previous administration had violated the equal protection clause.

Marquez reminded Aquino and other critics to read a key portion of the ruling penned by Associate Justice Jose Mendoza, which states, “the search for the truth must be within constitutional bounds.”

On the sidelines of the budget signing last Monday, the President admitted that he considered the judiciary as the biggest challenge his administration faced in its fight against corruption.

Aquino cited the legal setbacks his government had suffered in the judiciary, among them the junking of the Truth Commission, the looming approval of the plea bargain of former Armed Forces comptroller Carlos Garcia and the one percent conviction rate in drug cases.

Aquino lamented the judiciary has so far been the “greatest difficulty” of his administration.

Lawmakers, on the other hand, warned Aquino to go slow in hitting the SC.

Crossing party lines, administration and opposition lawmakers said Aquino should not undermine the SC, being a co-equal and independent branch of government.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said the executive and the judiciary should maintain a “degree of cordiality” despite their obvious rifts concerning the recent developments at the SC.

“The government of the country is like a machine. All parts must work together to make it function efficiently so you must allow the principles underlying the Constitution to operate – separation of power, check and balances, coordination,” he said.

Enrile noted the potential clash worsened when the SC decried the reduction of their budget for 2011, with Congress affirming the budget cut despite threats of protests from the judiciary.

Sen. Joker Arroyo also advised Aquino not to deal with the SC head on over its recent decisions.

Arroyo said Aquino should have been more statesmanlike rather that reacting point by point on the SC decisions, particularly over
EO 1.

“Why? For the simple reason that the President, like the father of the family, has the duty to unify, not to divide the country, even when sectors disagree over an issue,” Arroyo said.

Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles also stressed the importance of mutual respect between the three branches of government.

Nograles pointed out the SC is composed of 15 justices acting with different and independent opinions.

“They don’t act motu propio (on their own initiative) unless a legal question is brought before them and they will decide based on the law and jurisprudence,” Nograles said.

Although Aquino had every right to express his personal opinion over some issues, Nograles said such statements are also being weighed.

“You know each President has his or her own style of running the government. We all know that he (Aquino) is very comfortable in airing his opinions – that’s his style and I’m not one to lecture him on what he should do,” Nograles said.

In making decisions, Enrile said people sometimes find it difficult to separate their feelings or emotions and points of view.

“But I’m talking of myself, as much as I can, I try to temper my emotional condition when I’m confronted with a problem that involves the interest of the country,” Enrile said.

Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay, for her part, said Aquino should “learn as President to eat humble pie and realize that there is a separation of powers in government under the Constitution where the judiciary is protected from the executive.

She said the attacks against the SC over the issue had been unfair.

Magsaysay added the justices have “never said anything except hand down their decisions based on what was presented to them.”

“These rulings are not the fault of the SC. It’s like garbage in, garbage out. If his lawyers did their legwork, their homework, and their spadework, and everything in between and presented their case well, I think the outcome could have been different,” she said.

The opposition lawmaker said it would be better for Aquino to overhaul his legal team and replace them with “good ones and those with experience and wisdom.” –With Paolo Romero, Christina Mendez

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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