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gameface_one
05-15-2012, 10:07 PM
'It's game over for CJ if AMLC report is verified'

by Jojo Malig, ABS-CBNnews.com
Posted at 05/14/2012 11:37 PM | Updated as of 05/15/2012 7:22 AM




MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) *- If the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) report on Chief Justice Renato Corona's dollar accounts and transactions is verified, then it's*game over for him in his impeachment trial, analysts said late Monday.

Reacting to the testimony of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) School of Government Dean Tony La Viña said that if it is proven that the AMLC report is true, then the chief justice is finished.

"If the AMLC report is verified, I would think it is all over but the formalities. Of course, this can be dragged on by questioning authenticity of documents/transactions but is disservice to public if purpose is delaying inevitable," he said on social media network Twitter.

ANC analyst and veteran journalist Teddy Locsin Jr. also believes that Morales' testimony, if proven correct, means the end for Corona.*

"It isn't even a bombshell but a careful reconstruction that seals CJ's coffin," he said on Twitter.

"Corona must explain; he cannot, unless Morales lent herself to wholesale fraud, which I do not believe," he said. "I believe she (Morales) has done it already. I hope no one credits [the] prosecution."

"Non-disclosure [is] perfectly legal and proper, it is the gigantic sum that is horrifying," he added.

Locsin, a former Makati congressman,*said that if*Corona does not have an explanation for his multi-million dollar transactions, he should be removed from office.

"If Corona [is] guilty even of [an] uncharged crime like this, he should be removed. Too much," he said.

On Monday night, Corona issued a statement denying the figures mentioned by Morales. He said Morales should resign*once proven wrong. *

However, he did not categorically deny the existence of the*dollar accounts.

'At least $10M in 82 dollar accounts'

Carpio-Morales testified that Corona allegedly had at least $10 million in transactional balances in 82 US dollar accounts in 5 banks from 2003 to 2011.

Gasps and stunned silence met the testimony of Morales, who has launched a fact-finding investigation into Corona's alleged dollar accounts.

The Ombudsman said "significant deposits and withdrawals" on the dollar accounts were made during the 2004 and 2007 elections, as well as the week Corona was impeached in December last year.

Morales said on December 12, 2011, the day he was impeached, Corona pre-terminated a US dollar time deposit account amounting to $418,193.32.

"This amount was added to a BPI [Bank of Philippine Islands] account and from this, $417,000 was deducted from this account and transferred to a regular account," she said.

COA helps Ombudsman analyze AMLC report

She said she got her data from Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) records, and analyzed it with the help of the Commission on Audit (COA).

COA Commissioner Heidi Mendoza, a member of the COA team that analyzed the figures, briefly took the took the witness stand in the Senate impeachment trial Monday.

She said there were more than 400 transactions under Corona's name.

Mendoza said, based on transactions reported to the AMLC, dollar accounts in Corona's name had a total inflow of $28 million and total outflow of $30 million from April 2003 to December 2011.

She said peso transactions involving Corona's bank accounts also reached P242 million.

Corona only declared P3.5 million in cash in his 2010 SALN. Article 2 of the impeachment complaint accuses the Chief Justice of failing to declare and disclose all of his assets and his true net worth.

Conspiracy to bring down CJ: defense

In response, the defense dismissed Morales' testimony as "proof" of an alleged conspiracy among government agencies to bring down the chief justice.
*
"May motibo talaga na sirain ang pangalan ni Chief Justice. May malinaw na motibo para siya ay tanggalin," said Atty. Rico Quicho.

The defense also claimed that the Ombudsman's testimony was not damaging, and only muddled the issue further.

Quicho admitted earlier in the day that they were caught flatfooted by Morales' revelations.

Morales will continue her testimony on Tuesday.

Checkmate after failed gambit?

Political analyst and University of the Philippines professor Prospero de Vera last Saturday described the defense's decision to present Corona and Morales as witnesses in the impeachment trial as a gambit.

He compared it to a chess match and said the defense's move is "make or break."

Based on the reactions of people who watched the proceedings in the Senate on Monday, the defense's gambit may have failed.

Prosecutors said Morales' testimony seriously damaged the case of the defense, with House lead prosecutor Rep. Niel Tupas saying the inflows and outflows in Corona's dollar accounts indicate "professional money laundering." -- with ANC

gameface_one
05-28-2012, 11:10 AM
'Disrespect, undeclared wealth to bury Corona'

ABS-CBNnews.com
Posted at 05/28/2012 10:18 AM | Updated as of 05/28/2012 10:18 AM


MANILA, Philippines – A pro-impeachment lawmaker believes a guilty verdict against Chief Justice Renato Corona in his impeachment trial is inevitable because of the disrespect he showed to the senator-judges and because he admitted he has undeclared wealth.

“It is inevitable that it will be a guilty (verdict) and convicted si Chief Justice,” Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello told ABS-CBN’s “Umagang Kay Ganda.”

“First is the disrespect that he showed last Tuesday but more important is that he became the best witness against himself. Basically, he admitted that the P80 million he did not declare and the $2.4 million in dollar accounts,” he added.

Bello said Corona only declared about P29 million worth of assets in his 2010 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) when his actual net worth was about P211 million or 9 times bigger. “Malaki talaga yung discrepancy,” he said.

He noted that the SALN law is very strict in mandating all public officials to declare all assets in their SALNs.

He also debunked Corona’s argument that he would violate the foreign currency deposits act if he declared his dollar deposits. Both the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Civil Service Commission earlier said Corona should have declared his dollars in his SALNs.

“He could have just translated the $2.4 million at the exchange rate of P43.5, which would have shown the actual peso amount,” he said.

“There was, in fact, an effort to escape the requirements of the SALN law and the Chief Justice should not be doing this. Impeachable yan,” he said.

'Some senators don’t declare dollars'

For his part, Supreme Court Employees Association president Jojo Guerrero said Corona was correct when he did not declare his dollar accounts in his SALNs.

In the same interview, Guerrero said he is sure that some of the senator-judges do not declare their foreign currency deposits.

“I’m sure may mga senador na hindi nagdedeklara,” he told ABS-CBN.

He also said it is unclear whether the conversion rate to be used should be at the time of declaration or the time of acquisition of the dollars. “I think tama lang yung bank secrecy law. Kung hindi, baguhin nila,” he said.

Guerrerro said that as chief justice, Corona was following the “letter of the law” when he said declaring his dollar deposits would violate Republic Act 6426.

He also denied that Corona planned to walk out of his trial last Tuesday, saying that the chief magistrate was feeling unwell at the time and wanted to be excused.

The SC employee said the senator-judges should consider how the impeachment complaint was rushed at the very beginning, and that evidence was only gathered after the complaint was filed.

“We urge the senator-judges to be fair and to do it for the country and not just think about the coming elections,” he said.

Sam Miguel
06-06-2012, 08:57 AM
By Ted Laguatan

7:14 pm | Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

The almost impossible task of removing the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice who really needed to be removed is done. This could be the spark that lights the nation’s fire towards real reforms in all three branches of government from top to bottom – an absolute necessity if the Philippines is to be a truly progressive democratic country.

The Corona impeachment trial provided us with some valuable insights which should be integrated in government affairs and can be utilized to eliminate the terrible institutionalized culture of government corruption which crushes Filipinos with the terrible sufferings that it renders.

In his impeachment trial, Corona went down and was convicted because of the admission of relevant two general items of evidence and the weight given to these: One, his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net-worth (SALN) ; Two, the Anti Money Laundering Council (AMLC) data on his dollar deposits.

When the AMLC data presented by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales established that Corona had millions of dollars deposited in various accounts and his annual SALN reports clearly indicated that he did not report these – an overwhelming majority of the Senator-Judges were compelled to convict him.

One of of the three Senator-Judges who voted to acquit ranted and raved – was bothered, bewildered and viewed as a witch by many – presented non sequitur arguments in Corona’s defense. Nevertheless, the truth of her factual accusations against government officials which formed the premise of her arguments cannot be denied. Essentially, the premise of her argument is that the Philippine government is one of the world’s most corrupt, that countless officials are corrupt (and she certainly did not exclude her fellow Senators from that grouping) – and that practically all misrepresent their annual SALNs.

Her fallacious conclusion: Therefore, it is not right to convict the Chief Justice for a wrongdoing that almost every official is guilty of. Among other things, she cited the common practice of officials withdrawing money from their bank accounts prior to completing their annual end of the year SALNs so they can report minimal money assets and then re-depositing these at the beginning of the following year.

Her argument is about as valid as saying that corrupt government officials should not be convicted when caught stealing because countless corrupt government officials in the Philippines also steal. It’s also like saying that racists in the American South who engage in violent hate crimes should not be convicted when caught because so many racists there regularly do the same thing.

Notwithstanding the error in her arguments, she brought out an important truth – that so many government officials are corrupt and that they lie in their SALN reports. We need to now face and resolve this national shame and problem which crucify and victimize all of us in one way or another including those who are corrupt.

Of really great practical value to the nation is what this impeachment trial has inadvertently established: The SALN law and AMLC data can effectively be used to remove and criminally convict corrupt government officials.

Heaven most likely provided this unexpected bonanza in order to help us finally rid the country of institutionalized corruption which has plagued our people for ages. It’s now up to us to follow through and utilize these valuable available tools if we really seriously want an efficient and honest government. I believe we do.

What then should we do?

By Executive Order, President Aquino should immediately establish a well-funded section at the Ombudsman’s office which routinely examines the SALNs of government officials. (At present, no one really reviews the annual SALNs of officials making it practically useless.) Like in the United States, SALNs of officials should be open and available to the public. Not even the President is exempted from this requirement. No government official should be exempted. An official who does not want his assets, liabilities or Networth scrutinized – should resign.

This is Aquino’s chance for real greatness and a chance to make all of his parents’ dreams and the dreams of millions of Filippinos come true. This hope for a corruption free Philippines and a better life for all is why millions voted for him. This is the coming together of all the reasons for his being at this time and place. Everything happens for a purpose.

If the SALN or lifestyle of an official waves some red flags – AMLC data on the official should be requested and analyzed. If obvious wrongdoing is involved, then the official can successfully be prosecuted using his SALN reports and AMLC data. Obviously, the Ombudsman’s office will be needing more prosecutor lawyers and support personnel including field investigators.

Damning evidence can or should be shared with other government agencies like the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Department of Justice.

Eradicating mass corruption in government will mean that the billions of tax money collected from the people will not end up in the pockets of corrupt officials but will be returned to the people in terms of increased and higher quality infrastructures, schools, health care, roads, bridges, nutrition, peace and order, government services, etc.

With the government saving billions of pesos from stopping corruption, the salaries of officials can be raised significantly – allowing them to provide a decent life for themselves and their families and easing the temptations to be corrupt because of legitimate family needs. Providing sufficiently adequate incomes and benefits to government officials should be part of the strategy against mass corruption.

A couple of Senators have raised the issue where a current administration might possibly use SALN reports and AMLC data for political vendetta. But if one is honest and has nothing to hide, what is there to fear? And once our judicial system has become honest, we can have recourse in our courts which can provide relief and true justice. No administration would want to risk losing its credibility by bringing false charges against innocent citizens.

For the good of all, we should now immediately utilize this valuable insight providentially brought to us by this impeachment trial – a truly great blessing to the nation. The SALN reports and AMLC data are clearly very valuable tools in the sacred fight against corruption. The use of these instruments provide the answer to the oft asked question: “How do we rid the Philippines of massive deeply embedded institutionalized corruption?”

We now have a blueprint on how to proceed in solving a very difficult problem which has kept us among the slag countries at the bottom of the “most honest government” list or at the top of the “most corrupt government” rankings. The Corona impeachment trial may turn out to be the greatest blessing for the Philippines in this century because of the insights and enlightenment that emanated from it.

From out of something bad, (in this case GMA and Corona’s corruption and dishonesty), something good sometimes happens. In this case, the likelihood of massive reforms in all branches of government from top to bottom – which will really make it more fun to be in the Philippines.

If this happens, watch out world – here we come, ready to accomplish much and take our position among the respected and great nations of the world.

More importantly, it would mean a way out for millions of talented and intelligent Filipino boys and girls stricken by poverty, who dig into stinking dirty garbage cans for food, who do not have proper shelter, health care, education, who are exposed to crime and condemned to a life without a decent future. If we provide an escape for them, they can flower to their highest potentials in the arts, sciences, philosophy, humanities and other fields – as our Creator intends. They can contribute immensely to making a better Philippines.

We owe it to God, to our fellowmen and to ourselves – to make the reality of a corruption free Philippine government happen and to create a better world for all.

Sam Miguel
06-06-2012, 09:03 AM
By Jerome Aning

Philippine Daily Inquirer
3:19 pm | Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

MANILA, Philippines—The requirement imposed by the Judicial and Bar Council on applicants for chief justice of the Supreme Court to sign waivers to the confidentiality of their bank deposits is unconstitutional as it imposes a condition not provided for by the Constitution, a lawyer said Tuesday.

Romulo Macalintal said the waiver requirement was also discriminatory since it has not been required of the applicants for positions in the lower courts.

Under Section 7(1), Article VIII of the Constitution, Macalintal said, the minimum requirements for appointment to the Supreme Court are: natural born Filipino citizen; at least 40 years of age; and at least 15 years of law practice.

“The JBC cannot prescribe what the Constitution does not provide. To impose the said requirement upon the aspirants for chief justice is to broaden the qualification provided for by the Constitution. In other words, the aforesaid JBC waiver requirement is invalid since it is clearly in conflict with the requirements in the Constitution,” the lawyer said in a statement e-mailed from the United States.

Macalintal likened the waiver requirement to Section 36 of Republic No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 which required mandatory drug testing of candidates for public office and was struck down by the Supreme Court.

The provision was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on Nov. 3, 2008 because it “enlarges the qualification requirements enumerated in the Constitution and that the Commission on Elections cannot impose qualifications on candidates in addition to what the Constitution prescribes,” Macalintal said, citing the high court’s decision.

“The said waiver-requirement may be allowed only if it is optional or voluntary to the applicants but never to make it mandatory to the applicants which ‘necessarily suggests that the obstinate ones shall suffer the adverse consequences for not adhering to the requirement’ as observed by the Supreme Court in the drug test case,” he added.

Macalintal said the waiver requirement was also discriminatory to applicants for the post of chief justice since the waiver had not been required of other positions in the judiciary and all other applicants in the government service as well as candidates for elective positions.

“As a matter of fact, even statements of assets, liabilities and net worth are not required from these applicants when they are still applying for positions in the government service,” he said.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile had also opposed the JBC requirement, saying it was “OA (overacting),” and that it was like telling the nominee that he was not trust-worthy so he needed to sign the waiver.

Enrile added that he would not agree with such a condition if he were the nominee, saying, “I will be serving the country and immediately you suspect my motives.”

Sam Miguel
06-06-2012, 09:04 AM
^^^ I would have to agree with the Senate President there. Thanks to Rene Corona however, suddenly these extraordinary requriements are beginning to gain ground. You see what happens when ambition overtakes good sense, even the laws and the rules are jarred. I say, let the present rules stand, and enough of this "OA". Chis Escudero, this is all your fault.

Sam Miguel
06-06-2012, 09:05 AM
Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:16 am | Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Could Supreme Court Administrator Midas Marquez, who is closely identified with impeached former Chief Justice Renato Corona, be the next to go?

Malacañang on Tuesday hinted as much, with presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda suggesting that a leaked World Bank report on allegedly questionable procurements and disbursements in a $21.9-million WB loan to the high court for the Judicial Reform Support Project (JRSP) could be the “just cause” for Marquez’s removal.

“We saw the World Bank aide memoire where there were certain expenditures made by Midas Marquez as court administrator. I think that should be explained,” said Lacierda, noting that under the presidential decree that created the Office of Court Administrator (OCA), Marquez could be removed “for just cause.”

Expenditures

“It’s up to the Supreme Court justices en banc whether they would allow (him) to remain,” he said, reacting to Marquez’s assertion that he could be removed from office through an en banc decision.

Just before the start of Corona’s impeachment trial last year, a confidential WB memorandum to Philippine officials, which noted “ineligible” expenditures of $199,000 in the JRSP, was released allegedly by Malacañang.

Until Corona’s ouster last week, Marquez concurrently headed the high court’s Public Information Office (PIO) and chaired the JRSP. Shortly after Corona’s conviction, Marquez relinquished the position of Supreme Court spokesperson and was succeeded by his deputy, Cleo Guerra.

Nothing improper

Marquez has denied any impropriety in the use of the JRSP funds. He also questioned the Palace’s release of the report considering that some of its contents were “still to be confirmed” and “preliminary in nature.” He assured the public that the high court was transparent in its financial affairs.

The World Bank acknowledged the document’s existence but said that it had not released it to the public.

In a television interview on Tuesday, Marquez said he did not see any reason to quit now, recalling that the tribunal during the time of Chief Justice Reynato Puno unanimously appointed him to the OCA.

“I hope that they (justices) still have trust and confidence in me,” he said.

While he believes the high court will accord him due process if a case is filed against him, Marquez said he would willingly quit if he thought he was no longer effective.

“I won’t wait for that [charges] if they’re after my head. If I think I’m no longer effective, If I think that the service is already suffering and I can no longer protect the judges and employees, I’ll be the first to go,” he said. Jerome Aning and Christine O. Avendaño

Sam Miguel
06-06-2012, 09:06 AM
^^^ Just in case people forget that Midas Marquez has something big to answer for and that it is the World Bank that is asking.

Sam Miguel
07-03-2012, 08:34 AM
By: Juan L. Mercado

Philippine Daily Inquirer

8:42 pm | Monday, July 2nd, 2012

“Thou shalt not ration justice” is a commandment “if we are to keep democracy,” US federal judge Learned Hand wrote before his death in 1961.

Here, “21 percent of trials take two to five years to finish, and 13 percent take more than five years,” acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio told a Central Luzon convention of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. “There has to be a sea change… Judicial reform is simply too important to fail.”

Carpio pitched his address to an audience beyond IBP: a nation scrambling to close the gap left by the impeachment and removal of its 23rd chief justice. The Senate fired Renato Corona by a 20-3 vote. It nailed the “Capo” for stashing dollar and peso bank accounts while fiddling with statements of assets, liabilities and net worth.

The unsaid context was decisions by the Corona court that rationed justice. Crammed with jurists handpicked by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Corona majority served as bouncers for GMA’s interests, claim critics. These critics include President Aquino.

The majority stitched a legal fig leaf for the “midnight” appointment of Corona, papered over Rep. Dato Arroyo’s gerrymandering in Camarines Sur, then rammed through a temporary restraining order that would have allowed GMA to flee. Now in hospital detention, GMA denies charges of plunder and election sabotage.

Serial skewed decisions by the Arroyo justices eroded the Supreme Court’s moral high ground. Among others, these included repeated flip-flopping on 16 towns turned into cities and paralysis on the Philippine Airlines flight attendants and stewards case. It murmured amen as Eduardo Cojuangco pocketed 16.2 million San Miguel Corp. shares funded by the levy imposed on coconut farmers. “The biggest joke to hit the century,” snapped then Justice Conchita Carpio Morales.

Antonio Carpio’s program jump-starts the stalled judiciary reform program initiated by then Chief Justice Hilario Davide. It includes case decongestion; integrity and independence of judges; compensation of judges, court administration, and training; and transparency and accountability. “Clean-house” measures, instituted a day after Corona’s removal, underpin this roadmap for the future.

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” counseled Justice William O. Douglas, who served longest (almost 37 years) in the US Supreme Court. On his first day as acting chief justice, Carpio prodded once reluctant justices to direct judges: Disclose SALNs “as mandated by the Constitution and the law.”

It helped that Carpio opened his SALN long before the Corona conviction. “The Supreme Court has done this as part of the lessons learned from the recent impeachment trial,” he said. “Leaders of the judiciary must lead by example.”

Post on the high court’s website what were once kept hush-hush, Carpio directed. Today, at the click of a computer mouse, you can surf what former Sen. Rene Saguisag and researchers were repeatedly denied access to: reports on the Judiciary Development Fund and special allowances for judges, plus those by the Commission on Audit.

“This is really a no-brainer since all these are public documents,” Carpio explained. “This is part of the new transparency and accountability policy.”

Quit shilly-shallying. Move decisively into the digital age. Adopt a computerized case management (CCM) system, as demonstrated by the Court of Appeals, “widely acknowledged worldwide as a success.” By the end of 2012, Presiding Justice Andres Reyes foresees that the CCM system will ensure that all cases are decided 12 months from the end of trial.

If the CA can do it, why not the Supreme Court? In fact, CCM is being pilot-tested in all Quezon City trial courts. If successful, the trial court CCM will be deployed nationwide in 2013.

Simplify, simplify, simplify. Streamline trial procedures, patterned after four existing special rules in corporate controversies, environmental issues and intellectual property rights.

“Internet connection for all courthouses is now a necessity. Access to the Supreme Court’s E-Library will put at the fingertips of all judges nationwide, all the jurisprudence and laws they need in writing decisions. Every judge and justice will be provided a USB 3G wireless thumb-drive…”

Filter cases through mediation. “Out of 209,165 civil cases mediated as of May 2012, the success rate was 64 percent. And out of 23,979 civil cases placed under judicial dispute resolution as of May 2012, the success rate was 40 percent. Judicial dispute resolution is a second sieve. It sifted 78 percent of all civil cases filed with first and second level courts.”

Criminal cases account for four out of every five pending cases. There is a severe lack of prosecutors and public defenders. About 26 percent of courts here lack judges. Ideally, the vacancy rate should be less than 5 percent. (In the United States, vacancy in federal district courts is 10 percent. “And they’re already talking of a judicial crisis.”)

In Manila, the average caseload is 242 cases per judge. In next-door Taguig City, it is 1,161 cases per judge. “Clearly, there is a need to reengineer the distribution of courts in relation to population. This needs legislation.”

The attentive reader will find it worthwhile to go through the full text of Carpio’s address. Surf the Net for sc.judiciary.gov.ph/jcarpio.php. This column’s 5,700-character cap can only skim highlights:

Liberty is best ensured by ending the rationing of justice. “The spirit of liberty lies in the hearts of men and women,” Learned Hand said in a 1944 Central Park address. “When it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it.”

Sam Miguel
07-04-2012, 11:47 AM
By: Conrado de Quiros

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:08 pm | Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Frank Chavez had a most interesting reaction to Antonio Carpio’s bid to become chief justice. Carpio had earlier vowed to introduce much needed reforms into the judiciary if he should become so.

“Too late the hero,” says Chavez. “Carpio has not contributed to the realization of the reforms he is proposing now. Eleven years wasted. One does not have to be Chief Justice to provide the necessary integrity within the judicial system. Each justice of the Supreme Court is a firebrand unto himself to introduce these reforms.

“I would rather that the next Chief Justice come from outside. It would heal the wounds of the institution. It would also be a breather to the infighting within the court.”

I agree.

True enough, you don’t have to be the chief justice to stand for reforms, or create enough impact for them to be carried out in your time. The most dramatic case of it being Marcos’ time when it wasn’t the chief justice that embodied reform—he embodied lackey-ness—it was the dissenters. Chief of them Claudio Teehankee, who often dissented by his lonesome. Though Cecilia Muñoz Palma and Vicente Abad Santos were not far behind.

Indeed, you don’t even have to be a justice to stand for reforms, or stop the march of injustice and oppression, which is pretty much the only reform of any significance in our justice system. The human rights lawyers were so. They were the legal Oskar Schindlers of their time, the people who gave refuge and succor to martial law’s victims, not least of them the political prisoners. They created and defended the space, not unlike Plaza Miranda, that tanks and tyranny could not invade.

After Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Renato Corona in particular, the reforms you need to carry out are not administrative, they are substantive. The reforms you need to carry out are not structural, they are elemental. In fact, the only reform you need to carry out is restoring the public’s trust in the courts and faith in the justice system. Put more negatively and accurately, the only reform you need to carry out is to persuade the public to believe the justices are not for sale and there’s the shadow of a chance the poor might actually get justice in a court of, well, law.

Quite interestingly, while we’ve been busy looking for a chief justice, something has happened across the globe that shows what it means for people to have a reasonable trust in their courts, or at least for people not to see their Supreme Court justices as bought. Last week, in an astonishing reversal of fortune, US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts voted for Obamacare, allowing it to win by one vote. Overnight, he became Public Enemy No. 1 of the conservatives, with the Tea Party and other batty extremist groups, which can only remind one of those groups in the Weimar Republic that brought Hitler to power, going on a hate binge, calling him all sorts of things. “Bought” was not one of them.

Here, that would have been the first thing said of him: “Nabili ’yan.”

I’d go beyond saying that we need a chief justice from outside to do away with the cretinous offspring of incestuous relationships and say we need a dramatic break from the past. The depths to which Gloria and Renato have plunged the judiciary call for someone who will, if not bring it to heights of glory, at least pull it to eye-level where it has a chance to be appraised and not found wanting by the public.

It cannot help Carpio’s cause that he does not represent a break, he represents a continuity. He is the public face of a firm that calls itself “The Firm” in celebration of its bigness and power. Forgetting that John Grisham used that term in his novel of the same name to refer to a legal group whose bigness and power came from serving only one master: the Mafia. Or perhaps perfectly remembering it, boasting as it does all over the place that its “modest” accomplishments include making and keeping three presidents. Its letters to prospective clients carry variations of that theme.

We need a break from more of the same. No, we need a violent rejection of more of the same.

I myself would go for someone like Rene Saguisag, a human rights lawyer who risked life and limb to help the drowning climb the ark (“Schindler’s Ark” was the original title of Thomas Keneally’s book), a former public official who never used his power to abuse or enrich himself (his honesty is legendary), a grieving widower who remains inconsolable to this day but who has slowly pulled himself out of the pit of desolation. If only for the last, I’d find him the most qualified. I have absolutely no sympathy for people who can blithely move on, or call upon others to do so. Which was the mantra of the past regime, which was the law of the past regime. For sheer bravery, honesty and devotion, Rene should be way up there before the others.

Or from truly far afield, I’d go for Raul Pangalangan. Media do not lack for lawyers who like to inflict their opinions of law and life upon the world, but none has done better to establish the connection between the two than Raul. Most attempt only to pass off legal erudition, citing precedents for the way a legal tangle might be interpreted. Raul is the one I know who teaches law in the grand manner, whether teaching in class as ex-dean of UP Law or teaching in writing as Inquirer columnist, his analyses of issues showing an appreciation for the breadth of life as much as for the nuances of law. He does not just supply facts, he provides insight. Something we’ve little gotten from the fraternity of law and lawyers, something we badly need today.

In the end, you can’t go wrong by simply thinking that our search for chief justice boils down to one thing:

A search chiefly for justice.

Sam Miguel
07-30-2012, 11:44 AM
By: Solita Collas-Monsod

Philippine Daily Inquirer

11:15 pm | Friday, July 27th, 2012

As I write this column, one ear is cocked to the last of the Judicial and Bar Council interviews, and it is obvious to me that some of its members reached and passed the point of diminishing marginal productivity, their contributions to the selection process turning negative. Launching into rambling discourses before and after asking questions, losing their cool, not paying attention, showing off for the TV cameras, getting argumentative, and even (although infrequently), kissing ass.

The two lady members, I must say, behaved impeccably, keeping their dignity at all times, and were never guilty of the behavior listed above. I expected it of retired Court of Appeals Justice Aurora Lagman, who has always impressed me. But Celing Fernan’s daughter, who was a tabula rasa to me, behaved like a chip off the old block, made of the same stuff her father was. I congratulate them both.

It was a master stroke of the JBC, though, to allow Juan de la Cruz to contribute questions through Twitter. If one notes that the questions from the public were more direct and to the point than those of the JBC members, it might be because there are limits to the length of a Twitter message, and not necessarily because the public is better than the JBC at asking questions. But one thing is sure: Those who tweeted questions were of the no-holds-barred variety.

I listened to what every candidate had to say, and to their answers—either live or through YouTube. And what did I come out with?

First, I am now even more convinced that Antonio Carpio is the best man for the job of chief justice. Not because there was any doubt before, but because more information came out during the interviews that buttressed my original opinion (which I expressed in this column some time ago).

What new information buttressed my original opinion? For one, the acting JBC chair, Supreme Court Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, shared the information that when he first joined the high court, Carpio told him (I forget whether the information was gratuitous or not) that it took him (Carpio) three years to learn the ropes and feel comfortable with the breadth of the cases coming to the tribunal. Now Carpio is not dumb (valedictorian, bar topnotcher), and if it took him three years to learn the ropes, we cannot have an “outsider” taking the top position at the Supreme Court. Given the judiciary’s problems, we need somebody who not only can hit the ground running, but has in fact hit his stride, knows the terrain, and will not stumble.

It also turns out that in the two months that Carpio has headed the Supreme Court in an acting capacity, he has instituted or implemented procedures that would make for the tribunal’s greater operational efficiency. And it is not as if these just occurred to him, either, as a brainstorm. Why? Because Carpio must have expected, the moment he entered the high court, that he would be the chief justice after Reynato Puno. And he must have been preparing for it from Day One. So he has had a lot of time, not to mention the brains, to find out how to solve the judiciary’s problems.

Hubris on his part? No. Simple arithmetic. The tradition (and Carpio brought this out) in the Philippine Supreme Court, has apparently been that the most senior (in terms of years of service, not age) associate justice is the “llamado” to fill a vacancy in the top post. Except during the Japanese occupation, no “outsider” has done so. And given that the mandatory retirement age is 70, it doesn’t take rocket science to determine when the vacancy would occur, and who would be next in line. If arithmetic is not one’s strong suit, all one has to do is look at the high court sitting en banc, to see who is next in line—the one sitting at the right hand of the chief justice. The one sitting at his left is second in line, and so on. The ones sitting at the extreme left and right are the most junior and second most junior associate justices.

For example, when Justice Lourdes Sereno was appointed, I immediately calculated that in the ordinary course of events, she would be chief justice by 2020, which would then allow her nine years to put her stamp on the Sereno Court.

In the case of Carpio, the course of events were not ordinary. Renato Corona was appointed, although he was less senior than Carpio. (The Reader will remember that Carpio refused to be considered for the top post because he opined that then outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was constitutionally barred from appointing a chief justice at that point. But even if Carpio were on the JBC short list, Arroyo would have appointed Corona anyway.)

Another additional positive information about Carpio, which came out as a result of the accusation that he was a member of an old boys’ club (read: he was campaigning for the acquittal of Hubert Webb). He stated categorically that not only has he never asked any of his colleagues to support his views on a case, he has also never stepped into any of their chambers. I wonder how many of his colleagues can make the same statement. Perhaps it should be a rule at the Supreme Court, written or unwritten: no visiting each other’s offices.

I also did not know, until the JBC interviews, that in connection with his “Sigma Rho” connections, he had voted to dismiss a Court of Appeals justice who was a “brod.” No wonder a lot of his fraternity brothers badmouth him.

Retired Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban wrote about the qualifications for a chief justice in one of his columns. Well, Antonio Carpio meets ALL, not just some, of those requirements, in spades.

Sam Miguel
07-30-2012, 11:45 AM
Philippine Daily Inquirer

5:27 am | Friday, July 27th, 2012

Lawyer Vicente Velasquez, a Chief Justice aspirant who was disqualified by the Judicial and Bar Council on Wednesday for failing to meet documentary requirements, attempted to get into the council’s hearing room Thursday but was bundled out by security personnel.

Velasquez said he wanted to secure a copy of the disqualification resolution.

He was arrested on Wednesday for alleged tax deficiency as he was preparing a petition to be filed with the Supreme Court questioning his disqualification. He posted a bail of P5,000 for his provisional liberty.

- Jerome C. Aning

Sam Miguel
07-30-2012, 11:48 AM
By Christine O. Avendaño, Jerome C. Aning

Philippine Daily Inquirer

2:43 am | Friday, July 27th, 2012

President Benigno Aquino risks demoralization in the judiciary if he breaks tradition and picks an outsider to replace ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona.

“You have impeached the Chief Justice and his person, you have not impeached the rest of the court,” acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio told the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) on the third day of its nationally televised hearing to recommend a successor to Corona.

The 62-year-old Carpio acknowledged Mr. Aquino’s constitutional prerogative to appoint an outsider from the short list of three candidates for Chief Justice to be submitted by the JBC on July 30.

“I will not deny that it will be bad for their morale,” Carpio warned, referring to the ranks of the judiciary and noting that the only instance an outsider was named top magistrate was during World War II when the country was occupied by the Japanese.

“The tradition encourages the incumbents in the appellate court, including the Supreme Court, to look forward to the day that they will be senior and will have the chance to be Chief Justice,” he said.

He said he did not think it was necessary to appoint an outsider to reform the judiciary and stressed that decisions are not reached in the Supreme Court as a body and only after extensive debates. “We are not a club, we have heated discussions.”

Carpio’s questioning lasted more than two hours—the longest during the day. Also interviewed yesterday were Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, University of the East law dean Amado Valdez and Ateneo law dean Cesar Villanueva.

The council will interview four more nominees today, wrapping up the screening of 20 aspirants that began on Tuesday. It will submit a short list to the President on July 30.

Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas asked why Carpio remained silent on accusations by Corona that the acting Chief Justice had a hand in his removal. Carpio explained that he did not want to inhibit himself from cases in the high court involving Corona. He also said he believed the accusation would be found to be untrue.

Conspiracy theory

Carpio also denied the allegation that he had schemed with President Aquino and Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas to oust Corona, saying he never talked to them. He even said people were saying he would not get the position of Chief Justice because he was not close to the President.

Pressed by Tupas on that allegation, Carpio told the congressman: “You would know that because I never talked to you.” This drew laughter from the audience.

Corona also said that he did not think Corona’s impeachment trial was an affront to the judiciary, explaining that the Constitution gave Congress the power to impeach officials.

Carpio disagreed with the assertion by Associate Justice Roberto Abad, also a nominee, on Wednesday that Corona’s impeachment trial had left a “wounded” judiciary.

Carpio said that the impeachment was “directed at a person” and the high court members were not affected.

But he said the impeachment trial brought up problems about the judiciary, including clogged dockets and allegations of corruption.

“It has come out to the fore because of the impeachment and we have to address it because of the perception of the people,” he told Tupas, head of the House prosecution team that was repeatedly slammed during Corona’s trial for being unprepared.

Disappearing Tupas

The Congress representative in the JBC left the panel after his questioning of Carpio, as he did the past three days of interviews, which he did not attend in its entirety. Tupas, along with Senator Francis Escudero, is appealing the Supreme Court decision allowing only one representative from Congress in the JBC.

Asked by Tupas what he would have done if he were in the shoes of Corona and was facing removal, he said he would have allowed the impeachment process to proceed “in a dignified way.”

Tupas asked Carpio if he would have resigned to save the nation the agony of undergoing a trial. “If I misdeclared my SALN (statement of assets, liabilities and net worth) to that extent, then I would resign right away,” he said.

To the query of JBC member Jose Mejia, Carpio also said court members never discussed the impeachment of Corona when he was on trial in the division-level or when they were in en banc meetings and that he found this “weird.”

World Bank fund

Justice De Castro was asked about allegations that the Corona court had misused World Bank loans for the Supreme Court’s Judicial Reform Support Program.

De Castro, who chairs the program’s management committee, said the total funds questioned by the bank were around $115,000, which she said was a “small percentage” of the total $21-million loan. The World Bank originally listed about $160,000 worth of “ineligible” expenditures.

She said items questioned by the bank included the payments made to an employee who lectured on docket declogging and another who talked abroad about the Supreme Court’s Justice on Wheels program and lunch for the visiting chief justice of Guam.

De Castro said the expenses for such events should have been deducted from the World Bank fund. If there was no consent, the expenses should have been taken from the government fund.

“They were not disallowed. There was just a problem of where to charge the amount. Those were minor expenditures. Nothing spectacular about the disturbance of those funds. And I’d like to point out ineligible does not mean irregular. It only means that it should be charged to the loan because according to them (WB), we did not secure their agreement,” she said.

“None of the justices ever touched money in that loan,” De Castro said, adding that it was the Project Management Office that was in charge of disbursing the expenses. The terms of the loan ended last month, she said.

Excessive court fees

Valdez, on the other hand, raised the issue of excessive court fees that he said was unconstitutional and deprived people of access to justice. Asked by retired Court of Appeals Justice Aurora Lagman if he would stop this, Valdez said, “We have to be reasonable, find a middle way.”

With a vast experience on agrarian reform law, the UE law dean also was asked about his stand on the issue of just compensation in the case of Hacienda Luisita, the estate owned by the family of President Aquino that the high court had ordered to be distributed to its workers.

“You have to go to the table and compute how much reward had been received (by the family) and appeal to their patriotism so farmers have this land.” But Valdez also said an inventory should be made for beneficiaries of land reform in general to see if “we are able to achieve the purposes of land reform.”

Villanueva, a former dean of the Ateneo Law School, said he wanted the Supreme Court to be primarily a constitutional court.

“It should not overburden itself with [ordinary] cases, it should concentrate on important cases,” he said. Focusing on constitutional issues, he added, would make the court a “true pillar” of democracy.

Villanueva said his judicial philosophy was that the Supreme Court “should serve the needs of the country.”

He said his top three priorities were to unite the judiciary, come up with a road map for the judiciary and ease the case loads of the judges and justices.

Sam Miguel
07-31-2012, 08:51 AM
By: Conrado de Quiros

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:32 am | Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Ma. Lourdes Sereno had a very interesting thing to say to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) when it was her turn to be interviewed last week. Appointing an “outsider” as chief justice, she said, was like appointing a civilian rather than a general to lead an army to war. The notion of appointing an outsider to patch up the fissures or rifts within the Supreme Court was a case of trying to solve a nonexistent problem. “What is there to heal? There is nothing to fix.

“Our justices have the quality that after heated arguments, we laugh at our own jokes even when they’re corny… There were no recriminations (after the Corona impeachment). No one said, ‘This impeachment trial happened because of your dissent.’ We were laughing and being professional about it.”

Earlier, Antonio Carpio expressed a kindred view. The tradition, he says, has been to appoint the most senior member of the Supreme Court chief justice. “That tradition encourages the incumbents in the appellate court, including the Supreme Court, to look forward to the day that they will be senior and will have the chance to be chief justice.” He is currently the most senior member of the Court.

Sereno’s metaphor is a felicitous one. Arguably, it stretches things a little—a civilian and general being cut out of a different cloth than an “outsider” and “insider” in the Supreme Court who are both lawyers. But making allowances for the hyperbole to drive home the point about the different world justices inhabit, which can be alien even to other members of the legal profession, I agree. Appointing an “outsider” will be like appointing a civilian to lead an army to war.

Which is why I’d prefer one.

That’s so where the war is like the Vietnam War or the Iraq War. Infinitely preferable to have a civilian rather than a general waging it. A general can only ask how best to prosecute it, which in the case of Vietnam meant asking how best to kill as many Vietcong as possible, never mind if it included as many civilians in the process. A question that was answered, among other methods, by the napalm bomb. Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die, as Alfred Lord Tennyson put it in his heroic poem about the charge of the Light Brigade, which in fact was an idiotic, senseless and completely suicidal assault by a saber-armed British cavalry against Russian artillery in the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War.

You have a civilian to wage a Vietnam or Iraq War, there might not be a war to begin with. His first instinct won’t be to ask how best to prosecute it, it will be to ask why in God’s name they’re in it at all. Or closer to home, the situation won’t be to ask like Fabian Ver when told by Marcos to jump from a building, “What floor, sir?”; it will be to say like Juan Tamad, “After you, sir.”

That is the kind of war the Supreme Court has been fighting all this time.

At the very least, the problem is not that the justices are in a state of acrimonious dissension, the problem is that they are not. They are in a state of smug camaraderie from inbreeding. It is not unlike the “mistah” system in the military where people observe a pecking order religiously on pain of being treated like, well, an outsider, the better to make one’s transition to the higher ranks smooth. Hell, to make sure one rises up at all. It breeds a culture of conformity, if not omerta. You may express a dissenting opinion in Court decisions but you may not complain about your colleagues however their behavior is egregiously unethical.

Sereno, of course, has been a notable exception, dissenting from the Court’s decision to reopen the PAL case, which it had already ludicrously ruled with finality three times, warning that it would “open a Pandora’s box full of future troubles for Philippine judicial decision-making.” But she is precisely that, an exception and not the rule.

At the very most, which is why I say the Supreme Court has been waging a war like the Vietnam or Iraq War, the problem is not that the justices do not know their law, it is that they do not know their justice. Or put another way, it is not that they do not know their means, it is that they do not know their ends. Or put still another way, it is not that they do not know their law and their means, it is that they have forgotten that law is but the means to an end, and that end is justice. Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to say goodbye.

That became patent, if it had not been made so already by the Erap impeachment trial, indeed if that had not been made so already by Gloria’s law, which made black white and white black, in the Corona impeachment trial. The chief justice in particular gave a contemporary face to Marcos’ proposition that if you could find, or invent, a law to justify something, it must be just. That trial proved not just that non-justices are “outsiders” to the Supreme Court, entities who could never hope to inhabit the world the justices did, it proved that the people themselves were so.

The divide was unbridgeable. On one side was a tiny group who believed that the law should shape reality, and on the other the people themselves who believed that reality should shape the law. On one side was a tiny group who believed that the law was verse, chapter, and tome, and on the other the people themselves who believed that the law was history, experience, and a sense of right and wrong. On one side was a tiny group who believed that the law was in good shape, justice was being done, above all to themselves who grew prosperous by the day, and on the other the people themselves who saw law as comatose, if you were rich you would never see the dark of a jail cell.

Continuity is the last thing the Supreme Court needs, a violent break with the past is first.

That’s a war best led by a civilian.

Sam Miguel
08-13-2012, 08:11 AM
The Judicial and Bar Council has a seemingly impossible task before it: to follow its own rules, even or especially when they are clear as daylight. According to news reports, one member of the JBC wants to suspend a particular provision, self-evidently for self-serving reasons—and the result is yet another postponement of a crucial vote, the selection of the short list of nominees for the next chief justice.

Enough already. Today’s meeting must proceed with the selection, lest the Aquino administration, with the unwitting cooperation of the entire JBC, completely squanders the political capital and the unprecedented opportunity created by the impeachment and conviction of Renato Corona.

According to Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., a member of the JBC and a close political ally of President Aquino, it was Michael Frederick Musngi, appointed by Malacañang to temporarily take the place of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima in the JBC, who sought the suspension of a key rule on disqualification—precisely to allow the JBC to consider De Lima’s nomination. “Well, probably it’s obvious because he is the representative of the executive,” Tupas told the Inquirer in Filipino. We regard Tupas’ disclosures with not a little skepticism, because he seems to be distancing himself from his own political allies, even when other news stories, such as one carried in the Philippine Star, reported that it was he who seconded Musngi’s proposal.

But regardless of the source, the reality is that there is an ongoing attempt to include in the all-important short list certain individuals who are, by the JBC’s own rules, disqualified.

Rule 4 of the Rules of the Judicial and Bar Council specifies the safeguards necessary to assure the integrity of its short-listed candidates. Section 5 of Rule 4 identifies those individuals who “are disqualified from being nominated for appointment to any judicial post or as Ombudsman or Deputy Ombudsman”—note the phrasing, which does not use the permissive language (“shall,” “may”) of bureaucracy but the categorical language (“are”) of everyday reality.

First on the list of the disqualified: “Those with pending criminal or regular administrative cases.”

Unfortunately for De Lima, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza and Securities and Exchange Commission chair Teresita Herbosa, they all have pending criminal or administrative cases. According to both the letter and the spirit of the JBC’s own rules, they “are” categorically disqualified. Not “must be” or “should be” disqualified, but simply, existentially, necessarily disqualified.

There should be no ifs, ands, or buts about this. The three eminent lawyers may appeal to the conveniently vague principle of equity, or argue from the unimpeachable integrity of their own personal lives, but the fact of the matter is there are actual cases pending before them. Judging by their legal reputations, it may only be a matter of time if all three eventually win their cases, but at the moment they are simply, necessarily, ineligible for any judicial appointment.

Tupas makes a distinction between immediate and prospective suspension. Those of us closely watching this sequel to the historic Corona impeachment can only ask: Why even bother? For Musngi, or Tupas, or anyone else, to bend the rules is to subvert the very spirit that drove Corona out of office.

(We must take note of a related but entirely dissimilar issue. The disbarment case filed by Lauro Vizconde against Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio had to be dismissed, as the Supreme Court ruled last Friday. It is a longstanding principle, and an entirely logical one, that disbarment cases against sitting members of the high court cannot prosper, because the Constitution provides only one means for unseating those members, through impeachment. If Vizconde wishes to pursue the issue, he must do the needful thing and push for impeachment.)

It is possible, of course, that all this—this continuing debate over accommodating De Lima, and De Lima’s own previous protestations that she is favored by the President—is only an elaborate production, designed to allow Mr. Aquino to appoint Carpio, the acting chief justice, with the minimum of controversy. If true, then Malacañang is playing a dangerous game.

A new civics lesson then, taught by intra-JBC maneuvering: Better to think of the JBC’s own disqualification provision as a safeguard necessary to assure the integrity, not so much of the short-listed candidates, but of the short list itself.

Sam Miguel
08-13-2012, 08:15 AM
By: Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas S. J.

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:48 am | Monday, August 13th, 2012

As my law school colleague Tony La Viña put it, in earlier days the president had to present an impeccable nominee for chief justice to the Commission on Appointments or risk being rebuffed. How true, how true! And we did get the likes of Manuel Moran and Roberto Concepcion.

As I see it now, the Judicial and Bar Council seems to be hemming and hawing on the way to preparing a “peccable” list. It promises to be a proximate occasion for sinning.

How else explain, among others, the debate on whether the rules of the JBC game should be changed while the game is going on. You don’t do that even in high school competition. And this is judicial Olympics!

A modern Henryk Sienkiewicz might be inspired to write a novel about a team of seven wading through the floods along Padre Faura, in mid-storm, and meeting Ninoy Aquino and asking him, “Where are you going?” and receiving the answer “I am going back to the tarmac to meet my assassin again!”

At this point in our history it might be salutary to recall the high hopes for the JBC.

Under the 1935 Constitution appointments to the judiciary had to go through the Commission on Appointments. Former Chief Justice Concepcion thought that the Commission on Appointments process was too politically tainted. He wanted a depoliticized process, a consummation also devoutly wished by many members of the Constitutional Commission. Hence Concepcion proposed a JBC which, in its final form, would consist of the chief justice as ex-officio chair, the minister of justice and a representative of Congress as ex-officio members, and as regular members a representative of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, a professor of law, a retired member of the Supreme Court, and a representative of the private sector. The regular members would be appointed by the president, with the consent of the Commission on Appointments, and the representative of Congress would be chosen by Congress.

Whether or not the JBC could shield the appointment process from the vagaries of politics was tested when it was preparing a list of persons who could fill the vacancy to be created by the retirement of Chief Justice Reynato Puno. What appeared then was that the JBC could not stop a president who wanted to have her way. She had her way, and the mistake led to very tragic consequences for two people, not to mention for the nation.

Already the flaw in the JBC idea was detected even during the deliberations of the Constitutional Commission. We can see that from the following exchange:

MR. RODRIGO: Of the seven members of the council [JBC], the president appoints four of them who are the regular members.

MR. CONCEPCION: Yes, that is right.

MR. RODRIGO: So, majority of the members of the council are appointees of the president.

MR. CONCEPCION: That is right.

MR. RODRIGO: Can the members of the council be reappointed?

MR. CONCEPCION: They can be reappointed.

MR. RODRIGO: Yes, they can be reappointed, because the tenure of office is staggered—one is appointed for four years, the others are for three years, two for one.

MR. CONCEPCION: The only purpose of the committee is to eliminate partisan politics.

MR. RODRIGO: So, the member who is appointed for a one-year term can be reappointed for a three or four-year term. There is no limitation on reappointment.

MR. CONCEPCION: Yes.

Rodrigo stopped there; but the point of his questioning was that the new process, although intended to eliminate partisanship, strengthened the hand of the president, himself a very partisan animal, and thereby simply transferred partisanship from the Commission on Appointments to the Office of the President. It was for the purpose of lessening the influence of the president that the commission decided to require confirmation of the regular JBC members by the Commission on Appointments.

Recent developments, however, both avoidable and unavoidable, have tended to strengthen the hand of the president some more within the JBC. The unavoidable development is the absence of the acting chief justice or the most senior of the associate justices from the chairmanship of the council. Whether we admit it or not the chief justice carries into the council a clout which the other justices do not yet have. But his absence is unavoidable because of the justifiable inhibition of all justices more senior than the present JBC acting chair. The burden, therefore, of keeping the JBC honest falls to a great extent on the shoulders of Justice Diosdado Peralta who seems to be enjoying the job.

The avoidable development is the replacement of the justice secretary with an undersecretary from the Office of the President. True, both of them belong to the executive department. But the intent of the Constitutional Commission in specifying the justice secretary as ex officio was to remove the choice for this slot in the JBC out of the hand of the president. But given the opportunity to handpick a replacement for a department secretary in the JBC, President Aquino chose one who, by his physical closeness to the Palace, is less likely to exercise independent choice.

Let’s face it, unwittingly perhaps, we of the 1987 Constitution inserted into the document aspects which have made the president of the 1987 Constitution more dominant than the president of the 1935 Constitution. One need not wonder, therefore, why the President is in no hurry to open the document for reexamination.

Sam Miguel
08-14-2012, 11:15 AM
By: John Nery

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:57 pm | Monday, August 6th, 2012

The Judicial and Bar Council, meeting this week to agree on a short list of candidates for chief justice, would do well to remember one specific untruth Renato Corona said at his impeachment trial. He infamously began his premeditated walkout from the Senate trial by intoning the words, “The Chief Justice of the Philippines wishes to be excused.” But in fact, there is no such office, and therefore no such official.

The Constitution specifies the one official who is entitled to such a simple, sweeping title. “The executive power shall be invested in the President of the Philippines,” we read in the very first section of Article VII. In contrast, the leaders of the two chambers of Congress are defined (Article VI) by the limits of their office, beginning with the provision for their election: “The Senate shall elect its President and the House of Representatives, its Speaker …”

This delimitation explains why it has never been the tradition to refer to the leader of the House of Representatives as the Speaker of the Philippines; he (and it has always been a he) is always formally introduced as the Speaker of the House. The limits of the office represented by the Senate President (and, yes, that official too has always been a he, although Sen. Loren Legarda once served as majority leader, the senator who effectively runs the Senate from day to day) is in the title itself.

And the chief justice? The fourth section of Article VIII provides that the high court “shall be composed of a Chief Justice and fourteen Associate Justices.” (Other mentions have the phrase “Supreme Court” in the vicinity.)

These distinctions are not merely a matter of protocol; they encapsulate the very theory of the separation of powers. Note the difference in the first sections of the three great Articles establishing the three branches of government. “The legislative power shall be vested in the Congress of the Philippines which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives …” (Article VI) And, “The judicial power shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law.” (Article VIII) In contrast, the executive power is vested in one person—not coincidentally, the one person with the lone, rightful claim to the simple, sweeping title.

* * *

Corona still could not technically, legally, excuse himself from the witness stand that fateful day in May even if he had used his actual title: chief justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines. He had, fatally, overreached, attempting to wield a power he did not have. (The power to excuse him from the witness stand belonged to the Senate President, the head of a co-ordinate branch of government. Is that why he declined to mention “the Supreme Court” in his script?)

But his use of the false title, “Chief Justice of the Philippines,” serves as a tantalizing clue to the set of problems that led to his impeachment trial in the first place. He acted as though the judicial power was vested, largely, in him. Hence the mistaken use of the judiciary’s regular assemblies to make partisan speeches; hence the egregious encouragement of Supreme Court staff wearing protest paraphernalia; hence the unfortunate decision to allow the reputation of the entire Court to be dragged through the impeachment mud.

One must add, however, that unlike the case of the US Supreme Court, against which our own high court inevitably, traditionally measures itself, the chief justice of the Philippine Supreme Court is also the administrator of a vast, national bureaucracy; this additional set of responsibilities complicates the popular axiom that the leader of the judiciary is only the first among equals.

Corona’s replacement must come into office not only with a renewed appreciation of the duties and functions of a collegial Court; he, or she, must begin the new term with a deep sense of the high court’s role in history.

* * *

It is precisely this sense of history that should put paid to any and all arguments against politicians joining the Supreme Court. Some of the best justices to have served on our high court were either political giants (e.g., Jose Laurel, Claro Recto) or reputable politicians (e.g., Marcelo Fernan, Hilario Davide). Political experience, by itself, is not a disqualification. In fact, it can be a decided advantage, since most constitutional issues that reach the Supreme Court will have a political cast.

If we take a peek, again, at American judicial history, we find that some of the US Supreme Court chief justices generally reckoned to be among the greatest were politicians too (John Marshall, who served as John Adams’ secretary of state; Charles Evans Hughes, who ran as Republican Party presidential candidate against Woodrow Wilson; Earl Warren, who maneuvered his way into the Court from the governorship of California).

That same sense of history, however, should also remind us that the Supreme Court has been well-served by non-politicians as well as outright outsiders. Indeed, if a formula were to be pulled together from the experience of successful Courts, the equation it seems must include at least two factors: the composition of the Court as a good mix, a balance between politicians and academics, between career judges and prominent practitioners; and the leader of the Court as a lawyer who is both genuinely consultative and strongly strategic. In other words, a court general—to borrow from our rich basketball lore.

* * *

Sam Miguel
08-15-2012, 12:47 PM
By: Lutgardo B. Barbo

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:01 pm | Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

For the first time in history, the Judicial and Bar Council conducted psychological tests, psychiatric evaluations, and live panel interviews in the process of selecting the next chief justice. Why? Is the objective to psychologically forestall a similar incident that irretrievably disgraced the ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona? Isn’t the transparent purpose to treat the “wounded” image of the Supreme Court? Or, hopefully, improve the holistic delivery system of the judiciary? Will the test items and the results or scores of each nominee be made public?

We wonder if the previous 23 chief justices starting with Cayetano Arellano would have been willing to undertake the psychological test, psychiatric evaluation, and live panel grilling just to be appointed chief justice. We are also curious if they had “personality disorders” according to diagnostic characteristics or scientific personality assessments.

Psychology is that province of knowledge about scientific research on human behavior and personality. Through such research, an array of psychological assessment scales has been developed to measure various aspects of psychological functioning and personality characteristics.

In “Psychological Tests—Sense or Non-Sense?” Patrick Merlevede, jobEQ’s leading researcher, says: Most test developers and test users have good intentions, yet due to inadequate training, there is considerable misuse of test data. He warns about the bad use of tests in general and about “nonsense” claims that some people may make regarding the tests they put on the market. Test constructs and psychometric quality should underlie the psychological tests, he says. For example, what theory of judicial privilege or duty underlies the rationale of the test? How are the test questions on “proven competence, integrity, probity and independence” formulated? How are clogged dockets decongested, or the Judicial Development Funds handled? How is hard-ball politics factored in? Will the psychiatric test manifest the delusional denial mode of the “no-need-to-heal, nothing-to-fix, business-as-usual” at the Supreme Court?

Psychometrics is that branch of psychology dealing with the measurement of mental traits, capacities and processes. Did the test show who among the applicants are the most insightful, sharp, conceptual, creative, and mentally honest? Or the most rational, incisive, detached and objectively critical? Or the hands-on judicial manager and effective leader and administrator? Or the most reserved, respectable, independent-minded, just and incorruptible?

Specialists and experts say these psychological tests can be used to assess the applicants for chief justice, and flush out possible areas of concern:

1. Pathological/psychological/neuropsychological problems. The test can measure the applicant’s depression, anxiety, paranoia, psychopathic deviance, schizophrenia, personality disorders, and other clinical disorders, if any. It has been used in various settings, including judging or decision-making, security screening, criminal sentencing, child custody, gun control and police selection.

2. Personality traits. Some tests are designed to describe personality differences among “normal” persons, others to identify abnormal patterns of personality, and still others to identify specific “personality disorders.” Personality assessment can be important in the selection of people for various types of jobs (police officer, executive, decision-maker).

3. Motivational factors. “Why we do what we do” is an important question for judges, employers, retailers, corrections psychologists, and persons facing significant life decisions. Psychologists have developed tests of motivation that help identify what is important to different people in predicting or influencing their behavior.

I had the good fortune of experiencing a close, though brief, personal brush with some chief justices. I relished observing them quietly. But a few of my officemates and some lawyers, especially those in human rights, said, jokingly perhaps, that some of them justices were “sira-ulo” (crazy) or had “personality disorders.”

I worked at the high court as a clerk in 1974, the last year of my law studies, courtesy of our professor Roberto Concepcion, who had just left his job as chief justice. He told our class he had advanced his mandatory retirement because he was disgusted with the Marcos dictatorship that illegally authorized barangay assemblies to vote by the raising of hands in the infamous 1973 ratification cases during martial law. He urged some of us to enter public service after passing the bar, and get elected. When I bantered that politics was dirty, he rebuked us thus: “But who will cleanse the dirty atmosphere of politics? When young, reform-minded and idealistic people like you become weak-kneed, negligent and irresolute, God help this country!”

After Concepcion, five associate justices—Querube Makalintal, Fred Ruiz Castro, Enrique Fernando, Felix Makasiar and Ramon Aquino (in that order)—became chief justice one after the other. They were believed to be kowtowing to martial law. Historical accounts say that Makalintal and Castro were the “swing votes” in the ratification cases that upheld the Marcos Constitution and made legitimate his brutal dictatorship. When Ninoy Aquino was denied his privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, Makalintal was quoted as saying, among other things, that the Supreme Court justices were conscious of “the future verdict of history.”

At which Ninoy aptly addressed them: “Today, you are my judges. Tomorrow, history will judge you.”

Lutgardo B. Barbo is president of Taguig City University, faculty member at Ateneo School of Government, and former president of Philippine Normal University.

Sam Miguel
08-15-2012, 12:55 PM
By Christian V. Esguerra, Christine O. Avendaño, TJ Burgonio

Philippine Daily Inquirer

2:41 am | Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

President Benigno Aquino III will appoint the next Chief Justice who can best carry out the judicial reform that began with the ouster of Chief Justice Renato Corona, Malacañang said on Tuesday.

“He will be looking for a prospective Chief Justice who has the integrity, competence, political will and commitment to pursue and put into effect these reforms,” Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, senior political adviser to the President, said in a text message.

Abad said judicial reform is among the key pillars of the President’s “reform agenda.”

“The President did not support the impeachment and subsequent conviction of the former Chief Justice and invest political capital in the process only to end up with a Chief Justice who is unable to follow through effectively, and in a sustained way on this reform process,” he said.

The Judicial Bar Council (JBC) sent the Palace on Monday a short list of eight candidates for the next Chief Justice. Vetted out of 20 nominees, they are acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Justices Roberto Abad, Arturo Brion, Ma. Lourdes Sereno and Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, former Rep. Ronaldo Zamora and former Ateneo law dean Cesar Villanueva.

Abad said it was the President’s call whether to name the next Chief Justice before Aug. 27.

Toss-up: Sereno, Jardeleza

He did not comment on Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s information that the choice for the next Chief Justice was a toss-up between Sereno and Jardeleza.

Sereno is Mr. Aquino’s first appointee to the high tribunal. She upheld the position of Mr. Aquino’s family in the recent court ruling on the issue of just compensation to workers of Hacienda Luisita. Jardeleza is a former lawyer of the President’s uncle, businessman Eduardo Cojuangco.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said yesterday she did not intend to protest her exclusion in the short list although she felt that the Supreme Court, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and the JBC had ganged up on her to squelch her bid to be the next Chief Justice.

‘Anybody but De Lima’

“Anybody but De Lima, that’s my feeling,” she told reporters. Asked to elaborate, she said: “I don’t know. Because of the belief that I am the favored candidate of the Palace? That’s my suspicion.”

Upon the prodding of the high court, the IBP is investigating De Lima on two disbarment cases stemming from her defiance of a Supreme Court temporary restraining order against her issuance of a hold departure order in spite of the absence of criminal charges filed against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and her disparaging remarks against Corona while he was still Chief Justice.

“There is nothing that I can do now that can undo the turn of events,” she said. She called the JBC decision “quite unfair to me.”

Spokespersons of the high court and the IBP denied De Lima’s conspiracy theory. “No such conspiracy,” court spokesperson Gleo Guerra said in a text message. IBP spokesperson Trixie Cruz-Angeles said De Lima was “understandably upset” but that the group “acted on her case in accordance with the rules.”

Rep. Niel Tupas, representative of the lower house in the JBC, said on Tuesday that Malacañang Undersecretary Michael Frederick Musngi had asked the council to reconsider its decision not to include De Lima on the short list.

“Before the voting, Undersecretary Musngi—of course, understandably, he still had a last-ditch effort—appealed,” he said.

JBC decision final

Tupas struggled to reply when asked if the JBC would stand its ground in case the President returns the short list. It happened during the Arroyo administration, but the council did not waver.

The Iloilo representative said he did not “think the President would do that.” But he later said: “That’s a final decision by the JBC.”

Tupas said he sympathized with De Lima, but denied her allegation that she had been “singled out.” He said De Lima’s case was different from those of Jardeleza, who was included in the short list, and Securities and Exchange Commission chair Teresita Herbosa, who missed the cut.

“She was never singled out. It was really based on the rules of the JBC,” he said. “I regret that she was not included.”

Tupas and De Lima worked on the same side in Corona’s impeachment trial. De Lima took the witness stand for the prosecution, which was headed by Tupas.

“For me, it was OK for her to become Chief Justice. It just so happened that there are rules,” he said.

Tupas said the eight members of the JBC were equally divided (4-4) on Musngi’s move to either suspend or amend the rule disqualifying nominees with pending administrative cases. He said suspending the rule would benefit only De Lima because both Jardeleza and Herbosa had been cleared for nomination.

The JBC was initially set to submit only five names of prospective Chief Justices to the President. But Tupas said the number ballooned to eight when the council opted to include all nominees that got a majority vote of five.

Sam Miguel
08-16-2012, 08:33 AM
By: Conrado de Quiros

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:42 pm | Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

To no one’s surprise, the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) bought the “insider is best” argument and put five of them in its final list of eight. They are Antonio Carpio, Roberto Abad, Arturo Brion, Ma. Lourdes Sereno, and Teresita de Castro. The “outsiders” are Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, former congressman Ronaldo Zamora, and former Ateneo law dean Cesar Villanueva.

It was Carpio who argued that tradition demanded that the most senior justice, namely him, succeed the last chief justice. Going against it, particularly by appointing an “outsider,” stood to demoralize the judiciary. That the JBC bought his argument you see not just in that it put five justices in the final list, but that it put him ahead of the line.

But what a pass we’ve reached, that after the glorious feeling of finally having ousted a chief justice who did little to advance the cause of justice, indeed who did so much to thwart it, we’re reduced to choosing between people who threaten more of the same or who have skeletons in their closets. God, that we should once again be put at the mercy of judges, or a selection committee, whose capacity for discernment, never mind imagination, does not extend beyond their noses. Given the task of weeding out the chaff from the grain, they threw out the grain and left the chaff. Where is Chel Diokno here? Where is Raul Pangalangan here?

As this list goes, you’ve got only two choices if you expect at least some change. One is Sereno, if only for her disagreement with reopening the Fasap case which the Supreme Court had already, and quite absurdly, ruled upon “with finality” three times. Of course she’s the youngest, but then age has never been the natural ally of wisdom in this country, as shown by the plethora of public officials na tumatanda nang paurong.

The Fasap case quite incidentally shows the kind of chief justice we need. That is the boy in the story of the emperor’s new clothes. He is not like everyone who agrees that the emperor is wearing finery because not to say so would be to be thought of as a fool. He (or she) is the boy who cries out, “The emperor is naked!” because he is. Put more plainly, we need a chief justice who has the capacity not for legal erudition but for common sense, a thing that has become uncommon with judges and lawyers generally. Can anything be more nakedly, or commonsensically, unjust than reopening a case the Court has already ruled upon with finality, let alone three times?

The other is Villanueva. He is the only “outsider” there who has nothing to hide. Unless the list is seriously rectified before P-Noy picks the next chief justice, he’s the one who most commends himself to it. Being an academician and an “outsider” are not his weaknesses, they are his strengths.

The notion that picking an “outsider” would demoralize the judiciary is silly. At the very least, if all you have to show for your tenure in the Court is to have produced legal concepts like a finality with no finality, to have assured that Lucio Tan would never lose his cases, to have protected Corona and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo over and beyond the call of greed, you ought to be demoralized. Hell, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

At the very most, it’s refuted by life. One of the best American chief justices of the 20th century was Earl Warren who was as outsider as you could get. He had been a three-time governor of California and was in fact on his third term when Dwight Eisenhower offered him the position of solicitor general. But before that could happen, the chief justice, Fred Vinzon, died. Eisenhower picked Warren to replace him to bridge the divide between the liberals and conservatives, to the monumental chagrin of the justices. Warren ended up being more liberal than conservative, to the monumental chagrin of Eisenhower who said appointing him “was the biggest damned-fool mistake I ever made.”

Not so for the rest of the country. Lacking judicial experience, Warren initially had senior associate justice, Hugo Black, handle meetings. But he learned quickly and was soon running things himself. He didn’t just gain confidence, he gained insight. He it was who produced such landmark decisions as ending segregation between blacks and whites in public schools, championing “one man, one vote,” providing free legal counsel to indigent defendants, and outlawing mandatory opening prayer in public schools. His tenure as chief justice did not demoralize the judiciary, it lifted it up to lofty heights, thrusting the Supreme Court into the frontlines of social change.

The point is simple: Where the inside view is corrupted by inertia, myopia, cynicism, blindness, and resolute self-interest, the thing to do is to get the outside one. You need new blood to stop the cretinism that comes from incestuous relationships. It bears saying again and again, what we need from the new justice is not continuity, it is a break. What we need from the new chief justice is not to keep the Supreme Court as a bastion of legalism, it is to turn it into a leading institution for reform.

As in Warren’s America, we find ourselves mired in our own versions of mindless stupidities like segregation. What we need is a chief justice who has the vision, resolve and courage to fight the meddling of the Church in state affairs (not just the Catholic Church but the other churches; surely there’s something unconstitutional in the INC’s use of religion to compel bloc voting?) and the eroding of the moral fabric of the judiciary, the Supreme Court itself presiding over the wrenching of law from justice, wielding law to thwart the advance of justice, using law to keep justice from touching the corrupt, the murderous, the oppressive.

America gambled on an outsider and won.

We can always do the same.

Sam Miguel
09-05-2012, 08:24 AM
7 SC justices ‘snub’ Sereno
By Christine O. Avendaño, Marlon Ramos

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:15 am | Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

If the absence of half of the 14 associate justices was meant as a snub, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno did not show she was in the least slighted, saying in her first flag-raising ceremony she was appointed by God to head the Supreme Court and asking colleagues to shun intrigues.

“This is neither the work of man nor of any political bloc. This is not a product of lobbying from business or economic interests but by God who knows all the plan of our nation,” said Sereno, still flashing her ear-to-ear smile since she was sworn in by President Benigno Aquino on Saturday as the replacement of ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Sereno, 52, who was leapfrogged over five senior associate justices to become head of the judiciary for the next 18 years or until the retirement age of 70, said it was God who appointed her and that it was probably time to give the leadership of the high court to “one of His humble servants.”

Only six associate justices showed up for Sereno’s first flag-raising ceremony at the Supreme Court. They were Associate Justices Mariano del Castillo, Roberto Abad, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Bienvenido Reyes, Jose Mendoza and Jose Perez.

Seven other associate justices, led by Antonio Carpio, who by tradition was next in line as Chief Justice under the previously respected seniority rule, were absent from the event. The other no-shows were Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Arturo Brion, Presbitero Velasco and Martin Villarama Jr.

Of the 14 justices, only four attended Sereno’s oath-taking on Saturday at the Palace — Villarama, Bernabe, Castillo and Reyes.

A clear snub

A senior court official said the absence of the seven magistrates was “intentional” and was meant to “send a strong cogent message.”

“It’s very clear that the justices snubbed the new Chief Justice. How else would you describe that?” the official, who asked not to be named, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

“Their absence in the first public appearance of Sereno before the court employees was very telling. It’s a rebuff of her appointment as Chief Justice,” said the official, who added that the majority of the justices were questioning Sereno’s capability and experience to lead the judiciary.

“Not only did they question her leadership and management skills. Most of the justices I spoke with also doubt her knowledge of the law and even her psychological state,” the source added.

Two other court insiders said that the justices’ decision to give Sereno the cold shoulder was intended to “register their strong opposition to her appointment.”

“Sereno should expect that kind of treatment for the next several years,” one insider said.

Tension will go away

Sought for comment, former Solicitor General Francisco Chavez said the absence of the justices was “just a tail-end of some disappointments on their part.”

“I understand they were rooting for the justices other than Sereno. That’s their disappointment and I think that the solution to this problem lies in the vastly untapped area of human relations,” Chavez said over the phone.

However, he said the tension “will eventually go away and that they will be able to find ways and means to discharge their functions as a collegial body.”

Asked if he thought the justices snubbed Sereno, he said: “No. I wouldn’t say that unless this goes on for three or four times. Then I can say that it’s not only a snub, but it’s a repudiation of (Sereno’s) appointment.”

God’s appointment

In an impromptu speech in Filipino at the flag ceremony, Sereno told her fellow justices that she had accepted with much humility her appointment as Chief Justice.

She said that the world would testify that her appointment “came from God alone.”

Describing herself as a “servant-leader,” Sereno called on her colleagues to work hard and not to mind any intrigues and idle talk. “Let’s double our energy in our work. Can I count on you to do this? Can we ignore intrigues, can we also not listen to rumors?”

She said it was about time to unite in bringing service to the public. “This is our promise to the people,” Sereno said, asking court officials and personnel to join her in this objective. She was answered with cheers and applause, and the Chief Justice thanked them.

Sam Miguel
09-05-2012, 08:35 AM
By Cathy C. Yamsuan

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:00 am | Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Senator Joker Arroyo hopes Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno will not mistake “God’s will” for infallibility.

A born-again Christian, the 52-year-old Sereno in her first flag ceremony on Monday in the Supreme Court with half of the 14 magistrates in attendance invoked divine intervention in her appointment by President Aquino to replace ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona.

“After the Chief Justice expressed her belief that she was anointed by the Good Lord as chief magistrate, I hope she would not think she has now the infallibility in her judicial opinions,” Arroyo said, tongue-in-cheek.

Arroyo, who voted against Corona’s conviction during his impeachment trial in the Senate, said the newly appointed Chief Justice might mistake her so-called divinely inspired appointment as authority to speak, like the Pope, ex cathedra “because she has angelical status, she crowned herself … the anointee of God!”

“When the Pope talks of matters about faith and morals, you cannot challenge that. She was anointed by God! Isn’t that what she said?”

Trying to look serious, Arroyo recalled Sereno’s statement at the flag-raising ceremony and quoted newspaper accounts of the Chief Justice saying “she is there because of God’s will, not Malacañang’s will or the President’s.”

“Can you imagine that? When we talk about ex cathedra, that means infallibility, I hope (Sereno) doesn’t think that way because that’s not good. That doesn’t allow for dissent,” he warned.

Sereno, whose appointment broke the seniority rule in the tradition-minded third branch of government, also asked colleagues to shun intrigues.

Sam Miguel
09-05-2012, 08:43 AM
Philippine Daily Inquirer

11:29 pm | Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Incredibly enough, the Republic of the Philippines counts over a century of existence but only recently made its first successful conviction of a tax evader. The landmark case against businesswoman Gloria V. Kintanar, who has been ordered arrested by the Court of Tax Appeals, hinged on her having evaded P15 million in back taxes on commissions she earned from her multilevel marketing business. Kintanar blamed her accountants for her failure to file income tax returns in 2000 and 2001. The tax appeals court, in a decision upheld by the Supreme Court, ruled that the businesswoman knew her legal obligations but that she “nevertheless, voluntarily, knowingly and intentionally failed to file the required returns.”

Kintanar’s prosecution comes on the heels of other high-profile cases filed by the Bureau of Internal Revenue against alleged tax cheats. In November 2011, the tax court ordered the arrest of billionaire businessman Macario Gaw Jr. for supposedly defrauding the government of some P5.5 billion in underdeclared income from 2007 to 2008. A bit earlier, another warrant was issued for the arrest of former military comptroller Jacinto Ligot and his wife Erlinda, also for tax evasion.

The cases against Kintanar, Gaw and the Ligots basically pivot on the same thing: dishonesty in paying one’s taxes. Did any of them cry persecution when they were haled to court? They couldn’t, of course; they would’ve been thrown out of the judge’s courtroom for that laughable defense. Yet, for the same legal premise underpinning the tax evasion cases that have now been filed against Renato Corona and his daughter and son-in-law, the former chief justice has wasted no time decrying the charges as part of the government’s supposed continuing campaign of vindictiveness against him.

Per Corona, not only was it cruel for the Aquino administration to come after him despite his having lost his post at the Supreme Court, it was also, and merely, a cynical game of wag the dog: “I agree with the observation of many that my family’s persecution continues with the usual media overkill, and that there appears to be an immediate need to divert public attention from certain issues that are becoming too hot to handle.”

Corona’s penchant for playing victim and seeing political conspiracy in his every travail was brought to high relief during his impeachment. It did him no good then, and it will do him no good now. Instead of crying persecution, he should just confer with his defense team on how to argue his way out of the BIR’s tax evasion charges, which peg his total net worth at P161.15 million on a declared income of only P26.45 million, as evidenced by his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth and other documents presented during the impeachment trial.

“There were underreported assets, undeclared assets, unreported cash,” said Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares. By the BIR’s reckoning, Corona should have paid the government P120.5 million in taxes, inclusive of surcharges and interests. He is being sued for “willful attempt to evade or defeat tax and for deliberate failure” to file his income tax returns in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010.

Note that these figures only cover Corona’s peso accounts and declared properties. His (grudgingly disclosed) dollar accounts hold another $2.4 million in deposits. That money was not declared in his SALNs and are, therefore, untaxed.

Corona’s daughter Ma. Carla, meanwhile, is charged with a tax liability amounting to P9.93 million, and her husband, Constantino Castillo III, P20.24 million.

Should the government have gone easy on Corona after his impeachment—that is, let him have his peace, as some quarters now demand—given the disgrace and humiliation he’s gone through?

To answer yes to that question is not to be compassionate; it is to agree to a fundamental injustice—that the law applies differently to those (or who used to be) in positions of power like Corona. Under that premise, an ordinary citizen like Kintanar may not get away with cheating on her taxes, but a former chief justice deserves leniency, pity even, for his very public fall from grace, and subjecting him to further legal scrutiny crosses the line into “persecution.”


In fact, the opposite should hold true: The higher you are in office, the more exactingly the law should apply. Corona was not the average Juan; he was the country’s chief guardian of the rule of law. Taking him to court now is merely the ends of justice being paid, at last, more than lip service.

Sam Miguel
09-05-2012, 09:28 AM
By Conrado de Quiros

Philippine Daily Inquirer

11:25 pm | Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Renato Corona says it’s persecution—that is, the Bureau of Internal Revenue filing tax evasion charges against him. No so, and not so fast, says BIR chief Kim Henares. The case is backed by prima facie evidence that came to light in his impeachment trial.

He himself took the huge gamble of admitting to his dollar deposits, going through great contortions to explain them, and waiving his right to secrecy. He gambled, and lost. Now, beyond the glare of the media, he has revoked his waiver in an attempt to block further prosecution of him. Alas, too late.

I have heard people, who are not naturally sympathetic to him, say, “Sobra naman, bagsak na ’yong tao tinatadyakan pa.” Typically Pinoy, but which is also typically a guarantee of never being able to say “Never again!” Typically Pinoy, but which is also typically an assurance of iniquity happening again and again.

Justice does not happen once a tyrant, petit or grand, is ousted. Which, for the strangest reasons, is how we’ve always appreciated it.

Ferdinand Marcos is overthrown and sent into exile, and the effort to prosecute him, his family, and his cronies is called persecution. And the effort to recover the loot he stole from the country, which is now being enjoyed by his family and cronies, is called persecution. And the effort to make the country recall the hell he put it through is called persecution. And called so not just by them but by many Filipinos, too.

Erap is overthrown and sent into 5-star detention, and the effort to recover the loot he stole from his country is called persecution. And the effort to make the country recall the dark night he let fall on it, ruled by the aswang in the midnight Cabinet, is called persecution. And not just by him but many Filipinos, too. Hell, if P-Noy hadn’t been there, he might have been president again.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo finally goes, having been prevented from clinging to power by an Edsa revolt masquerading as an election, and the effort to prosecute her, her husband, and her cronies is called persecution. And the effort to recover the things she stole from the country, which isn’t just loot but life, which isn’t just the nation’s till but the voters’ will, is called persecution. And the effort to make the country recall the murder and mayhem, quite apart from the lying, cheating, and stealing she inflicted on it, is called persecution. And called so not just by her and her allies but, well, at least some Filipinos, the lack of more widespread awa owing not to the extent of her crimes but to the extent of her charms, or utter lack of them.

Not quite incidentally, the folk of Iloilo have just given us a stunning reminder of the last. The kin of 202 missing activists have just put up a sculpture in tribute to them. It is an astonishing work of art, the images of the disappeared, including those of Maria Luisa Posa-Dominado and Nilo Arado who were abducted by thugs in April 2007 and never seen again, carved on three spear-shaped poles. Which has both inspired and disturbed the living, the disturbance particularly afflicting the kin who are forced to remember their loved ones again without benefit of closure. It’s a reminder of Arroyo’s atrocious and cynical war against rebellion in her time, which was never meant to end rebellion, which was merely meant to extend usurpation.

And now Corona is wailing persecution.

The point is simple: Simply being ousted is not punishment enough for those who have done the country wrong. Restitution helps. Jail helps. Being reviled for what they did helps.

Our problem has never been the ability to rise up and topple tyrants. It has always been the capacity to punish them afterward. Our problem has never been the ability to say, “tama na, sobra na, palitan na,” it has always been the capacity to say, “parusahan na, pagbayarin na, huwag nang pairalin pa.”

That takes special resonance in light of Sept. 21 being the 40th anniversary of the declaration of martial law. It’s not just time that has allowed the Marcoses to erode, if not erase, the stigma of martial law, and threaten to come back in a big way—if they have not done so already: Bongbong is a senator, Imelda is a representative, and Imee is a governor. It is also the fact that they were not punished. It is also the fact that they were not prosecuted, they were not deprived of their ill-gotten wealth (or at least much of it), they were not jailed. Which has allowed them to rewrite history, or attempt to. Which has allowed them to come back to power, or threaten to. The specter that has always haunted this land is not communism, it is tyranny.

What idiocy, the notion that pursuing the Marcoses, Erap, and Arroyo—the first and last above all, the second committing lesser crimes and more out of ignorance than out of malice—and their coconspirators like Corona, is vindictiveness. The opposite in fact is true. Not doing so is vindictiveness. Or more accurately, not doing so is spitefulness.

Not prosecuting them is being spiteful to the people, many of them in the first flush of life, who were spirited away never to be seen again. Not hounding them to the ends of the earth is being spiteful to the people they’ve lied to, cheated, and stolen from, quite apart from given heart attacks and strokes from apoplexy, from uyam, from oppression at the mere sight of them. Not following through after ousting them by sending them to jail, or, as in Erap’s case, keeping him there, is being spiteful to a nation they repressed with mind-boggling fury, and, yes, vindictiveness, and, yes, spite.

Not doing so is allowing an open wound to fester in the heart of the land. I’m glad that the kin of the disappeared in Iloilo have given us something to remember things by. Art soothes.

But in the end, it is only justice that heals.

Sam Miguel
09-06-2012, 08:34 AM
Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:05 am | Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Public attention on the Supreme Court in the last several days has necessarily focused on the politics of the appointment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno—the suddenness of the announcement, the surprise of a truly deep selection, the seeming snub she seems to have suffered from the senior justices she had bypassed, her supposed debt of gratitude to President Aquino (and, by extension, the Cojuangco side of his family), even (most recently) her unsolicited references to the Almighty. Everyone loves to follow a winner—perhaps especially when drama and intrigue surround the winning.

But news out of the Supreme Court on Tuesday shifts the focus back to its real work: the adjudication of cases and, above that, the ever-more-effective pursuit of justice.

Voting unanimously, the justices approved the so-called judicial affidavit rule, a procedural reform which will take effect next year and which is intended to speed up trial proceedings by effectively foregoing the oral direct testimony of witnesses. As Christine Avendaño’s report in yesterday’s issue noted: “This means that the witnesses will be ‘subjected to cross examination’ immediately and [will] ‘cut short by 50 percent the presentation of witnesses,’ according to Deputy Court Administrator Raul Villanueva, who was designated the court’s new ‘communicator for judicial reform.’”

The concept was pilot-tested at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court beginning in April; that is, when Renato Corona was still chief justice. It was recommended for approval by the man commonly perceived as Corona’s chief rival in the high court, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, and by Associate Justice Roberto Abad, both candidates for the position Sereno now holds. It is a credit to everyone in the high court, then, that the new rule appears to have been approved on the basis of the results of the test program and a general commitment to judicial reform, rather than on previous or frayed loyalties.

From the looks of it, the new rule allows courts across the country to jump-start trials, so to speak, by accepting the affidavits (written according to certain safeguards) in lieu of direct testimony. At the same time, the rule adheres to a hard-earned culture of civil liberties: It is limited to the civil aspects of a criminal case, to criminal cases where the maximum penalty does not exceed six years, and to graver cases (murder, for instance) only if the defendant agrees.

We will be interested to know the results of the program tested at the Quezon City RTC, one of the country’s busiest, and what the affected accused have to say about the new rule. It appears to be a sensible reform, but we must be alert to possible, perhaps unsuspected, vulnerabilities in the new procedure: Since it privileges the act of writing (the affidavit), will indigent or uneducated defendants find themselves at an additional disadvantage? We can imagine cases where a slick lawyer utilizes the cross-examination to contrast an ill-educated witness’ answers with the perhaps imprecise language he used in his affidavit. If there is a corresponding move to allow affidavits written (or taken) in any language into the record, perhaps this will help mitigate the bias against the in- or less, articulate.

But we trust that the high court, and the country’s judges, will institute or follow safeguards to make the new rule a genuine advance in the pursuit of justice.

Many more, much more major, reforms lie in wait; indeed, the mandate of any post-Corona Supreme Court was always to embrace the cause of judicial reform itself: to depoliticize the judiciary, to reverse the high court’s reputation in the last years of the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as a cozy legal club with its own set of rules, to become more transparent in its transactions (without losing the necessary and enabling mystique essential to the crafting of truly independent decisions), to hold itself, the one nonpolitical branch of government, more accountable to the people it represents but who cannot vote for it. Not least, to be effective in the pursuit of justice.

The new rule of court, by providing for speedier trials, promises to do just that.

Sam Miguel
09-06-2012, 08:56 AM
By Randy David

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:04 am | Thursday, September 6th, 2012

In a democracy, the religion, or lack of it, of Supreme Court justices (or any judge, for that matter) is expected to carry no weight in the discharge of their official functions. What the public cares about is that their decisions are founded on a sound appreciation of the facts and of the applicable laws. In this regard, newly appointed Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s religiosity should have been as uncontroversial as her age or her gender.

But, why is her repeated reference to God’s will to explain her appointment disconcerting to many? At the flag-raising ceremony in the Supreme Court last Monday, CJ Sereno said (translated from Filipino): “The whole world is witness that this appointment is God’s will. No one person did this, nor any political bloc. It did not come about due to lobbying by any business or economic interest group; it’s only God who knows what his plans are for the people. Only God put me in this position. It seemed like it was time to give the leadership of the Supreme Court to one of his humble servants.”

I believe utterances like these bother people not because they lay the ground for claiming infallibility, or suggest a blurring of lines between law and religious morality. I think people find them disturbing because they often hear such lines from glib politicians who typically don’t mean them, or from individuals who are so obsessed with faith matters that they cannot see or speak about the world except in religious terms.

I want to be clear about this: I do not begrudge the Chief Justice for being religious. Indeed, having a strong faith in God is positively valued in our culture. It is equated with incorruptibility and a high sense of personal integrity. Our spiritual leaders encourage us to integrate our faith into the various domains of our everyday lives.

But it is one thing to be guided by one’s faith in everything one does, and quite another to lace one’s daily speech with effusive references to God. The first is admirable; the second is, to say the least, annoying. Richard Rorty called this kind of talk a “conversation-stopper.” People at the receiving end of this form of communication find themselves unable to decide whether to take the speaker seriously and engage her, or to just change the topic.

What creates the confusion is the failure to differentiate contexts. If CJ Sereno were speaking at a religious recollection or retreat, and not at a flag-raising ceremony of a government office, or if she were leading a prayer instead of giving a speech to her assembled colleagues and staff as the new Chief Justice, she might be praised for her piety. But, to tell them in her first speech at the Supreme Court that it was God who made her Chief Justice is supremely arrogant, if not delusional.

When the Judicial and Bar Council first announced that it had decided to subject the nominees for the position of chief justice to a psychological test, my reaction was one of dismay. I did not think that nominees for this exalted position should be made to undergo any test for emotional or mental fitness. But, now I am beginning to appreciate the value of this unprecedented requirement.

In the past, it was enough for the public to be assured of the academic, professional, and moral qualifications of justices. The Constitution itself prescribes no test for mental fitness. But recent advances in brain research demonstrate the necessity of achieving a fine balance between two rival systems—the rational and the emotional. This is how the neuroscientist David Eagleman explains it in plain language: “The rational system is the one that cares about analysis of things in the outside world, while the emotional system monitors internal state and worries whether things will be good or bad…. The emotional networks are absolutely required to rank your possible next actions in the world.” In short, we can’t afford to be all reason and no emotion, or allow emotion to overrun reason. “Some balance of the emotional and rational systems is needed…,” he writes.

It is the emotional system that is being assessed when one responds to a psychological test. I am not a fan of psychological tests, and I say this without knowing what test was administered to the 20 nominees for chief justice. The values assigned to responses in such tests are sometimes highly subjective. Moreover, a test-wise person may be able to pick out the conventional responses, while hiding his real choices, in order to score within standard limits. But there are tests that are capable of detecting emotional states by correlating multiple responses to a wide range of questions.

Sometime ago, the information was leaked that CJ Sereno was among those who scored lowest in the psychological test. We would not know if this is true or what “low” means in this context. But I did wonder if the JBC and the President took the psychological findings into account, and what weight, if any, they gave to them. Some quarters are now demanding that the results be made public. I don’t think the publication of these results at this time will serve any purpose other than to embarrass those who did not fare well in this test.

As disturbing as her first pronouncements might be, we should not judge CJ Sereno on the basis of her public godliness or her alleged psychological scores. We must wait and see how she tackles the job of forging a functional unity out of a highly fragmented and demoralized court. In asking her colleagues to give her a chance to prove herself, she may realize she would sound less arrogant if she invoked the imperatives of nationhood rather than the will of God.

Sam Miguel
09-06-2012, 09:00 AM
By Conrado de Quiros

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:03 am | Thursday, September 6th, 2012

I cringed when I heard newly appointed Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno speak of owing her mandate to heaven. Her exact words were: “Gratitude has to be given to God… the promotion came from him alone.”

Her sense of course, as she amplified in her impromptu remarks before the Supreme Court community, was that she did not lobby for her position, she got it as a matter of course. The choice of her as chief justice was not the product of politics, it was the product of merit. But if that was her meaning, then she should have put it more directly and plainly. Or at least in ways that do not carry extra baggage or invite unnecessary flak.

Surely it is a sign of wisdom, if not of the expansive vision or imagination one expects of justices, never mind the chief one, that one remembers the historical antecedents of such claims? Not too long ago, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also said, “God put me here,” in a brazen effort to fend off charges of being illegitimate. An assertion that really asked for it, given that the world had just heard her, or her DNA-imprinted voice, plotting “with a Comelec official” to cheat her closest rival. She was promptly disabused of the thought that God had been known to take the form of Garci.

Sereno’s statement does not just open her but the person who appointed her to the same type of ridicule. Expect her detractors to promptly disabuse her of the thought that God has been known to take the form of P-Noy. Though that is not a contrast between heaven and hell that God and Garci is, it little helps someone whose enemies have been busily—and quite ironically coming as they do from the Gloria camp—depicting him as trying to act like God.

It’s also a little ungrateful. What’s wrong with thanking the JBC for including her in the shortlist and the President for reposing his trust in her? A trust she means to live up to by being the best chief justice she could possibly be, by acting as God and conscience, and not as her appointing power, dictate? That’s more sensible and decent.

I do believe P-Noy’s choice of Sereno as chief justice was inspired and couldn’t care less that Tony Carpio’s group boycotted—but of course it was so—the flag-raising ceremony in her first day in office. Which makes me wonder why the President didn’t show the same inspiration in his appointment of the new DILG head. Sereno’s was a case of fitting the person to the vision, whereas the other one was just fitting the vision to the person. I’d be more worried if there was instant camaraderie among the justices, which would suggest that Sereno has been sucked this early into the old boys’ club.

But given that Sereno will not lack for detractors as she begins her (long) journey of a thousand miles, or 18 years, she can do with being a little more careful about the way she frames thoughts. The quality of her future decisions depends on it.

* * *

The good news is that there’s an enlightened archbishop in the Vatican. The bad news is that he just died.

But not before unburdening himself of his oppression, which had to do with his favorite church calcifying right before his eyes. In an interview by the press before his interview by St. Peter, the archbishop of Milan, Carlo Maria Martini, let loose a few broadsides at Vatican.

“Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up. Our rituals and our cassocks are pompous…. The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops. The pedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation…. (Not doing so) loses the future generation…. The church is 200 years out of date. Why don’t we rouse ourselves? Are we afraid?”

Well-loved and admired (thousands of Milanese flocked to his wake), the liberal-minded Martini was one of the favorites to succeed John Paul II, until he admitted to suffering from a rare form of Parkinson’s. An epic loss to Catholicism.

But if the Vatican is 200 years out of date, you can just imagine how much farther we are. We are the only country outside the Vatican—a city-state of 44 hectares and 800 inhabitants—that outlaws divorce. Catholics elsewhere do not. We are the one country in Asia that regards contraception as murder, quite apart from corruption. I wish I could say that we have the only batty group that values the life of the non-existent over the living, but there’s also the US Republican Party which, as Andy Borowitz tweets, “if its platform is any guide, is staunchly pro-life until you are actually born.” We are the only country whose moral guardians want to expel professors in institutions of higher learning for endorsing contraception. And we scoff at Islamic intolerance.

Paraphrasing Martini, “The fervor is waning, the churches are big and half-full, and the flock will not be led astray. Your rituals and your cassocks are pompous. The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the cardinals and the bishops. The Pajero scandals oblige you to take a journey of self-examination. Not doing so makes you lose everything. The Church is whacked out of time. Why don’t you rouse yourselves?

“Are you afraid?”

* * *

I do not, I repeat, I do not, have a Facebook page or Twitter account. I say this again because friends have alerted me to the fact that some people have been tweeting in my name. I do not particularly mind that people reprint my columns right and left, I believe in shareware, but I do mind that poseurs express opinions right and wrong in my name. I do wish they would stop, since I have neither the time nor the energy to force them to do so.

But the public is forewarned: Interact with them at your peril.

Sam Miguel
09-06-2012, 09:32 AM
^^^ And this is precisely why this entire "deep selection" business must cease. We should have reverted to the time-honored tradition of naming the most senior Justice to succeed as Chief Justice. Not only would that have been more in keeping with the tradition and also "mystique" of the Supreme Court, it would not have raised as many eyebrows as the "God-given" Ma Lourdes Punzalan Sereno has with her pronouncements of late. Sure, Antonio Carpio might not be the most guilt-less of men, and certainly he has not taken pains to hide his previous clients and businesses undertaken as a lawyer. But he still remains the most senior Justice on this current Court and should have gotten the Chief Justice position. Let us not forget that he is on-record as having turned down the appointment to Chief Justice by Gloria Arroyo because he knew it would have been a midnight appointment prohibited by our Constitution. Right there it beacme clear that whatever else he may have been, and may have done before, he still had enough integrity, and good sense, to appreciate a midnight appointment and reject it, unlike the unlamented Renato Corona. Sereno was just too much of a deep selection, and God help us all if she proves to be a wrong selection.

Sam Miguel
09-06-2012, 10:08 AM
FIRST PERSON

By Alex Magno (The Philippine Star)

Updated September 06, 2012 12:00 AM

In the aftermath of a messy impeachment episode, the first task of Renato Corona’s successor is to rebuild a demoralized judiciary. If we journey towards the accomplishment of that task, the first steps inspire little confidence.

It was not a good sign that when Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno took her oath at the Palace, the most senior associate justices were absent from the ceremony. That was, according to lawyers who should have institutional memory, unprecedented.

The oath-taking of the first female Chief Justice, coming after an unprecedented impeachment episode that put the independence of the Supreme Court in question, should have been a historic moment. That poorly-attended ceremony seems to have been undertaken in haste and surely did not convey a sense of great moment. The President did not deliver a stirring speech indicating that moment as momentous.

The media dutifully reported the ceremony, but did not give much attention to the poor attendance. That seemed the correct thing to do. This was not the occasion to pass intrigue or entertain unfounded speculation. Our judicial branch is gravely wounded; this was a time for reconstructing institutions.

The choice of Corona’s successor discomfited some. Sereno was the youngest aspirant to the highest judicial post. Because of that, she will be entitled to sit for 18 years. That seemed like a major gamble to take with an unknown entity. It definitely broke a well-regarded precedent where the Chief Justice was chosen from among the most senior associate justices.

Last Monday, Chief Justice Sereno led the flag-raising ceremony on the premises of the High Court. That was her first appearance as leader of the judicial branch. Again, the most senior associate justices were absent.

This time, even the most compliant media outlets could not continue playing down the evident snub. The absence of the senior justices from an event that might have served as a photo-op for judicial solidarity was glaring — especially as the new Chief Justice claimed, in her brief remarks, some sort of divine mandate.

That claim is more than just startling. A divine mandate puts the new Chief Justice above the law. This is a pretty disturbing thought.

There is something seriously amiss here. One senior associate justice called for the release of psychological tests taken by all aspirants for the highest judicial post. Unless those tests are released, all sorts of speculation about them will proliferate.

There is something seriously amiss here. Palace spokespersons have stepped up to the new Chief Justice’s defense, pleading she be given the time to prove her worth. Ricky Carandang’s propaganda apparatus moved to high gear, defending the President’s choice. This includes pulling in the usual Akbayan talking heads and the half-witted trolls to Sereno’s defense. The propaganda effort attempts to caricature the concerns of the senior associate justices as mere griping.

While the rift within the Supreme Court gets more curious by the day, another factional flashpoint appears at the DILG over the case of Undersecretary Rico Puno.

Deadweight loss

There is such a thing as “optimal taxation.” It is not too hard to understand and involves some pretty uncomplicated economics.

For instance, if taxes on a product are raised too high, resulting in prices consumers cannot afford, consumption simply falls. No taxes are collected if consumers shy away from a product. Instead of realizing revenues, government stands to lose them.

Ben Diokno, UP economics professor and former budget secretary, criticizes the Department of Finance for being removed from reality and failing to do a proper market analysis in proposing steep increases in excise taxes on so-called “sin products.” Specifically, our finance authorities could give no indication they studied what is technically called “deadweight loss” to back up their proposed steep excise tax increase.

“Deadweight loss” is the sum of loss of consumer capacity, tax avoidance or evasion and increase in smuggling that happen when new tax schedules are not optimal. Instead of improving government revenues, the “deadweight loss” arising from an unwise tax measure could in fact result in reduced revenues.

Diokno served as Budget Secretary during the Estrada administration and Budget Undersecretary during the Cory administration. To demonstrate his point, he cites the decision of the Cory administration to lower tariff rates. The measure discouraged smuggling and actually improved revenues for government because they were more optimal.

The proposed 700% hike in excise taxes on “sin” products could have the reverse effect. It could encourage tax avoidance, lower consumer demand and rampant smuggling that government ends up with less revenues instead of more.

Under questioning from senators during hearings on the proposed hike in excise taxes on “sin” products, our finance authorities could not produce evidence that they have done enough due diligence on the economic repercussions of the measure. Both Sen. Ralph Recto (an economist) and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile (a former finance executive) consider the proposed excise schedule as based largely on fantasy.

It appears from the testimonies given that our finance authorities studied options that would raise revenues from between P31.2 billion to P60 billion. Rather arbitrarily, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima insisted on a tax hike that will theoretically raise revenues by P60 billion.

It was an option taken without doing the economic studies on optimal taxation rates. Without such studies, there is really no basis for saying the excise tax hike will improve public revenues.

No one really objects to increasing excise tax rates to improve revenues. The real debate is whether the optimality of the proposed taxes was studied enough to assure that revenues will indeed improve and the market conserved.

Sam Miguel
09-06-2012, 10:15 AM
POSTSCRIPT

By Federico D. Pascual Jr.

(The Philippine Star)

Updated September 06, 2012 12:00 AM

SC MEMBERS: President Noynoy Aquino has appointed Ma. Lourdes P. A. Sereno as Chief Justice. But it is still valid to ask if the correct procedure is for the members of the Supreme Court to elect their own Chief from among themselves.

The thought-provoking point is raised by Alan F. Paguia, Constitutional Law professor at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila and Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee Professorial Chair in Constitutional Law and Human Rights at the Ateneo Law School.

Paguia starts by asking: “Does the phrase ‘Members of the SC’ necessarily include the Chief Justice?” His answer is No.

* * *

AMONG EQUALS: This is Paguia’s line of reasoning, quoted directly but edited to fit space:

“While it is true that the Chief Justice is necessarily a Member of the Court, it is equally true that a Member of the Court is not necessarily the Chief Justice.

“The appointing power of the President vis-à-vis the Supreme Court is categorically LIMITED to the MEMBERS.

“There are 15 MEMBERS who may sit altogether en banc or in divisions of 3, 5, or 7 members. One of the 15 is designated as Chief Justice and the rest are designated as Associate Justices.

“The Chief, as leader, is not necessarily superior to the Associates. Such leadership is dictated by the logical requirements of administrative order and convenience in collegial bodies. Thus, he is known as primus inter pares, or first among equals.

“When a MEMBER — whether Chief or Associate Justice — dies, retires, resigns, is permanently incapacitated, or is removed by conviction in a valid impeachment proceeding, a vacancy arises in the 15-MEMBER Court.”

* * *

RULE NOT CLEAR: “The Constitution says that the ‘Members of the Supreme Court (and judges of lower courts) shall be appointed by the President.’

“When Chief Justice Renato C. Corona was removed through impeachment proceedings, he vacated two positions – as (a) Member, and as (b) Chief Justice.

“With respect to the vacancy pertaining to the position of Member, it is clear that the same shall be filled by the appointee of the President. (Sec. 9, ART. VIII)

“With respect to the vacancy pertaining to the position of Chief Justice, it is NOT CLEAR whether the same shall be filled by the appointee of the President. The Constitution is silent as to how such vacancy shall be filled.

“The rule is: Where the law is not clear, it must be construed and applied accordingly.”

* * *

INDEPENDENCE: “Considering that the position of Chief Justice refers to the leadership of a co-equal branch of the tripartite system of government, it follows that a reasonable construction must observe the principle of separation of powers among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

“Their institutional independence with respect to one another must be maintained to keep the principle of checks and balance alive and effective.

“Observe how the Constitution determines the leadership of the two Houses of Congress – the Senate and the House of Representatives. The first has the Senate President; the second has the Speaker of the House.

“These two leaders are: (a) not appointees of the Chief Executive; (b) elected by their colleagues from among themselves; (c) chosen to strengthen their respective institutional independence.

“It would not seem reasonable to have the leadership of the Supreme Court determined differently.

“The logic of the Constitution would appear to indicate that the Chief Justice must: (a) not be an appointee of the President; (b) be elected by the 15 Magistrates from among themselves; (c) be chosen to strengthen the High Court’s institutional independence; (d) not be subject to any sense of political debt of gratitude.”

* * *

CONSISTENCY: “May tradition be properly invoked to justify the presidential, albeit unconstitutional, practice of appointing the Chief Justice?

“NO. The Constitution and the laws are repealed only by subsequent ones, and their violation or non-observance shall not be excused by disuse, or custom or practice to the contrary. (Art. 7, Civil Code)

“Even the Magistrates of the Supreme Court seem inclined to take the view that the Chief Justice ought to be elected from among themselves.

“If they truly believe it is the President who has the authority to appoint the Chief Justice, they should have — to be consistent — asked the President to appoint the Acting Chief Justice to fill up in the meantime the vacancy created by the removal of Chief Justice Corona.

“They did not. Instead, they elected from among themselves Associate Justice Antonio Carpio as such Acting Chief Justice. And President Aquino did not object.

“Conclusion: President Aquino’s appointment of Chief Justice Sereno appears shadowed by a dark constitutional cloud of doubt as to its validity.”

* * *

LGU MATTERS: President Aquino needs as secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government somebody long immersed in the dynamics of local governance, not someone going out to round up provincial politicians into the administration party’s national network.

But the President has already nominated Liberal Party President Mar Roxas as DILG secretary and, it seems, that’s it.

The DILG needs somebody in the mold of multi-awarded San Fernando City Mayor Oscar Samson Rodriguez, president of the League of Cities of the Philippines, and acting president of the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines that has as members the federation of local elective officials and the league of local government units (governors, vice governors, municipal mayors, city mayors, vice mayors, councilors, barangay officials and Sangguniang Kabataan leaders).

Sam Miguel
09-06-2012, 10:25 AM
^^^ The mind-bending silliness of Alan Paguia continues unabated. It seems the older Prof Paguia gets the loonier he becomes. Specializing in statutory construction all these decades must be taking a toll on him.

Going through his step-by-step arguments above and then reachig the conclusion that he did only makes him sound like a mad man. "Shadowed by a dark constitutional cloud of doubt"...

Really, Alan?

Ever heard of "presumption of regularity"?

Joescoundrel
10-11-2012, 09:18 AM
‘Hour Before Dawn’

By Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:26 pm | Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Marites Danguilan Vitug is Philippine journalism’s most prolific book writer today. Her oeuvres aren’t easy to write and aren’t easy on the heart, mind and conscience. She excavates, names and damns, not for her personal delight, but in order to bring to the surface long hidden ills of society and in the government, for these to be exposed to the light that kills harmful microorganisms.

Vitug’s latest opus is “Hour Before Dawn: The Fall and Uncertain Rise of the Philippine Supreme Court” (Cleverheads Publishing, 2012). It is a natural sequel to her “Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court.” And more importantly, it comes in the wake of the first quasijudicial drama involving a long-revered government institution—the impeachment trial of a chief justice that played out live nationwide via broadcast media.

The book’s back cover blurb says it best: “‘Hour Before Dawn’ takes the reader to what might have been the darkest hour of the Philippine Supreme Court, when its integrity was compromised by the actions of its Chief Justice, who was subsequently impeached, and by a series of highly irregular reversals of its own rulings.

“It reveals a Court seemingly subject to political pressure, disbursing funds for questionable purposes, and abetting plagiarism by one of its own members, and yet placing itself beyond criticism even by the country’s top lawyers and academics. It chronicles the most open and contentious clash between the executive department and the Court.”

But Vitug weaves in redeeming facets and redemptive acts that give hope that the damaged institution could rise again, albeit “uncertain”-ly.

For “the book is also a record of how a staunchly independent minority within the Court stood up for what was right, giving hope for the rebirth and reorientation of one of the country’s most vital institutions.”

Vitug begins by writing about her own “run-in” with the Supreme Court. For writing about a member of the high court in an unflattering manner, Vitug was slapped with libel suits that ran in court for two years and then were surprisingly dropped by an apologetic justice-complainant.

Vitug describes “Hour Before Dawn” as a work of narrative nonfiction. It takes off from the controversial “midnight” appointment of Renato C. Corona as chief justice, proceeds through rocky ground, to the edge of the cliff and into the precipice. She tackles the lowest points—“the unprecedented flip-flops, a plagiarized decision that caught the attention of the international legal community, ethical breaches by the leader of the highest court in the land, judicial overreach in stopping Congress on its impeachment tracks—and the most open and contentious clash between the executive and the judiciary.”

Indeed, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. The book is not about to scramble the egg; it picks up the broken pieces and beams a sharp “journalist’s searchlight” on them, on this flawed, if not broken, institution, and keeps it in the public eye. “With the hope,” Vitug writes, “that the Justices and the rest of the judiciary take accountability seriously. Already, the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona, the first in the country, has taught public officials lasting lessons in accountability.”

The book is divided into 20 chapters under six parts: The Rush to Become Chief Justice, The Partners, In Plagiarism’s Dark Shadow, The Great Reversals, The Clash and Impeached, Convicted.

Vitug devotes many pages to the rise of the Corona couple, Renato and Cristina, during Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidency—he in the judiciary and she in the John Hay Management Corp., a government agency. Vitug also narrates the backroom goings-on related to “midnight” appointments, especially Corona’s.

In Chapter 5 (The Wind Beneath Her Wings), Vitug begins with: “Cristina’s winning streak, spanning more than a decade, coincided with her husband’s rise to power. Her string of crucial legal victories versus her uncles and aunts to her controlling their family corporation, wresting from the elders ownership of Basa Guidote Enterprises Inc, (BGEI), a company that had seen its glory days.”

A hard-nosed journalist, Vitug sniffs into hidden closets and under tables. She seeks out persons with first-hand knowledge and the goods. And so “Hour Before Dawn” is an entertaining read because Vitug tells the stories the way they should be—with human voices, human faces, settings, ambiance, juicy quotes and all. Plus, of course, the hard stuff—evidence, facts and figures, historical backgrounds, analyses and perspective. The book also displays scholarly sheen and flourish. It provides a wealth of references that shows the backbreaking spadework the author had done. Plus a Q and A with President Aquino. (For copies, contact cleverheadsmedia@gmail.com or 3468683.)

The multiawarded Vitug is one of the Philippines’ most accomplished and respected investigative journalists. Her five books are proof of her talent and commitment. She has written for international publications, Newsweek among them. A Nieman Fellow and Asian Public Intellectual, Vitug was editor of Newsbreak and is now editor at large of news online Rappler and president of the Journalism for Nation Building Foundation.

I’ve known Vitug for decades, since her Business Day days. We are part of a barkada of women writers—martial law survivors all—who take their calling very seriously and who meet to do extraordinary things. Like rehearsing for a singing gig at an artsy beer house that got filled to the rafters because many wanted to see us make fools of ourselves. We landed in several papers.

I have the evidence, Marites. I have kept the clippings and the sound track.

Sam Miguel
12-11-2012, 11:01 AM
Pangilinan says Corona chums making things hard for Sereno

By Gil Cabacungan

Philippine Daily Inquirer

5:00 am | Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Senator Francis Pangilinan on Monday said magistrates associated with impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona were blocking the reforms being implemented by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno in the judiciary.

Pangilinan said this was evidenced by the strong opposition to Sereno’s move creating a regional office in Cebu City in a bid to decentralize the judiciary.

Although he did not name anyone, Pangilinan said he was referring to “those who were associated with him (Corona) and have continued to resist reforms.”

“We support Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno’s efforts at decentralization, which I believe is the issue behind the latest controversy regarding Administrative Order No. 175-2012, or the reopening of the Regional Court Administration Office (RCAO) in Cebu City in Region VII,” said Pangilinan on the eve of the Supreme Court en banc meeting where Sereno is expected to finally face her fellow justices who had questioned the RCAO project which was not approved by the high court en banc.

The RCAO project, funded by the Asian Development Bank, underwent pilot testing in 2006 but failed, prompting the high court to scrap it during the transition period between Chief Justices Reynato Puno and Corona.

Sereno, however, revived the project “on her own” and issued the AO establishing the RCAO in Cebu City even if the procedure stipulates that this should be approved by the high court en banc, a source said.

Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro has written a letter to Sereno demanding a recall of her order because this was contrary to the results of the Nov. 27 en banc meeting where several justices opposed the move.

De Castro insisted that only the high court en banc and the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) could rule on the reopening of the Cebu office. The OCA is headed by Midas Marquez who served as Corona’s spokesperson.

De Castro was among the magistrates who have been cool to Sereno, who include Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Arturo Brion, Presbitero Velasco and Martin Villarama Jr. they have shown their displeasure at her appointment by snubbing the SC flag ceremony several times.

Welfare and benefits

In reviving the RCAO project, Sereno said RCAO Cebu would be for the welfare and benefit of judges in the Visayas who could now file leave applications and other benefits and process them there without having to go to the OCA office in Manila.

Sereno had also enumerated on the merits and desirability of having an RCAO in Cebu instead of having a centralized office.

Pangilinan agreed with Sereno, saying decentralization was the key to speeding up the resolution of court cases as mandated by the Constitution. “The concentration of powers in the national office has adversely affected the efficiency of our courts,” he said.

But Sereno’s fellow justices objected to the Chief Justice’s move to revive the RCAO, saying this should have been approved by the high court en banc and were about to question her decision in last week’s en banc session.

But Sereno called in sick and skipped the session, thus, averting a confrontation with her colleagues. She, however, attended the roundtable discussions of Asean chief justices on environmental law and enforcement in Malaysia.

Creation of regional courts

According to Pangilinan, Sereno’s move to decentralize the justice system was in keeping with the reforms initiated by former Chief Justices Hilario Davide Jr. and Puno who had also pushed for the creation of more regional courts to speed up the resolution of pending cases.

“It was former Chief Justice Renato Corona who suspended the decentralization of courts during his term. I cannot help but ask if this controversy stems from the OCA refusing to give up the powers it had enjoyed under former Chief Justice Renato Corona. Why was it right then and wrong now?” said Pangilinan.

Pangilinan said the high court’s operations had become too centralized that “even the purchase of certain supplies and materials for the regional trial courts all throughout the country needed approval in Manila.”

Sam Miguel
12-12-2012, 10:16 AM
SC row: Justices revoke Sereno order

By Christine O. Avendaño

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:09 am | Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Supreme Court justices on Tuesday confronted Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno on her order to reopen a regional constitutional administrative office (RCAO) without their consent but agreed to create a committee that would study the move intended to decentralize supervision over lower courts.

A court insider told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the resolution creating the committee to be led by Associate Justice Jose Portugal Perez would “supersede” Sereno’s controversial order.

“By making this resolution, everything will be put on hold,” the source said, referring specifically to Sereno’s appointment of Geraldine Faith Econg, the court’s head of the program management office, as head of RCAO-7 in Cebu City.

The source said that Econg would be named member of the committee.

Tuesday’s en banc session was the last for the Supreme Court before it goes on its Christmas break beginning today until Jan. 9.

Sereno got the ire of the justices when she issued Administrative Order No. 175-2012 on Nov. 27 that created the Judicial Decentralization Office and reopened the post of RCAO-7 Associate Justice without getting the approval of the Supreme Court en banc.

She appointed Econg to head RCAO-7 and had gone to Cebu City on Nov. 29 for the reopening of the office.

No consensus

On Dec. 3, Associate Justice Teresita de Castro wrote Sereno and the justices asking the Chief Justice to recall or amend her order because it “did not reflect the court’s deliberations and the consensus of the justices opposing the reopening of RCAO-7” in its en banc session on Nov. 27.

Among other things, De Castro said Sereno’s order usurped the justices’ duty to administer all the courts and their personnel, and also undermined the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA).

The court’s public information office issued a statement on yesterday’s en banc meeting, but was silent on what happened to Sereno’s order.

It stated that Sereno presided over the en banc session and that she included in the agenda “the decentralization of the Court’s administrative functions with respect to the lower courts, in order to include all inputs.”

“The members of the Court are of one mind on the merits of decentralization, and have agreed on measures to ensure its effective and deliberate implementation, including the creation of a committee headed by Associate Justice Jose Portugal Perez to conduct a needs assessment of decentralization,” the statement said.

Asked what happened to Sereno’s order, court spokesperson Gleo Guerra told the Inquirer “to just go by what is stated in the resolution” that was yet to be released.

Resolution supersedes order

The Inquirer source said the en banc had agreed that the resolution would include a statement that it “supersedes all previous resolutions,” referring to Sereno’s order.

“The compromise was not to make it appear they are revoking the resolution,” said the Inquirer source, who requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak on the subject.

But the source said the implication of the new resolution was that Sereno’s order had been set aside temporarily because of Econg’s designation as a member of the study committee.

The source also made it clear that the merits of decentralization was not the issue here because all justices, even before the ouster of Chief Justice Renato Corona, agreed on the idea.

“The justices just opposed the manner by which the Chief Justice appointed a person to a technically nonexistent office,” the source said. “The Chief Justice circumvented the procedure.”

The source said that the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos had issued a presidential decree that allowed the Chief Justice to create subunits of the OCA and later another presidential decree authorized the en banc to create these subunits.

During the discussions, Sereno’s backers defended the order, saying the court had created the RCAO when it previously made a pilot test in Cebu City.

On the other hand, De Castro had been insistent on the revocation of the Sereno order, the source said.

Call for unity

In her Christmas message to court employees during an interfaith service on Monday Sereno said she was fervently praying for “true unity, not only this Christmas, but also in the coming years.”

“Everything I do is based on the belief that all of us will have to render an accounting of what we have done in this life. My responsibility is to be your servant leader. I will do what I need to do in order to serve,” she said.

But the same source said the justices were surprised when Sereno ordered a stop to the Christmas fair that was being held in the court grounds while the interfaith service was going on.

Even before she was appointed the new Chief Justice, Sereno had not been popular with her colleagues. She had earned their ire when she revealed internal deliberations in the high court in her dissenting opinions to issues like the issuance of an order allowing former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to leave the country for medical treatment.

Her assumption to the top post in the Supreme Court, which Sereno will hold for 18 years, also did not earn any admiration from her colleagues because she bypassed many of them who are more senior.

Sam Miguel
12-12-2012, 10:17 AM
House of Coronas: SALNs still secret

12:08 am | Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

A year after Chief Justice Renato Corona was ousted for not being forthright in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, members of the House of Representatives still reject requests to release their SALNs.

Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., lead prosecutor in the impeachment trial of Corona, said that since the SALN played a central role in the House move to impeach Corona, the chamber should be “role models for public officers” and be more forthcoming with their SALNs.

“I think the House should really make the SALNs available because of that impeachment,” Tupas told reporters.

Tupas said he already released his own SALN shortly after Corona’s conviction in May. The spokespersons of the House prosecution team and militant lawmakers also voluntarily released their SALNs.

“If we prosecuted Corona and we pinned him down based on that single article, SALN, I think it is just proper for the (House) leadership to make the SALN easily accessible to the people,” he added.

Guidelines not final

The House earlier formed a committee to draft the rules for the release of SALNs, but these guidelines have yet to be finalized.

The draft has been referred to the rules rewriting committee before it is approved, according to House leaders.

At present, the release of SALNs is left to individual lawmakers.

The House secretary general releases the net worth of House members every year, ranking them from the richest to the “poorest,” but the list does not contain the details of the legislators’ assets and liabilities.

Tupas said the elections in May 2013 were no excuse for lawmakers to withhold the release of their SALNs.

Political excuse

Other officials are reluctant to release the documents, saying their political opponents might use the data to concoct stories against them.

“We know election time is highly emotional. Of course, during elections, everybody’s looking for a flaw , but for me that’s not enough reason,” he said.

Tupas said the only time he did not want to release his SALN was at the height of the impeachment trial, because doing so would have muddled the issue by turning the attention to the prosecutors instead of to the one on the stand.

The House swiftly impeached Corona on Dec. 12, 2011, getting 188 lawmakers to sign the complaint against him. This did away with the need for plenary debates on the impeachment complaint, since the support of only one-third of the 285 members is necessary to go to trial.

After a five-month trial, Corona was found guilty for betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution, stemming from his failure to declare assets and bank accounts in his SALN.

Tupas said the reforms stemming from Corona’s impeachment covered all branches of government.

“We can slowly feel the reforms not only in the judiciary but also in the entire bureaucracy. To me that’s a game changer in the campaign for reforms of the Aquino administration,” he said.

[I]Some problems

But Tupas also acknowledged that a complete overhaul of the system would not take place overnight.

“It’s not because we had this impeachment, and everything will just change. Because as we know, there’s still some problems even in the judiciary. Transparency is still a problem. But in terms of accountability, slowly there are changes,” he said

For instance, he said, members of the judiciary were more aware that they could be held to answer for their actions through the process of impeachment.

Tupas noted that the selection process for Corona’s replacement had been very transparent, with the interviews conducted publicly. This has to be preserved, he said.

Sam Miguel
12-12-2012, 12:03 PM
Corona impeached a year ago; where are solons' SALNS?

by Carmela Fonbuena

Posted on 12/11/2012 11:59 PM | Updated 12/12/2012 10:24 AM

HISTORIC. In this file photo, members of the House of Representatives show their impeachment complaint against then Chief Justice Renato Corona.

MANILA, Philippines - It's exactly a year ago today since the House of Representatives impeached former Chief Justice Renato Corona on December 12, 2011.

A total of 188 solons signed the impeachment complaint that launched what would turn out to be a 4-month highly charged impeachment trial that resulted in the historic removal of a chief justice from office.

The Senate impeachment court convicted Corona for failing to accurately declare his assets in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN).

Lead prosecutor Iloilo Rep Niel Tupas Jr, who suffered several episodes of tounge-lashing from senator jurors during the trial, said he remembers the trial as a "painful experience." (READ: The prosecution's original sin)

"The impeachment was just a job that we had to do. It was a difficult mission that we accomplished…. It was a very challenging and painful experience, not just for the Filipino people, but for the members of the House," Tupas told reporters.

Reforms?

But Tupas said he is proud of his role in the trial because the impeachment trial resulted in reforms.

"We can slowly feel the reforms, not only in the judiciary but in the entire bureaucracy. It's a game changer in the campaign for reforms by the Aquino administration," he said. "Even the highest official of the land can be held accountable."

Tupas said there's more transparency in the judiciary now. He cited the decision of the Supreme Court justices to release their own SALNs. It was during the trial that the SALN of a member Supreme Court (SC) was released to the public for the first time since a memo in the 1980s.

Is Tupas happy with the replacement of Corona, new Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno?

Tupas replied: "It is too soon to judge the new chief justice, but in terms of the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF), in terms of the budget, and based on my conversations with her -- she's doing a better job in terms of transparency in the budget," Tupas said.

The irony of the House

Ironically, the same transparency cannot be said about the House of Representatives.

One year since the House members impeachmed Corona, it remains difficult to access the SALNs of House members.

Under its current policy, the Office of the Seretary General cannot release SALNs without the consent of the individual solons. What the House does is it releases a summary of the members' SALNs.

Pressured because of the impeachment trial, Speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte Jr. created a committee that will review House guidelines in releasing SALNs. So far, nothing has come out of it. (READ: House creates committee to study release of SALNs)

Tupas supports calls to make the SALNS easily available.

"The House should really make the SALNs available because of the impeachment. The House [members] should be a role model for public officers," said Tupas. (Solons who disclosed their 2011 SALN)

"If we prosecuted Corona and we pinned him down based on that single article on the SALN, I think it is just proper for the leadership to make the SALN easily accessible to the people," said Tupas.

A number of the prosecutors have yet to release their SALNs.

Tupas himself has not given the media a copy of his own SALN although he has renewed his commitment to release them. - Rappler.com

Sam Miguel
12-26-2012, 09:49 AM
Supreme Court needs to decentralize

by Marites Dañguilan Vitug

Posted on 12/16/2012 1:51 PM | Updated 12/16/2012 1:51 PM

Can you imagine this? A judge in Aparri sending off a request to Manila, by snail mail, for reams of legal-size paper, staple wires, folders and ballpens. Or a clerk of court in Tawi-Tawi asking permission from Padre Faura, via registered mail, to travel to Malaysia during her leave.

It also works the other way around. Some lower courts in the provinces used to complain of delayed payments for electric bills that—hold your breath—came from Manila. They had to work literally in the dark until their checks arrived, by mail.

Welcome to the Philippine judiciary.

Whenever I learn of stories such as this, I pinch myself in disbelief. We’re in the 21st century yet this still happens. E-mail has been around for years, many government agencies have decentralized, and ATM machines are available in most parts of the country.

Yet the judiciary bucks the trend and continues to concentrate power in Manila. This means tedious administrative work for the chief justice who spends a lot of time signing voluminous papers, ending up as the decider of minutiae.

This also means control, which is a source of power, for Manila functionaries. They have control over the bureaucracy at the expense of efficiency.

Many in the Supreme Court, including past Chief Justices Reynato Puno and Renato Corona, resisted decentralizing some of its functions. This old mindset hobbled a pilot project in Cebu, the Regional Court Administrator’s Office or RCAO, which eventually ceased to function.

If the Court decentralized, the office that would have lost its clout was that of the court administrator, Midas Marquez, who happened to be a fair-haired boy of Puno and Corona. The OCA supervises more than 2,000 judges all over the country and thousands of personnel. Take Visayas and Mindanao away from the OCA and that will leave Marquez with a much smaller fiefdom.

As we’ve seen, politics and patronage got in the way of a larger good.

Resistance

The new chief justice, Ma. Lourdes Sereno, understands the need to reform the organization and loosen the tightly centralized structure. But it’s going to be an uphill climb.

Apart from the resistance coming from those protective of their turfs and those with a stodgy bureaucratic mindset is the resistance to her leadership. It’s not a surprise that many of the justices do not welcome her appointment. After all, this is the first time in more than a century of the hierarchical Court that a junior member was named chief justice.

That’s a double barrier for Sereno. But instead of rallying collegial support for decentralization, she unilaterally issued a resolution on November 27 to reopen the RCAO in Region 7. This was not shown to the justices. The practice is to circulate a draft of the resolution before finalizing it, especially if there are contentious issues. It did not reflect what most of the justices wanted, as they had discussed in an earlier meeting.

It is unclear why Sereno did not circulate a draft of the resolution. Or perhaps she was confident it would slide through.

Everyone appeared to be for some kind of decentralization but they were not on the same page. The question was: what functions should be decentralized and how?

Justice de Castro may have been the wrong messenger—her sympathies are with the Arroyo regime—but she got the message right. “The Resolution does not reflect the Court’s deliberation and the consensus of the Justices opposing the reopening of RCAO-7…,” she wrote in a memorandum to the chief justice. She wanted the resolution recalled.

Sereno was as vocal as De Castro when she was new in the Court. Similarly, she questioned Corona’s unilateral actions.

Storm

When the media reported the gathering storm in the en banc, Sereno met with some of her colleagues—Justices Arturo Brion, Jose Mendoza, and de Castro—who reportedly said that they want to revive the RCAO the proper way.

Sereno called in sick on the Tuesday that the Court was to take up, among others, the request of De Castro. In her absence, the en banc agreed to suspend the implementation of the resolution.

The issue was finally resolved during the December 11 en banc meeting presided by Chief Justice Sereno. One justice made a blurry suggestion to revive the RCAO and, simultaneously, conduct a study of what to decentralize. De Castro replied that, before anything else, the resolution should be recalled.

Another justice then proposed a compromise to beak the looming impasse—to form a committee to study what facets of the Court’s operations can be decentralized. Meantime, the RCAO operations had to be put on hold. This got a unanimous vote.

The compromise allowed Sereno a way out of her unilateral order. At the same time, it brought everyone on board to focus on what can be reasonably decentralized.

Build constituency

Anyone who has worked in the Court or observed it closely knows that things don’t change there overnight. It can be frustrating and infuriating. But leaders are supposed to be beyond this, guided by the nobility of their goals.

As New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg said, “Leadership is about doing what is right and then building a constituency behind it.” He explained: "What a leader should do is make decisions as to what they think is in the public interest based on the best advice that they can get and then try to build a constituency and bring it along." - Rappler.com

Sam Miguel
12-26-2012, 09:58 AM
Incoming SC spokesman on the Court’s dignified silence

by Theodore O. Te

Posted on 12/19/2012 6:06 PM | Updated 12/19/2012 6:35 PM

“The prophet and the martyr do not see the hooting throng. Their eyes are fixed on the eternities.” – Benjamin Cardozo

When Chief Justice Maria Lourdes A.P. Sereno announced, at her appointment as Chief Magistrate, that the Court must return to the “dignified days of silence…(where) its justices are heard, read through its decisions,” many expressed curiosity at what the phrase, which would soon become perspective and principle, meant. Without saying it, she may have actually had Cardozo’s famous turn of phrase in mind—where Cardozo hints at the relationship between the public’s opinion and the judge’s duty in deciding cases.

The principle that the Court must be heard or seen less than it is read is not new; it is certainly not exclusive to Chief Justice Sereno. It traces its roots back to a time when no one could put a face to the Court and where it spoke only through its promulgated decisions.

Thus, the link between the Court, which spoke through its decisions, and legal academia, which contextualized the Court’s words for its publics, became necessary. Further, the mainstreaming of public legal commentary became inevitable because the obtuseness of law and its processes kept its publics more than an arm’s length away preventing greater understanding of just exactly what the law meant—on its face or in the words of the Court.

Clearly, there is a need to understand what the Court means in its written decisions. There is also, however, a clear need to ensure that the Court’s words are shielded from the high possibility of misinterpretation and that the Court itself is insulated from any undue pressure or influence when it decides cases.

A balance needs to be maintained through a policy of dignified silence that ensures the Court's insulation from undue pressure exerted by a loud and opinionated public yet guarantees that information falls within the domain of the public’s right to know.

The return to a principle of dignified silence signals the start of a conversation that implicates questions that touch on the relationship between the public’s right to know specific information and the Court’s duty to be impartial and independent in its decision-making.

It is a conversation that is vital and meaningful to reform and change, especially for an institution that values privacy, obscurity and secrecy but is forced to thrive in a wireless age where borders are increasingly porous and the tweet is mightier—and certainly faster—than the pen.

It is a conversation that needs to be had for a clear understanding of specific roles that the Court’s various publics play in helping the Court fulfill its duty to act fairly and always justly. There are many open and substantive questions about the space and the pace that social media and information and communication technology play in the Court’s duty of deciding disputes, administering justice and communicating with its various publics. It is a conversation that is both timely and interesting.

Meaning of 'dignified silence'

I do not understand the principle of dignified silence to mean that the Court will remain absolutely silent and that no information will be forthcoming from it.

I understand it to mean that the Court’s decisions are to be reported as they are—a complete act in itself rendered by one Court, whether acting en banc or in division—without parsing, interpretation or speculation.

Each word in every decision is intended to mean something and that meaning should be clear on the face of the decision. The dignified silence refers to the silence of the Court on everything that does not appear on the face of the decision, and not on other matters that the public has a right to know, as defined under the Constitution and relevant laws as well as guidelines issued by the Court, or that the Court may choose to disclose.

Certainly, transparency and access to information that the Court characterizes as public are not incompatible with the duty of the Court to be able to decide fairly and freely, detached and insulated from the burdens imposed by loud public opinion.

It is a principle that imposes a burden not on the Court’s publics but on the Court itself. It is, after all, an extremely high standard—to have its decisions read and understood without the benefit of color commentary or analysis by any member of the Court. It is, however, a burden that the Court, through many years of its history, has always taken on.

The reminder of the Chief Justice to return to those days of dignified silence is simply an aspiration and perhaps a fervent hope that its members, whom Cardozo characterizes as “prophet and martyr,” may always rule free from the noise of the hooting throng, with their eyes fixed not only on today but also for “eternities.” - Rappler.com

(POSTCRIPT: This will be my last entry for this blog because I will soon take part actively in the conversation between the Court and its publics on dignified silence, access to public information, and the balance between the Court’s duties and the public’s right to know as the Head of the Court’s Public Information Office (PIO) and as the Court’s Spokesperson. While my opinions, as expressed on this blog, will not translate into Court decisions as my role does not require me to adjudicate, they will, however, factor into any public comment that may have to be made on the Court’s actions, which my role does require of me. For this reason, I have chosen to withdraw from public legal commentary, which is the primary reason for my blog entries on this page.

The experience of writing for “Thought Leaders” has been instructive and enjoyable. My gratitude goes out to the leadership of Rappler -- particularly Maria Ressa, Marites Danguilan-Vitug and Glenda Gloria -- who started me out on this amazing journey many years ago by asking me to write occasionally for the printed page of Newsbreak and later, more regularly, for the online pages of Rappler. I retire my participation in this blog with the knowledge that the thoughts that I have expressed on this page have contributed to public debate and have challenged many people to ask, form an opinion, challenge other and perhaps one’s own opinion, and fight for those opinions and the right to hold those opinions.)

Joescoundrel
12-28-2012, 11:04 AM
To make or break

By Jose Ma. Montelibano

INQUIRER.net

8:46 pm | Thursday, December 27th, 2012

There are two star performers for 2012. They are President Benigno Aquino III and the Filipino as a people. The combination or relationship of the two carried over a momentum that began in 2011 when the government blocked the attempted, post-haste exit of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. By coincidence or synchronicity, a major shift began with that process. It was a rite of passage for both P-Noy and justice. Political will stood out, head over shoulders, and put to rest forever–except in the eyes of those totally blinded by hate, prejudice or commercial politics–the doubt whether P-Noy recognizes his legacy, his destiny, and has the strength of character to match these.

Clearing the way for the exit of Gloria was then Chief Justice Renato Corona and the power he wielded in the Supreme Court. But a President, supported bravely by his Justice Secretary, prevented an airport departure that the Supreme Court had tried to facilitate. Instead of wilting before a seeming legal orchestration that involved the highest Tribunal of the land, P-Noy stood his ground and kept Gloria Arroyo from leaving. Taking off from the determined posture of the President, the leadership of Congress boldly initiated the impeachment of Corona.

From the onset of that political drama, with Gloria prevented from leaving and then being detained on charges of election fraud and plunder, with the impeachment by Congress of CJ Corona, the Filipino people overwhelmingly supported the moves of the Aquino administration. From the first survey onwards, from 2011 to the final conviction by the Senate of Corona, the Filipino people kept giving their stamp of approval to the government – consistently at positive 70 – 80 percent level.

Almost lost in the dynamics of a political and legal controversy was an optimism that was born, a hopeful perspective that reform was not only being attempted but could actually succeed. It seemed driven by a fatalistic stubbornness of a President who gambled his political capital in a move that was his own, a decision to push for the removal by impeachment of a Chief Justice that his official family was quietly not in favor of. One decision was all it took for the economic prospects of the country to suddenly find favor from the global financial community. By the 3rd quarter of 2011, the ratings of the Philippines, actual and prospective, took a sudden and strong turn for the better.

2011 ended with Gloria Arroyo in detention, CJ Corona impeached by Congress but defiant and sure of being cleared by the Senate, and the deadly Typhoon Sendong dropping tons of rain in Mindanao that caused horrible landslides and floods. It would seem on the surface that the Aquino administration was in crisis, that the Filipino people were in crisis. What was not as obvious was that the tide had turned, that the President, the government and the people were not going into crisis but out of it. Yes, the destruction caused by Sendong was massive, the response of government was massive, too. More than that, the response of the Filipino people, local and abroad, was inspiring in generosity and provided moral support to the desperation of the typhoon victims.

2012 moved in so quickly, so intensely, because of Sendong and the impeachment trial of CJ Corona. Government tried its best to contain the sense of helplessness and hopelessness of the typhoon-hit areas, mainly the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro. Donations poured in and volunteers brought not just relief goods but a sense of solidarity. In the calamity, Filipinos again banded together in spirit and work. And private companies like San Miguel Corporation, SM, BDO, Shell and Berjaya delivered instant promises like government to break the atmosphere of despair. By most accounts, these companies delivered their promises even where some government agencies and LGUs may not have delivered as well.

Renato Corona did not get away with it, not with his unexplained wealth, not with his favoring the President who gave him his midnight appointment. The Senate affirmed his impeachment and removed him from office.

Gloria Arroyo did not get away with it. She is still unable to leave the country and in detention.

The positive financial ratings and economic prospects did, indeed, come true and continue their momentum, driving the economy of the Philippines to perform outstandingly, the only country in the world that not only hit its target but surpassed it. A Filipino reached sainthood in Pedro Calungsod, and another Filipino bishop, Luis Antonio Tagle, was consecrated a Cardinal by the Pope. The controversial RH Bill was passed. The Sin Tax was signed into law.

Against all the achievements, though, another and a more destructive typhoon, Pablo, struck several provinces in Mindanao, the most unlikely and the never-hit-by-typhoon areas like Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental. It was Sendong all over again in terms of destruction, and will cause more deaths once the hundreds still missing will be declared dead. But, as a year ago, the outpouring of sympathy and support has been inspiring. Even as I write this, volunteers continue their relief work.

Then, we have China and the Scarborough Shoal issue. It is a delicate one, one where too many personalities and commentaries have only worsened the situation. I would not like to speculate at this time where this is going except to say solidarity among Filipinos can show China that diplomacy is a better option than bullying.

2013 is just around the corner. It is riding on the achievements and challenges of 2012 and will prove to be more interesting, especially with elections this coming May. There is that powerful momentum that reform has generated; we should not lose it. There, too, is a pattern of death and destruction in natural calamities; we should break it.

Never in our remembered history have we gone so close to achieving a societal renewal as today. We are a free people, but heavily constrained by a historical poverty and a level of hunger that we have not given much collective caring and effort to dismantle.

Tomorrow is ours to make or break.

Happy New Year!

Sam Miguel
02-05-2013, 10:41 AM
SC asset check: Justices spared

By Edu Punay

(The Philippine Star) | Updated February 5, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court (SC) has formed a body that will look into the assets of its employees, but the justices led by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno spared themselves from such scrutiny.

In a four-page resolution, the high court ordered the creation of a review and compliance committee tasked to evaluate the statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) of its employees and those of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.

“The main task of the (committee) is to evaluate the SALN forms submitted by the employees, to determine whether it was submitted on time, accomplished completely, and in proper form,” read the order signed by SC Clerk of Court Enriqueta Vidal.

Vidal was designated as chair of the committee with lawyers Eden Candelaria and Caridad Pabello as members.

The SC explained that the creation of the group is pursuant to Rule VIII of the Rules Implementing the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, as amended by Civil

Service Commission (CSC) Resolution No. 06-031 dated Feb. 1, 2006.

It was the first time the high tribunal created such a committee. Since the rule was created, the Personnel Division of the Office of the Administrative Services (OAS) has been in charge of gathering all SALNs of employees for submission to the CSC.

The move came a year after the impeachment trial of former chief justice Renato Corona before the Senate.

When Corona was ousted, critics of the high court had expected transparency in the assets of SC justices.

In June last year, the SC issued a seven-point guideline on the release of the SALNs of justices and judges.

Under the rules, approval of the SC sitting in full court and justification for the release of the SALNs from requesting parties are necessary before justices' SALNs can be made public.

This means the release of the SALNs of justices remains discretionary on their part.

Critics, including the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, lamented that these requirements defeated the purpose of their call for transparency.

They asked the high tribunal to revise the new rules, but the justices have not acted on this yet.

Sam Miguel
02-11-2013, 09:29 AM
Arroyo’s fight for release on bail: Round 10

By Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas S. J.

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:58 am | Monday, February 11th, 2013

In the middle of last week one of the lawyers working for the release on bail of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came to me asking if there was anything I could do to help. I said that, much as I would like to, at least for humanitarian considerations, I was afraid that anything I said would just be counterproductive for the reason that I am considered kapamilya. As many know, one of my nephews is now married to Luli Arroyo. For this reason, positions I took in the past were sometimes brushed aside brainlessly even by some whom I normally respect simply because a Bernas has become a member of the Arroyo family. This is insanity, of course, but it is part of life.

After my visitor left I thought about the purpose of her visit and I concluded that there should be no harm if I discussed in general terms what the right to bail is and who may be constitutionally denied the right to bail. My intention would be to reach the minds of those who are interested in forming their own judgment.

The raft of anti-GMA cases, of course, is related to the locally and internationally touted campaign for daang matuwid. (My visitor last week talked in general terms to me about the plunder case against GMA arising from official actions connected with the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office; other cases had already been dismissed by the Sandiganbayan.) Within this broad issue I shall limit myself to the legalities involved in the right to bail specifically in a plunder case.

The right to bail, as every first-year law student will know, is a mode short of detention which insures that an accused will make himself or herself available when needed in a court proceeding. The right to bail is an important support to the constitutional right to be presumed innocent because it enables the person released to make proper preparations for defense.

It is very clear in the Constitution that bail can be denied only when two narrow grounds are verified by a court in a hearing where the parties are heard. First, the crime charged must be punishable by death or reclusion perpetua. (Jurisprudence has interpreted the provision as including not just reclusion perpetua but also life imprisonment, a penalty strictly speaking different from reclusion perpetua.) Second, the evidence of guilt must be strong. The burden of proof is laid on the prosecution. Unless both of these requirements are satisfied, release on bail is a matter of right no matter how serious the accusation might sound.

The penalty required by law can easily be verified simply by looking into what the Penal Code says or what the special law which imposes life imprisonment says. The trickier part is determining whether the evidence of guilt is strong. A judicial hearing is required for this.

What does “strong evidence of guilt” mean? The Supreme Court has defined it as “proof evident” or “evident proof” which means “clear, strong evidence which leads a well-guarded dispassionate judgment to the conclusion that the offense has been committed as charged, that accused is the guilty agent, and that he will probably be punished capitally if the law is administered.” It is also referred to as “Presumption great which” exists “when the circumstances testified to are such that the inference of guilt naturally to be drawn therefrom is strong, clear, and convincing to an unbiased judgment and excludes all reasonable probability of any other conclusion.”

In the case of the crime of plunder, for which GMA is accused, what must be proved by strong evidence for the court to deny bail? This question was extensively discussed by the Supreme Court in the plunder case against former President Joseph Estrada. Plunder is a crime which can be committed only by a public officer. It is committed when a public officer amasses ill-gotten wealth amounting to at least P50 million (not a mind-boggling amount by current reckoning) through a “combination or series of illegal acts.”

What series or combination of acts might be proved? The Plunder Law enumerates six clusters of criminal acts. On the basis of this list, the information against GMA makes out three. In general, they are: illegal diversion of funds, raiding the public treasury and unjust enrichment by taking advantage of official position.

To deny GMA bail, the prosecution must prove any one of these charges by “evidence strong” or “presumption great.” And the decision will be made not just by any court but by the Sandiganbayan.

We await the outcome of Round 10. GMA has won earlier rounds. I understand from my visitor last week that GMA is now fighting this round at 88 pounds.

Sam Miguel
02-19-2013, 11:44 AM
SC rebuffs CJ on devolution

By Edu Punay

(The Philippine Star) | Updated February 19, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - A body chaired by Associate Justice Jose Perez will work on the decentralization of administrative duties in the Supreme Court (SC), a move which supersedes an order of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno last November creating a new judicial office in the Visayas.

In a memorandum, Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro said Sereno issued the administrative order without SC approval.

The SC has unanimously approved the creation of a Decentralization Needs Assessment Committee, which is tasked to study and determine the necessity of decentralizing administrative functions pertaining to the exercise of the SC’s power of supervision over lower courts, the functions to be devolved, implementation of the devolution of functions, and the efficient and effective performance of the devolved functions.

To be funded through Administrative Circular No. 13-99, the body was given two months to submit its report and recommendation to the SC.

“This Resolution supersedes all prior resolutions, administrative orders and issuances on the covered matter and shall take effect upon its promulgation,” the order said.

Perez, a former court administrator, was given a free hand to choose his staff for the committee, which will have eight members: Court Administrator Midas Marquez, Deputy Court Administrators Jenny Linda Delorino and Raul Villanueva, Assistant Court Administrator Thelma Bahia, financial management office chief Lilian Barribal-Co, administrative services chief Caridad Pabello, office of halls of justice chief Regina Adoracion Ignacio and judicial reform program administrator Geraldine Faith Econg, whose appointment by Sereno as head of regional court administrator office in Cebu was effectively recalled.

Sam Miguel
02-21-2013, 10:13 AM
‘SC ruling on Agra case virtual rejection of CJ appointment’

By Edu Punay

(The Philippine Star) | Updated February 21, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court (SC) ruling declaring illegal the appointment of Alberto Agra to two concurrent posts in government in 2010 was a virtual rejection of an earlier appointment by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno of her chief of staff, an insider bared yesterday.

Sereno voted with all 14 other magistrates of the high court to declare unconstitutional the appointment of Agra as acting secretary of justice and solicitor general in full-court session last Tuesday.

But a member of the high court told The STAR that the Chief Justice herself was confronted with the same issue last September when she appointed her chief of staff, lawyer and UP professor Solomon Lumba.

“Both situations are double appointments prohibited by the Constitution,” the insider said.

Justices unanimously voted last Tuesday to declare the designation of Agra to two concurrent posts as a violation of Article VII Section 13 of the 1987 Constitution, which prohibits dual or multiple positions in government.

Agra was appointed solicitor general by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in January 2010. He was appointed acting justice secretary by Arroyo two months later.

The source explained that the basis of the ruling of the high court on the case of Agra was “the same constitutional provision involved in the appointment by CJ Sereno of Atty. Lumba as her chief of staff while he remained a UP law professor.”

When appointed as judicial staff head by Sereno last September, Lumba was still a professor and secretary of the University of Philippines College of Law, which is under the executive department.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, in a letter to Sereno last month, questioned the appointment of Lumba to the SC, which he said could be in violation of the Constitution that prohibits a government official from simultaneously holding two posts in different branches of government – called “secondment.”

But last month Lumba resigned from UP Law, opting to serve full-time in Sereno’s office. Carpio then withdrew his objection.

Earlier, the high court effectively revoked a unilateral order of Sereno last November creating a new judicial office in the Visayas in a resolution last Jan. 22 that created a body to work on the decentralization of its administrative duties.

Sereno issued the order without collegial approval of the high court, according to an internal memorandum of Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro.

Sereno even facilitated the reopening rites of the Regional Court Administrative Office after issuing her order.

But the official ruling of the SC, where Sereno concurred, explained: “This Resolution supersedes all prior resolutions, administrative orders and issuances on the covered matter and shall take effect upon its promulgation.”

Joescoundrel
03-23-2013, 08:38 AM
Lawyer-dominated society

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:49 pm | Friday, March 22nd, 2013

If one says that life in the Philippines is dominated by lawyers, one is at once stating a truth and recognizing a tragedy. Indeed, while the lives of other nations are shaped by those who contribute directly to economic prosperity—visionaries, entrepreneurs, scientists, and inventors—our nation is ruled by a profession that mainly traffics in words and lives off the economic value produced by others.

When the bar exam results were announced on Wednesday, the social media were abuzz with congratulations for friends, but some asked a perennial question: Why all the hoopla for the bar exam, but not for the board exam results for doctors, accountants, engineers, pharmacists, etc.? Why the fixation over one profession, and over a licensing test?

Indeed. After all, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. had long ago said that “the black-letter man may be the man of the present, but the man of the future is the man of statistics and the master of economics.” Why, in the 21st century, are we still enthralled by a profession that “do[esn’t] understand technology and balance sheets” and instead “hires out its words and its anger”?

The fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves. We have yielded too much power to the government, and that power has found its way to the lawyers. Rather than rely on a free market, we have installed the state as the dispenser of wealth and business opportunities, and assigned the lawyers’ guild as the mediator. So why act surprised that they have aggrandized the power we surrendered to them?

But it isn’t just about power. It’s also about legitimacy. The Marcos dictatorship deglamorized the lawyers by idealizing the technocratic state, elevating an elite of number-crunchers backed by a corps of military bone-crushers. And that is why the heroes of the mainstream anti-Marcos movement were the human rights lawyers of the old FLAG and Mabini. Today, that poetic image of lawyering continues to inspire.

There is yet another, darker, side of the practicing bar. Far from being a secular priesthood, it is actually a Mafia-like web of classmates and schoolmates, fraternity brothers and sorority sisters, with an overlay of feudal “barrio-tic” loyalties to kinsmen, provincemates and golf buddies, all scratching one another’s backs. They invest in these old-boy networks in school, and cash in on the connections once they pass the bar. Before, Lady Justice was blindfolded so that she would be neutral. Today, she wears the blindfold so she will not weep at the debasement of a noble calling.

Thus the continuing allure of the bar exam. It is not just the gatekeeper to a world of power and pelf; it is also the key legitimizer of the entire enterprise. Whoever enters must first earn the prize but, once in, the winner takes all.

That is why it is so difficult to reform the bar exams. Who cares if the questions entail the rote memorization of legal minutiae? Who cares if the scope changes often, and the exam style—essay or multiple-choice questions—gets recalibrated each year? Indeed, who cares that any exam, to start with, can scarcely measure the virtues of the heart, the impulse to do what is just, rather than the tendency to yank the law’s text away from its moral context?

What is important is that there be no leakage of the questions, no favoritism in the grading, and no manipulation of the passing score. For the bar exam, the highest value is the level playing field. Defile this rite of passage, and there will be hell to pay.

In the mid-1960s, reformers thought up a wonderful experiment. They stopped listing the top 10. The Supreme Court wanted to end the obsession for the “placing” of the candidates—and what better way than simply not to keep tabs?

Did it work? No, it didn’t, because the examinees and the public were so hungry for the rankings that they actually went around asking for people’s grades and making a list, which the newspapers then picked up. Since someone’s grade would inevitably be missed, the papers even posted updates and corrections. The cure was worse than the disease. Now just imagine all that, but with Facebook!

The legal profession and the bar exam provide a republican and meritocratic sheen to naked power. The winners of the bar exam ordeal have surely earned the right to rejoice and revel in their success. It is for them to always remember not just those loved ones who made it all possible but also the forlorn republic whose constitution and ideals made that dream worth dreaming.

Sam Miguel
03-25-2013, 09:47 AM
Tax talk

Philippine Daily Inquirer

4:54 am | Monday, March 25th, 2013

President Aquino gave three major speeches last Friday, but only one of them will be remembered years from now, as a pitch-perfect example of how to talk tough with the utmost tact. He not only told influential Chinese businessmen to pay the right amount of taxes; ever so gently, he told them off.

At the 29th Biennial Convention of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Aquino regaled his audience with his frequent acknowledgment of the Chinese business community’s generous contributions to the nation. And then he said:

“Based on your own 2011-2013 directory, I understand that your federation includes 207 firms and organizations as members. Of this 207, I am told, only 105 have a Tax Identification Number. I wonder what happened to the others…. Of these 105 firms, only 54 filed tax returns. To make matters worse, 38 firms and organizations actually filed returns with zero tax due. This means that only 16 out of the 207—or only around 8 percent—of your member-organizations paid taxes. The 6.6 growth did not seem to affect your members.”

He continued, turning the focus from institutions to individuals: “Now, there are also 552 of you who are individual members. And of this number, 424 of you have Tax Identification Numbers. It is interesting to note that of that number 185, or almost 44 percent, filed income tax returns. Of those that filed tax returns, at least only 14 filed returns with zero tax due. What this means is 354 out of 552 members—or 64 percent of you—did not pay taxes for the same reasons: no TIN, no tax due, or nothing filed at all.”

It would have been difficult for his audience to contest the President’s data, which he said he got directly from the Bureau of Internal Revenue. It would have been even harder to complain about Mr. Aquino’s tack, because he phrased his request in positive terms: “… this was truly unexpected news, especially since you have always been so willing to give generously to our countrymen. In terms of actively reaching out to our countrymen, your contributions have always been clear. But perhaps it is time to ask ourselves: Am I contributing in the right way—not just through corporate social responsibility, but also through my personal obligations—through contributions to the policies that have helped us build our success?”

Am I contributing in the right way? Not exactly a Kennedyesque challenge to citizenship—but the right, potent question to ask.

Lyricist of the Court

ISAGANI A. CRUZ, associate justice of the Supreme Court for eight years and columnist of the Philippine Daily Inquirer for 15, passed away last Friday, at the age of 88. A true legal luminary, the path he lit continues to guide lawyers and civil libertarians alike.

Many tributes have been laid at his feet; to the chorus of sincere praise, we wish to add a simple note, about the power of his prose.

He had a gift for narrative; his ponencias were famous among law students and lawyers for the lyrical way he narrated the circumstances of the case. “The initial reaction of the people inside the compound was to resist the invasion with a burst of gunfire. No one was hurt as presumably the purpose was merely to warn the intruders and deter them from entering.” (Alih v Castro, 1987)

He had a way with images: “I do not consider a person a criminal, until he is convicted by final judgment after a fair trial by a competent and impartial court. Until then, the Constitution bids us to presume him innocent. He may seem boorish or speak crudely or sport tattoos or dress weirdly or otherwise fall short of our own standards of propriety and decorum. None of these makes him a criminal although he may look like a criminal.” (Dissent, in People v Malmstedt, 1991)

But his legal acumen also found exact expression in his aphoristic phrase-making. “It has become increasingly clear that the grandiose description of this Court as the bulwark of individual liberty is nothing more than an ironic euphemism. In the decision it makes today, the majority has exalted authority over liberty in another obeisance to the police state, which we so despised during the days of martial law. I cannot share in the excuses of the Court because I firmly believe that the highest function of authority is to insure liberty.” (Dissent, in NPC v Comelec, 1992)

He, and his powerful pen, will be missed.

Sam Miguel
04-02-2013, 02:16 PM
Most powerful court in the world?

By Artemio V. Panganiban

10:34 pm | Saturday, March 30th, 2013

Bold and forthright was Joan S. Largo, dean of the University of San Carlos (USC) School of Law and Governance in Cebu City, when she characterized the Philippine judiciary as no longer the “weakest and least dangerous” branch of government. In fact, if its powers and duties are compared with those of its counterparts in the United States and other countries, our Supreme Court can be termed the most powerful in the world.

Three judicial prerogatives. At 38, Dean Largo is the youngest and only woman among the 10 holders of the “Chief Justice Panganiban Professorial Chairs on Liberty and Prosperity.” These chairs were created and endowed by the Foundation on Liberty and Prosperity, cosponsored by the Metrobank Foundation and the Metro Pacific Investments Corp. in the nine leading law schools in the country and one in the Philippine Judicial Academy.

In her lecture at the 500-seat USC Audio-Visual Room packed by Court of Appeals justices, trial judges, lawyers, business leaders, professors and students, Largo explained that our Supreme Court is armed with three judicial prerogatives: (1) the “traditional power” to settle “actual controversies that are legally demandable and enforceable,” (2) the “judicial review” authority to determine whether the acts of the other branches of government are “in accord with the Constitution,” and (3) the “expanded extraordinary certiorari jurisdiction” to strike down grave abuse of discretion of any branch or instrumentality of the government.

In most countries, supreme courts are granted only the first (traditional) power of settling actual controversies, but not the second and third. In most parliamentary governments, the second prerogative (judicial review) is given to especially created constitutional courts, not to supreme courts. Example: In France, the court of final appeal (called Cour de Cassation) has no power to nullify statutes.

The US Constitution did not expressly grant the US Supreme Court the power of judicial review. But in Marbury vs Madison (Feb. 24, 1803), the US Supreme Court ruled that such power inherently belongs to the US judiciary. Since then, US courts have routinely voided statutes that violate the US Constitution.

Our Supreme Court is the only one in the world that has been expressly granted the third (expanded certiorari jurisdiction) to strike down grave abuse of discretion. Notably, our Constitution describes it as a “duty,” not just a power. A duty cannot be waived; it has to be exercised when circumstances call for it.

Grave abuse. In her lecture, Largo stressed that the Constitution did not define “grave abuse of discretion.” But the Supreme Court has limited its application only to acts done “in an arbitrary, capricious or whimsical manner by reason of passion or personal hostility… so patent and so gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or to a virtual refusal to act at all…”

Yet, in actual practice, grave abuse of discretion had been used by the high court to decide cases that at times do not approximate this limitation. For example, the Supreme Court nullified the Truth Commission (Lagman vs Ochoa, Dec. 10, 2010), and peremptorily voided a Board of Investments decision transferring a petrochemical plant from Bataan to Batangas (Garcia vs BOI, Nov. 9, 1990).

Largo courageously opined that our courts’ expanded certiorari power is not needed because “the fundamental rights brushed aside during the martial law era… have already been codified in the Constitution. For instance, the authority of courts to determine the factual basis of the declaration of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of habeas corpus is safely ensconced… in the Constitution. The guarantees against unreasonable searches and seizures are absolutely secured in Article III thereof, and… the Supreme Court has issued various rules in further protection of rights, such as the Rules on the Writ of Amparo and Writ of Habeas Data.”

She warned of the “undemocratic practice of permitting unelected judges to reverse and set aside the acts of elected officials…” and asked: “Who is to guard the guardians themselves?”

Liberty and prosperity. With due respect to Dean Largo, I think that the expanded certiorari duty is still needed to safeguard the liberty of our people against the incursions of an intrusive and abusive President. This was the real intention of Chief Justice Roberto Concepcion when he proposed this judicial duty. Verily, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

However, I agree with her that utmost judicial restraint is needed in matters involving prosperity and the economy. The third judicial prerogative was not intended to torpedo economic decisions. I agree also that Garcia vs BOI is probably the most glaring example of the misuse of the expanded certiorari duty.

Here the Supreme Court foisted its judgment on a purely economic issue outside its expertise. Where a petrochemical plant should be located, and what the feedstock for that plant should be—whether naphtha only, or naphtha and/or liquefied petroleum gas—are not judicial in character. These choices should have been left to the discretion of the private investors and the policymakers.

As a result of this unwelcome judicial intervention in a purely economic matter, the investors abandoned the petrochemical project, thereby upsetting the country’s budding industrialization in the early 1990s.

(The full text of Dean Largo’s lecture may be accessed at www.libpros.com.)

* * *

Sam Miguel
04-05-2013, 08:27 AM
PH to probe ‘secret’ Marcos offshore trust

Agence France-Presse

5:15 pm | Thursday, April 4th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—The Philippine government said Thursday it planned to investigate an allegation that the eldest daughter of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was the beneficiary of a secret offshore trust.

A report published by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) alleged Imee Marcos, 57, now a provincial governor, had failed to declare the British Virgin Islands trust as legally required.

Andres Bautista, head of a presidential body tasked to recover the billions of dollars the Marcos family stole from government coffers during the patriarch’s 20-year rule, told AFP his office would look into the allegations.

“We are duty bound to investigate and, depending upon informed preliminary findings, decide whether to pursue the matter,” Bautista said.

A popular uprising topped Marcos in 1986, and he died in US exile three years later. His famously extravagant wife, Imelda, has always denied she and her husband were corrupt.

The Presidential Commission on Good Government, which Bautista heads, has recovered $4 billion in assets that the Marcos illegally acquired, including from Swiss bank accounts and US properties.

But Bautista told AFP in January that, with Imee, Imelda and Ferdinand Jr. having re-established political influence in the Philippines, the commission was considering giving up on the chase for the billions more believed to be hidden.

“It’s been 26 years and people you are after are back in power. At some point, you just have to say, ‘We’ve done our best’, and that’s that. It is really difficult,” he said.

The PCIJ said the work looking into the Marcos trust was a collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which includes major foreign media groups.

It said the research had uncovered “scores of documents” showing Imee Marcos was a financial advisor for, and beneficiary of the secret trust, although it was not known what assets it held.

Calls by AFP to Imee Marcos’ office went unanswered on Thursday. The PCIJ said she had failed to respond to its requests for comment.

Imee Marcos is running unopposed in next month’s mid-term elections for a second term as governor of Ilocos Norte province, which was her father’s political stronghold.

Imelda Marcos is likely to retain her seat in Congress representing a district in the province.

Ferdinand Jr., a senator, is widely expected to run for president in 2016.

Sam Miguel
04-12-2013, 08:18 AM
SC upholds dismissal of Landbank exec over fake check

By Jerome Aning

Philippine Daily Inquirer

5:16 am | Friday, April 12th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—The Supreme Court has upheld the dismissal for gross neglect of duty of a Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) manager whose branch nearly cleared for encashment a bogus P26-billion check in 2002.

The court en banc, voting 14-0, upheld the original ruling of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) dismissing Artemio San Juan Jr. from the service with all the accessory penalties of cancellation of eligibility, perpetual disqualification from reemployment in the government and forfeiture of retirement benefits.

In its decision dated April 2 but released only on Thursday, the high tribunal also set aside the Court of Appeals’ ruling that San Juan was only guilty of simple neglect of duty with a penalty of a six-month suspension.

San Juan, manager of the LBP branch in Binangonan, Rizal, was among the LBP officials, Bureau of Internal Revenue personnel and company executives charged with money laundering and estafa charges in connection with a P430-million tax diversion scam exposed in 2002 by the branch cashier, Acsa Ramirez.

Per curiam

In its per curiam ruling, the Supreme Court said San Juan “miserably failed” in discharging his functions as branch manager. The justices added, “Our review of the records convinces us that [San Juan’s] actuations constitute gross, and not simple neglect of duty.”

“A bank manager has the duty to ensure that the bank rules are strictly complied with not only to ensure efficient bank operation but also to serve the bank’s best interest,” the justices said.

The case stemmed from the attempt of one Esmayatin Bonsalagan to encash a China Bank check for P26 billion at LBP-Binangonan on July 14, 2002. The check was drawn against the account of CQ Ventures Corp., with Bonsalagan as the payee.

San Juan informed Ramirez and other bank officials about Bonsalagan’s desire to partially withdraw funds on the check. Ramirez expressed reservation to the client’s request because as a matter of policy and procedure, the check must first be cleared before the funds could be withdrawn.

Account opened

Nevertheless, on San Juan’s advice, Ramirez assisted in the opening of a

current/checking account with the branch where the check would first be deposited.

The manager personally cleared Bonsalagan for the opening of the account as the client had already presented to him the requirements, such as identification cards and specimen signature cards.

The check was forwarded to the LBP-Cainta because it was already past the cut-off time of the Binangonan branch. The Cainta branch asked that Binangonan report the check to the LBP area head office. Ramirez, against San Juan’s advice, did so and got authority to call China Bank to confirm the check.

The area head office later communicated with China Bank to withhold the clearing of the check and ordered Ramirez to close Bonsalagan’s checking account.

After an investigation, the LBP head office found out that the check was spurious and unfunded and that its account number did not belong to CQ Ventures but to a certain Jing Limbo and/or Arien Romero.

The LBP charged San Juan before the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) for gross neglect of duty for ordering that a current account be opened without properly verifying the depositor’s identity in accordance with bank policy; for not confirming the genuineness of the check and the legitimacy and sufficiency of its funds; and for issuing a check book to Bonsalagan without waiting for the check to be cleared, all of which were considered detrimental to the bank’s interest.

San Juan was also meted a preventive suspension.

In October 2004, the OGCC found San Juan guilty of gross neglect of duty and recommended that he be dismissed from the service. When the LBP board of directors adopted the OGCC’s findings, San Juan appealed to the CSC.

In a resolution issued in February 2006, the CSC affirmed San Juan’s dismissal, saying he had “full knowledge of the transaction done right before his eyes.”

San Juan went to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed the CSC ruling, but it ruled that San Juan was only guilty of simple, not gross, neglect of duty. In 2009, the LBP elevated the case to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the appeals tribunal “misappreciated the import and significance of the facts of the case.”

Sam Miguel
05-03-2013, 08:54 AM
Corona faces P120-M charge for tax evasion

By Jerome Aning

Philippine Daily Inquirer 2:34 am | Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Nearly a year after his ouster as Chief Justice, Renato Corona is facing a P120-million tax evasion charge that could lead to his imprisonment for up to 10 years if convicted.

In a 65-page resolution dated April 26 released on Thursday, a Department of Justice panel said it had recommended the filing of the case, which allegedly stemmed from Corona’s undeclared cash and properties in six annual statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs), in the Court of Tax Appeals in Quezon City.

The panel headed by senior assistant state prosecutor Rosanne Elepano-Balauag said it found probable cause to charge Corona with violations of Sections 254 and 255 of the National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC) on tax evasion and willful failure to file income tax returns.

Violation of Section 254 is punishable by P30,000 to P100,000 in fines and imprisonment of two to four years, in addition to his liability for the tax due. Violation of Section 255, on the other hand, is punishable by a fine of not less than P10,000 and imprisonment of one to 10 years.

“Considering the evidence submitted by the Bureau of Investigation … we are inclined to believe that the documentary evidence presented by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) outweighs the bare allegations made by Corona. We note that aside from his empty claims that his other funds were merely commingled with the accounts of his other family members, etc, [he] miserably failed to substantiate the same,” the resolution said.

The BIR, following an investigation, concluded that the former Chief Justice was liable for P120,498,219.52, inclusive of surcharges and interest.

Continuing persecution

Corona, who was ousted by a 20-3 vote in the Senate on May 29, 2012, following a six-month impeachment trial, denounced the indictment.

“What fairness could I have expected from the DOJ whose head, Secretary Leila de Lima, testified against me during my sham impeachment trial? Was there ever any doubt about the outcome of this charade? My savings are a result of 45 years of diligent work in the private and public sectors. I do not owe any tax liability to the government,” he said in a statement.

“I have never in all my life ever received even a single notice of deficiency assessment from the BIR. The contrived claims of the BIR will fall flat on its face because they are without legal, factual and moral bases and are just part of the continuing political harassment and persecution that they have been incessantly inflicting on me.”

Unless Corona files a motion for reconsideration or a petition for review in the DOJ, the case against him will be filed in court.

The BIR’s investigation on Corona’s taxes was prompted by revelations made during his Senate trial. The agency alleged it found substantial increases in Corona’s net worth from 2005 to 2010 that did not appear consistent with his earnings as a public servant.

Following the unconditional waiver signed, executed and submitted by Corona to the Senate during his trial, the BIR investigated his financial holdings, particularly his real properties and bank accounts. The bureau applied the so-called “net worth method”—basically assets minus liabilities equals net worth—to show that Corona earned income from other sources aside from his compensation as a public official.

According to the BIR, Corona’s real net worth increased from P12.87 million in 2003 to P53.72 million in 2010 although he earned between P1.4 million and P4.4 million every year during the period.

Inadmissible evidence

In his defense, Corona said the waiver he executed was effective only until he was convicted by the Senate so all pieces of evidence collected by the BIR using the document were inadmissible in court. He said the BIR had failed to prove that the discrepancy came from the sources of income that were taxable.

Corona added that the prescription period for the filing of the criminal cases for the taxable years 2007 to 2010 had expired. He questioned the BIR’s use of the net worth method.

He maintained that there was no underdeclaration of real properties or any substantial increase in his cash assets, mainly because other people’s funds were commingled with his own. He added that the BIR had failed to take into account that he came from a “family with means and resources” and had been “gainfully employed in the public and private sectors.”

Full-blown trial

The DOJ panel rejected all of Corona’s defenses, adding some of them could be “best threshed out in a full-blown trial.”

The panel said although the net worth method was used only in civil cases, there was nothing in the NIRC that prohibited the BIR from using this in criminal proceedings.

The prosecutors pointed out that Corona signed the waiver as a depositor not by virtue of his public office. The waiver also did not state that it was only for the purpose of the impeachment proceedings.

By the time Corona signified his intention to withdraw the waiver in his June 11, 2012, letter to Banco de Oro and his Oct. 10, 2012, cease-and-desist letters to other banks, the banks had already complied with the BIR’s demand for access to Corona’s accounts.

Consistent underreporting

With the withdrawal of the waiver, the BIR could no longer further inquire into Corona’s accounts and in effect blocked the agency from verifying his defenses.

The panel also junked Corona’s claims of prescription. This prescriptive period does not begin to run until the crime is discovered and judicial proceedings have been instituted, the panel said.

The prosecutors said Corona could not claim that the BIR had failed to take into account his family’s and personal wealth in computing his net worth, adding that the agency could not be faulted for relying on his SALNs.

“It should be highlighted that respondent Corona swore under oath that the information contained in his SALN is true and correct statements of his assets, liabilities, net worth and business interests,” they said.

As to his claim that the money in his bank accounts belonged to other persons, the prosecutors pointed out that Corona failed to produce a single affidavit to support this.

The panel said there was a “consistent pattern” of underreporting large amounts of income and noninclusion of all his income and properties in his SALNs.

“The evidence they (BIR) obtained, so to speak, was not culled out of thin air,” it said.

Sam Miguel
05-06-2013, 08:51 AM
Sonny Angara: Corona conviction a public service telling me to do more

By Cathy C. Yamsuan, Leila B. Salaverria

Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:35 am | Sunday, May 5th, 2013

As the first anniversary of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s removal from office draws near, Aurora Rep. Edgardo “Sonny” Angara maintains that ousting the former top magistrate was a “public service” and played down the criticism that it was not the prosecutors but the defense that secured Corona’s conviction.

“Whether [people] believed we did our job… the point is, I think we did a public service… I’m so happy that we won. That’s the political process,” Angara said at a recent meeting with Inquirer editors and reporters.

“We won a conviction and we believe we removed someone who was unfit for the position,” he said.

Angara was one of the three spokespersons for the prosecution panel composed of 11 members of the House of Representatives, assisted by private lawyers.

There was speculation at the time that Angara, Marikina Rep. Romero “Miro” Quimbo and Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada were angling, if not being groomed, for the Senate.

Tañada indicated interest in running for the Senate but stepped back and is now campaigning for a local position in his province. Quimbo is running for reelection.

Only Angara, 40, has remained to run for the Senate and he is one of the candidates of the administration’s Team PNoy coalition who is frequently seen on national television.

In Top 12

Angara is also one of the heirs of veteran politicians who are in the Top 12 rankings in preelection polls.

A wry smile crossed Angara’s face when he was asked what he felt about observations that it was not the prosecution panel but the errors of the defense that secured Corona’s conviction.

Many observers agreed that the defense’s calling Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales as a witness backfired on them because the senators became more interested in the information she gave about Corona’s $2.4-million unreported stash in several banks and ordered her to elaborate on it.

And there was the walkout by Corona.

Angara conceded that presenting Morales as a witness eventually worked in the prosecution’s favor.

“For the defense to call her as a witness was to shoot themselves in the foot. We were very curious. Why did they call her? [Perhaps they] did not know what she had. But if they didn’t call her, we would have called her,” he said.

Reminded that the prosecution had already rested its case when Morales was called to testify, Angara said: “We would have tried.”

On May 29, 2012, 20 of the 23 senators voted to convict Corona and the Senate fired him for concealing the bulk of his wealth.

Corona is now facing a P120-million tax evasion charge, which stemmed from his undeclared cash and properties.

Angara said his experience from the impeachment trial made him realize that he had to sustain his career in public service.

No family pressure

Like most second-generation politicians, he is asked whether the urge to serve is heartfelt or more of a family tradition.

In Angara’s case, his father, Edgardo Sr., has been a senator for more than half of his son’s life. Dad’s senatorial candidacy was endorsed by former President Corazon Aquino and he has been serving in the Senate since 1987, with only a three-year break from 1998 to 2001.

The elder Angara will complete his fourth six-year term in June. The Constitution bars a senator from pursuing a third consecutive term.

“There was no pressure [from my father] to run for senator. It’s something I want to do,” the son said.

How much of his decision could be attributed to his father?

“I guess [his position was] an influence but it’s not the deciding factor. You can’t force yourself to run for public office. It is the case for some people but not for me,” he replied.

“In sociology, [you reach a state where there is] this confluence of altruism and personal ambition. I think everyone goes through life looking for that, what he’s willing to do day in and day out. I found mine in public service,” he said.

Dad is not seen stumping with Angara. His mother, Gloria, and wife, Tootsie, join his campaign, along with a slew of celebrity endorsers, who also appear in his television ads.

But there is no conscious effort to distance himself from his father during the campaign, he said.

His father, he said, has a good legacy. He wants to build on that legacy, he said, and show people that he has something more to offer.

“I really enjoy lawmaking. The thing I found fulfilling in my nine years in the House was doing something that affects so many people in a good way,” he added.

Apeco question

Those present at the Inquirer meeting warned him that he would have to take the cudgels for the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (Apeco), a government project that his father zealously defended every time budget season rolled around.

Critics, specifically Sen. Sergio Osmeña III, insist Casiguran, Aurora, where the free port is located, is not commercially viable. It is far from the manufacturing center of Metro Manila and the Pacific side of Luzon is not exactly friendly to commercial ships.

Angara seemed used to questions about Apeco.

There is a law that specifies which areas in the country can have special economic zones, he said. Apeco exists because of this law. Casiguran needs to comply with it, he said.

“I’m ready to defend Apeco,” he added.

Bridging the divide

Angara said that campaigning for the Senate has shown him a whole new aspect of the Philippines and taught him how crucial it is to take on a less myopic view of the country’s problems.

He has learned that national government policies should be more responsive to the particular problems that the people face in the different areas of the country and not just in the capital, closest to the seat of power, he said.

“Less of one-size-fits-all solutions because we’re such a diverse country. You need to have more regional solutions,” Angara said.

“The charge of Imperial Manila, I can feel it in the provinces. There’s a disconnect, I think, between a lot of policymakers and people on the ground,” he added.

“That’s why I think there’s an important role for senators. They can bridge that divide, somehow, because they’re some of the few national officials that constantly or have that chance to interact with people on the ground,” he said.

His ‘edge’

Being from the House, Angara said he believed he had an “edge” should he make it to the Senate.

As a member of the House, he said, he pursued legislation that was in sync with the urgent needs of the people.

He cited the passage of the law expanding the discounts given to senior citizens, who are now exempt from paying the expanded 12-percent value-added tax.

Angara said that if elected, he would insist on a policy of job creation to sustain economic growth.

“The most urgent task really is to create jobs. Congress has not set any jobs policy for the last 10, 20 years. There’s no jobs policy. As soon as Congress convenes, you have to call on all the experts and ask, ‘How do we create jobs, especially in the countryside?’” he said.

Low hanging fruit

Angara observed that past administrations were focused on developing the economy.

“We congratulate ourselves when we have more than five-percent economic growth. But it could mean that only the top 10 percent [of the population] is benefiting,” he said.

Angara said he would urge the Aquino administration to take a harder look at tourism.

“It’s easy. It’s low hanging fruit. I was in Bohol and I talked to hotel owners. They had to turn away people because the area was still incapable of absorbing big tour groups from China and (South) Korea,” he said.

“It’s sad to hear about lost opportunities because those mean jobs and this situation is repeated in many parts of the country, [like] there is a limited number of visitors because so many airports have no night flying capacity,” he said.

That is one illustration of the disconnect between policymakers and people on the ground, he said. People are complaining that development projects are taking a long time to get off the ground.

‘Farther future’

The policymakers need to take more chances and start looking to the “farther future,” he said

“I think there’s a need for a certain boldness and foresight in public policy. We think in the short term. Our idea of economic planning is the medium-term development plan. That’s only six years. We should be planning for the next 50 years,” he said.

The Senate is an important component of long-term planning because its role is to provide continuity in the face of the constant, regular changes at the administration level, he said.

“You set policies that are supposed to outlast your term. Your horizon should be beyond six years,” he said.

Sam Miguel
05-09-2013, 09:59 AM
What about the Supreme Court?

By Bartolome C. Fernandez Jr.

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:21 pm | Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

An item titled “SC sacks judge for inefficiency” (Across the Nation, Inquirer, 3/28/13) reported that another lower court judge, this time of a Municipal Trial Court in Cebu City, was dismissed from the service by the Supreme Court “for failure to resolve cases on time” and for other infractions. The judge was found to have failed to render decision in 11 criminal cases despite the lapse of a “considerable length of time,” with two of those cases pending for 10 years. The Supreme Court also found that at least 112 criminal and 83 civil cases that have been submitted to the judge for decision remained pending beyond the reglementary period of 90 days. The judge was likewise found to have procrastinated on 223 cases and failed to take any action on 3,491 others.

Really now. What about the Supreme Court? Has it sanctioned itself for similar infractions?

Under the 1987 Constitution (Section 15, Article VIII), the Supreme Court is mandated to decide or resolve cases within 24 months from the date of submission and, upon the expiration of the period, to issue forthwith a certification to that effect, signed by the Chief Justice, stating why no decision or resolution has been rendered within the period. Also, despite the expiration of the applicable mandatory period of 24 months, the Supreme Court is mandated to decide the case without further delay, without prejudice to such responsibility as may have been incurred in consequence thereof.

It is of record and a matter of public knowledge that the Supreme Court has failed to comply with these constitutional provisions. The Court has repeatedly violated these provisions with impunity. In “Culpable violation of the Charter” (Opinion, Inquirer, 5/5/12), I expressed my concern about this violation. Also, on July 11, 2012, I brought the matter to the attention of the Philippine Constitution Association, specifically challenging the group to spearhead a move toward the possible impeachment of all the Supreme Court justices for culpable violation of the Constitution. I have not received any reaction to these letters.

As retired Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban candidly pointed out (“First among equals,” Opinion, Inquirer, 6/24/12), “The Court has about 6,000 pending cases, some of which exceed the constitutional limit of two years.”

In the same vein, former senator Ernesto Maceda, in his column “Search for Truth” (Philippine Star, 7/14/12), stated that “[s]ome Supreme Court cases take 15-20 years to decide. Recall the Hubert Webb case. There’s something wrong here.” Maceda should have added the long-pending Marcos ill-gotten wealth cases languishing in the Supreme Court.

What really emboldened me to air my concern over the Supreme Court’s perceived disrespect for the Constitution is the pointed remark of respected constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, in his “Commentary on the 1987 Constitution” (2009 ed. at p. 1031). He said that the failure of the Supreme Court to comply with the earlier cited mandatory provisions of the 1987 Constitution “can subject a Supreme Court justice to impeachment for culpable violation of the Constitution.” According to Father Bernas, there is now a growing number of lower court judges whom the Supreme Court has disciplined for their failure to render decisions within the prescribed deadlines.

While this is so, it baffles me that there is no record of any disciplinary action or sanction imposed by the Supreme Court against its members for the same violation. I have yet to hear of the Court sanctioning itself for such blatant infraction of the Constitution. On one occasion, during a chat with a retired Supreme Court justice, I called his attention to the constitutional mandate for the Supreme Court to render decisions within 24 months. His retort floored me: “Alam mo Bart, hindi namin pinapansin yan.”

During my teaching days in the UP College of Law (1967 to 2009), I always impressed upon my political law students the need for the courts to strictly comply with the deadlines for deciding cases, as an effective solution to the perennial problem of case backlogs that have long bedeviled our courts. As the late retired Supreme Court Justice Isagani A. Cruz ruefully observed, “it is not a rarity for a case to drag for years and years and even decades.” (Cruz, Phil. Political Law, 2001 reprint, at p. 291)

Indeed, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” It is frustrating for me to realize that Section 15, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution has receded into meaninglessness and has been reduced to nothing by its cavalier treatment by no less than the Supreme Court itself.

I daresay that the “responsibility” the Supreme Court may have incurred for failing to render decisions within the 24-month mandatory period is an impeachable violation of the Constitution.

Bartolome C. Fernandez Jr. is a former commissioner of the Commission on Audit.

Sam Miguel
05-29-2013, 08:15 AM
Graft charges vs ex-Pagcor officials filed

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:44 am | Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

A total of 39 counts of graft and malversation were filed in the Sandiganbayan against former Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) Chairman Efraim Genuino and six other former officers of the agency.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales found “probable cause” to indict the accused on 19 counts of violation of Republic Act No. 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and 20 counts of malversation.

Charged with Genuino, were former Pagcor officers Rafael Francisco, Jose Benedicto, Rene Figueroa, Edward King, Ester Hernandez and Valente Custodio.

The court set bail of P30,000 for each count of graft and P60,000 for each count of malversation, or a total of P1.71 million for all the accused.

The complaints will be raffled off on Friday to determine which division of the antigraft court will handle the cases.

Genuino, Francisco, Benedicto, Figueroa, King, Hernandez and Custodio were slapped with one count of malversation and another count of graft arising from the promotion of the film “Baler,” a movie production deal between Viva Communications and Batas Iwas Droga Foundation (Bida).

The Joint Review Resolution signed by the Ombudsman said the government was made to shoulder the business losses when Pagcor advanced the cost for 89,000 movie tickets priced at P300 each, for a total of P26.7 million.

This arrangement, it said, was contrary to the deal approved by Pagcor to merely offer “Baler” movie tickets to casino patrons through the Player Tracking System points, the Ombudsman said.

Accordingly, only 7,791 tickets were bought by casino patrons while 6,253 tickets were sold to the public. Around 2,806 tickets were sold to employees, leaving 72,150 unused tickets worth P21.645 million, plus the transmitted sales commission of P474,510, for a total of P22,119,510 representing marketing expenses that were charged to Pagcor’s operating expense fund. This was on top of the advertising expense of P2.064 million.

The resolution noted that all relevant documents were processed in just one day while the payment check was released the following day.—Cynthia D. Balana

Sam Miguel
05-30-2013, 08:30 AM
A year after Corona ouster, justice reforms a ‘work in progress,’ says Palace

Coronas say they’ve moved on

By Christine Avendaño, TJ Burgonio

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:13 am | Thursday, May 30th, 2013

A year after Chief Justice Renato Corona was impeached and voted out of office, Malacañang on Wednesday admitted that reforms undertaken since then are still a “work in progress.”

The most concrete sign of reform is the Civil Service Commission’s (CSC) requiring of government officials to file more detailed statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), and a CSC directive requiring all government employees to file SALNs, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said on Wednesday.

Apart from that, however, the other reforms are still “a work in progress,” she told a press briefing.

After a four-month trial, senators voted in May 2012 to oust Corona for failing to declare all his assets in his SALN, specifically some $2.4 million in bank deposits and P80.7 million in alleged commingled accounts, which the senators said was an impeachable offense.

In a statement on Wednesday, Corona said he and his family were “fine” and have moved on with their lives and are hoping for “better days ahead.”

He said he has been busy the past year, “keeping abreast of the latest Supreme Court decisions and new laws (since a lot of people consult me and seek my advice); getting invited often to small gatherings and lunch or dinner discussion groups to share my views and experiences.”

When he can find the time, “I go to the gym or try my hand at playing the piano again,” he said.

Corona said he has no plans to go back to government service but “public service is still very much part of my life.”

He also said he prays “a lot” for the farmers of Hacienda Luisita, the huge sugar estate owned by the family of President Aquino, hoping they will “someday finally attain the justice the Corona Court gave them but which this regime is trying hard to thwart.”

Corona accused the “vindictive regime” of President Aquino of continued harassment and persecution of him and his family.

“The gargantuan funds it wasted in my sham impeachment trial could have been better used for education, school buildings, increased salaries of government employees, healthcare and medicines for the poor, more courts and halls of justice… And for what—to remove a sitting Chief Justice just so that the President can appoint his own?” he said.

He said people he encountered “have invariably said they do not believe the government propaganda against me and my family.”

Corona maintained he had not stolen anything while in government and that his properties were the fruit of his 45 years of service in the private and public sectors.

“I have nothing to be ashamed of nor regret in any aspect of my life. And most of all, I owe the government not a single cent in unpaid taxes,” he said.

Corona, his daughter Carla and the latter’s husband, Constantino Castillo III, are facing a P150-million tax evasion case that the Bureau of Internal Revenue filed against them last year.

Sam Miguel
05-30-2013, 09:15 AM
One year after ouster, Corona maintains innocence

By Edu Punay

(The Philippine Star) | Updated May 30, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - A year after his removal from office, former chief justice Renato Corona yesterday continued to maintain his innocence on charges of hiding wealth and evading taxes.

“I was never involved in any anomaly or scandal in my entire life,” he said. “I do not have any regrets nor am I ashamed of anything from any aspect. I never stole any amount from government coffers. I don’t owe the government a single centavo of tax.”

Corona believes President Aquino used the government’s vast resources to remove him from office through a “sham impeachment trial” because the Supreme Court under his leadership distributed to farmers the Cojuangco-controlled Hacienda Luisita.

“This vindictive regime has continued to harass and persecute me and my family, using the entire government machinery and resources against one man who dared stand up to it... To remove a sitting chief justice who would not bow to the wishes of Malacañang just so that the President can appoint his own?” he said.

Corona accused the administration of thwarting the distribution of sugarland in Hacienda Luisita.

“I pray a lot for the poor farmers of Hacienda Luisita that they will someday finally attain justice the Corona court gave them, but which this regime is trying hard to thwart,” he said.

Corona said he has moved on from a career in the judiciary, but that he has not left public service.

“I have been busy with many things the past year – keeping abreast of the latest Supreme Court decisions and new laws – since a lot of people consult me and seek my advice,” he said.

Corona said he has been invited to speak before civic organizations and other discussion groups.

“My commitment to the rule of law, judicial independence and the protection of the downtrodden and oppressed remains very much alive,” he said. “That will be with me to the end of my days.”

Corona has also been invited as sponsor at weddings and spent a considerable amount of time answering text messages and letters of support from relatives, friends, and supporters from all corners of the globe.

“My wife sometimes quips that it seems I am as busy as ever,” he said. “She thought that retirement would slow me down. But it looks like being idle and taking things easy are not yet in sight for me.”

The 64-year-old Corona also goes to the gym and tried playing piano again.

At Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Corona is the subject of several tax evasion cases.

“I cannot speak for the Office of the Ombudsman when it comes to any other actions that may be initiated in light of the results of the impeachment,” she said. – With Aurea Calica

Sam Miguel
05-31-2013, 08:40 AM
Justice questions Sereno’s ruling anew

By Christine O. Avendaño

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:45 am | Friday, May 31st, 2013

For the second time in five months, Senior Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro is questioning Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno.

This time, it was Sereno’s ruling issued on Wednesday, while the high tribunal was in recess, stopping the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from proclaiming the five remaining winners of the May 13 polling in the party-list system until the disqualification protest of the Coalition of Senior Citizens in the Philippines has been resolved.

In a letter, also on Wednesday, to Sereno, a copy of which was obtained by the Inquirer, De Castro rued that her recommendation—that the Comelec be restrained from implementing its May 10 resolution nullifying the Senior Citizens’ participation in the balloting on grounds it violated the rule on term-sharing of allotted seats in the House of Representatives—was disregarded by the Chief Justice.

De Castro, who was tasked to handle the petition for relief from the court by the Senior Citizens’ group on May 14, said Sereno’s blanket TRO instead adversely covered the remaining winners in the party-list balloting who were not impleaded in the case.

In a two-page letter on Thursday in reply to De Castro, also secured by the Inquirer, Sereno said she took the TRO course because she believed the court en banc must collectively make the decision whether to restrain or not the implementation of the Comelec resolution.

Sereno also said the concerned party-list groups would not suffer irreparable injury because the full court was expected to meet on the matter on June 4, when it resumes its session.

She said it was her “interpretation” that the TRO she issued would prevent irreparable injury in a way that “no vacancy is left for the Senior Citizens Party.”

Sereno pointed out that the Senior Citizens had garnered more than 600,000 votes and could be entitled to two or three congressional seats.

Avoiding controversies

She pointed out the view of Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. that the reversal of the Comelec resolution could mean dropping proclaimed winners.

The Chief Justice said Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes concurred with her TRO.

Sereno said if she took De Castro’s recommendation, she feared Senior Citizens might ask Comelec to declare it the winner, considering its huge vote.

“Whatever option is chosen, a lot of controversies and confusion would be generated,” she said, adding it was “best” that the full court “and not the Chief Justice alone, make the evaluation of the Comelec resolution.”

Sereno said there was still time for the full court to act on the petition because the election winners will assume office only on July 1.

In December last year, De Castro asked Sereno to recall or amend an order creating a regional consultative administrative office in Cebu because it did not have the approval of the full court.

The Chief Justice effectively revoked her order by creating a study committee that would look into the decentralization of the court’s administrative functions.

Sereno, 52, was the most junior member of the Supreme Court when she was appointed Chief Justice by President Aquino following the ouster a year ago of Chief Justice Renato Corona for his failure to declare his bank accounts in his statements of assets and liabilities. Her swearing in was boycotted by senior justices of the high tribunal.

Irreparable injury

In her letter to Sereno, De Castro insisted that the Senior Citizens could suffer irreparable injury “if its disqualification as a party-list association, on a ground concerning its nominees, is not enjoined pending resolution of this petition on the merits.”

“It is my position that the proper subject of the TRO is the enjoinment of the implementation of the assailed Comelec resolution with respect to the Senior Citizens,” she said, noting that this matter was after all the “main cause of action brought before us by the petitioner.”

De Castro stressed that the issue for the court to decide was “whether or not the term-sharing agreement of nominees will call for the disqualification of the party-list association itself.”

Unfairly affected

De Castro said she “deliberately limited” the TRO coverage to the Senior Citizens because “(a) issuing a blanket injunction against the proclamation of the remaining seats in the party-list system may adversely affect third parties not impleaded in the present case in violation of their right to due process, and (b) such blanket injunction might be deemed as an overbroad restriction on the constitutional authority of the Comelec to proclaim winners in the party-list elections, beyond what is necessary in the present case.”

While there was “merit” in Sereno’s observation that the other party-list candidates could be affected by the continued proclamation of winners, De Castro said such a situation was “only an extraneous issue and merely anticipatory.”

“The court is mandated to grant relief only to parties involved in actual controversies who file the proper action before us,” she said.

De Castro said Sereno “radically changed my recommended action that would have preserved the status quo ante, i.e., maintain the petitioner in the registry of party-list associations, pending disposition of the merits of the case.”

Joescoundrel
06-11-2013, 09:59 AM
PCGG shuts down firm funded by coconut levy

By Dona Z. Pazzibugan

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:16 am | Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

One of the sequestered coco levy-funded companies has been shut down due to financial hemorrhage caused by mismanagement by Arroyo-appointed caretakers, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) said on Monday.

United Coconut Chemicals Inc. (Cocochem) was shut down last year, after nearly 30 years of operation, due to mismanagement starting in 2005 that led to “unprecedented losses” compounded by the loss of its domestic, US and European markets for oleochemicals.

Cocochem officials appointed under the Aquino administration discovered that previous Cocochem directors had contracted questionable services that bled the company while letting plant equipment deteriorate.

By the end of 2011, company losses totaled $55.3 million resulting in a net equity of $16.6 million, said Evelina Patiño, the current Cocochem executive vice president and chief operating officer, who was appointed in January 2011.

“With the expected losses in 2012 of $7.3 million, the company will be void of any cash reserves to enable it to continue to operate,” she said.

On top of the zero cash reserves, Cocochem still owes $65 million to CIIF Oil Mills.

Cocochem is one of the 50 surrendered and sequestered companies under the PCGG’s government-nominated directors.

These presidential appointees were supposed to preserve the sequestered companies’ assets as the cases over their ownership remained pending in the courts the past two decades.

Cocochem was established in 1981 to boost the local coconut industry by buying coconut oil and producing oleochemicals such as fatty alcohol.

The projected captured domestic market among soap and detergent manufacturers did not materialize while bulk exports to Europe and the United States were constrained by the cessation of bulk chemical shipments to carry oleochemicals.

Patiño recently submitted a report to the PCGG detailing the events that led to the current board of directors’ decision on June 18, 2012, to shut down plant operations “indefinitely.”

On top of the market volatility, the PCGG learned of mismanagement issues since 2005, under former Cocochem presidents Helen Osias and Dr. Carlito Puno.

“The key to Cocochem’s profitability from 1986 to 2005 was the high operating rate of the plant,” Patiño said.

“However in 2006, the management led by Osias recommended that Cocochem terminate the supply agreement with Peter Cremer,” she said, saying the termination of the contract led to a 30 percent loss in production volume.

The sales volume dropped even though the same amount of bunker fuel was used, leading to a net loss that ballooned to P303 million in 2007.

The PCGG also learned that under Osias’ watch, Cocohem paid P30 million to the law firm Carag de Mesa and Zaballero purportedly to review transactions, such as the transfer of some plant properties.

The amount was questioned by minority shareholders headed by Eusebio Tanco who made a vote of no confidence against Osias.

Unsold inventories

Puno, former chairman of the Commission on Higher Education, replaced Osias in July 2007.

Five months later, he closed down storage tanks in Rotterdam and Hudson, New York, and in December 2007 signed a marketing agreement with a startup company that had no track record in exports sales.

“The marketing agreement with Oxford Oleo Solutions resulted in huge, unprecedented losses for the company due to the failure of this new marketing agent to sell production volumes. Cocochem suffered massive losses due to the high level of unsold inventory whose value had to be written down,” Patiño said.

Oxford Oleo Solutions brokered a sale between Cocochem and MagnaKron but Oxford was not able to sell the by-products such that “by mid-2008, the inventory of finished goods had built up.”

MagnaKron was also not able to pay, leaving Cocochem with unsold inventories.

“In the end, Cocochem had to shut down the plant due to high inventories. It was also necessary for the company to write down the value of the inventory due to the large drop in the prices of the products. Although sales volumes were not being achieved and finished product inventory was rising, Dr. Puno continued to purchase coconut oil defying the specific mandate by the executive committee to cease buying,” Patiño said.

The operations in 2008 resulted in a net operating loss of P701 million.

The previous management also did not undertake required plant maintenance and equipment upgrade from 2007 to 2010 that led to a shutdown from January to October 2009.

Explosion forced shutdown

When the plant was restarted in January 2010, an explosion occurred at the fatty alcohol plant in April 2010 that necessitated a total shutdown. An attempt to restart in November 2010 failed.

Plant operations were only restarted on Jan. 19, 2011, until December 2011 when maintenance was required.

The plant no longer operated in 2012 due to high coconut oil costs “which made the business not viable.”

The PCGG also questioned Puno’s decision to order a retrenchment in 2009 where Cocochem lost its pool of talented and experienced plant supervisors that further led to the deterioration of operations.

Personnel who were retrenched and rehired suffered a salary cut of 40 percent.

Cocochem suffered substantial losses in 2011 due to high coconut oil prices while fatty alcohol prices dropped, according to Patiño.

Due to the shortage of coconut oil, Cocochem imported palm kernel oil that entailed additional importation costs.

In 2012, Cocochem’s losses continued “due to failure to produce product mix” along with the suspected theft of raw materials.

“To date, physical loss of coconut oil remains unexplained but pilferage is being considered as the cause,” Patiño said.

She also rued the lack of growth in the coconut production in the country that rendered oleochemical companies in the Philippines less competitive in price and quality compared to other companies in the region.

Sam Miguel
06-24-2013, 10:26 AM
Morales moves to weed out erring GOCC execs

By Michael Punongbayan

(The Philippine Star) | Updated June 24, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales is now in a crusade to weed out corrupt officials in government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs).

Morales signed a memorandum of agreement with the Governance Commission for GOCCs (GCG) with the goal of ensuring that all board members and corporate officers are qualified under the Fit and Proper Rule.

Morales and GCG chairman Cesar Villanueva forged the partnership agreement in simple ceremonies at the Ombudsman Function Room on Friday.

Under Section 16 of Republic Act No. 10149 or the GOCC Governance Act of 2011, the GCG shall ensure that all board members, chief executive officers and other officers of GOCC boards shall be subject to the Fit and Proper Rule where “due regard shall be given to one’s integrity, experience, education, training and competence.”

The GCG was created to ensure that the governance of GOCCs is carried out in a transparent, responsible and accountable manner and that the governing boards of every GOCC and its subsidiaries are competent to carry out its functions.

The agreement between the Office of the Ombudsman and GCG addresses the necessity for the GCG and the anti-graft agency to coordinate all their efforts in evaluating the pending cases against nominees for appointment as officers and members of the governing boards of GOCCs.

Under the agreement, the GCG shall use the information to review and evaluate whether there are grounds to disqualify the nominee from being appointed to the recommended seat in the GOCC board.

Morales said such mechanism shall “weed out the undesirables and, at the same time, protect deserving nominees who are merely vexed by baseless complaints.”

The agreement also provides that “the Ombudsman shall immediately notify the GCG whenever a case is filed against any Director/Trustee of a GOCC when the same is pending preliminary investigation/administrative adjudication.”

Sam Miguel
06-24-2013, 10:28 AM
^^^ But aren't the top management of GOCCs, especially its Boards of Directors, all political appointees / co-terminus with the appointing power / President?

Total discretion as to who should be appointed therefore rests only with the President or Executive Secretary as the case may be.

Sam Miguel
07-02-2013, 08:15 AM
Del Castillo richest Supreme Court justice, Leonen poorest

By Christine O. Avendaño

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:53 am | Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo is the wealthiest among the 15-member Supreme Court while Associate Justice Marvic Leonen is the poorest.

This was based on the statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) of the justices, which were released Monday by the high court upon the request of media outfits.

For the second time since the high court allowed the release of the SALNs of the justices last year, Del Castillo had the highest net worth at P109,743,118.28.

The SALNs of the justices had not been released for the past 20 years until last year when Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno assumed the top court position after a Senate impeachment court ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona for failure to publicly declare his income in his SALN.

In his SALN, Del Castillo declared his total assets (at acquisition cost) at P110,127,634.66 while his liabilities were made up entirely of credit card payables worth P384,516.38.

Among his real properties were two house and lots in Cainta, Rizal, and Makati City; a condominium at Rockwell in Makati and land at Terrezas de Puenta Fuego. He also declared three luxury vehicles.

Del Castillo has P48.78 million in cash and investments in stocks, bonds and other financial instruments.

The lowest net worth declared was that by Leonen, the newest member of the court, at P1,674,623.22. Leonen was appointed only last year by President Aquino after he served as the government’s chief negotiator in the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Leonen declared his total assets at P2,333,679.22, made up of his P1.1-million Ford Escape, assorted books and appliances, and cash in bank totaling P753,679.22. He did not declare any real property.

Leonen’s total liabilities amounted to P659,056, made up of a car loan, credit card loans and other loans.

Sereno was the 10th-richest, with a net worth of P18,143,104.01, which was a P113,528.50 jump from her net income last year of P18,029,575.51.

Sereno’s total assets amounted to P19,155,024.90, which included four vehicles, three house and lots and another lot, cash in bank amounting to P1,948,412.10 and P1.150 million in investments.

The Chief Justice declared P1,011,920.89 in liabilities made up of credit card billings of P177,750.89 and a housing loan balance of P834,170.

The second-richest high court member is Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, with a net worth of P83,885,614.57. Carpio’s assets amounted to P83,960,614.57 and his liabilities, P75,000. He has four vehicles and several houses and lots in Manila and the provinces.

Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin had the highest jump in net worth. His net worth in 2012 was P26,119,275.39 against P18,811,447.87 the previous year.

The net worth declared by the other justices were: Bienvenido Reyes, P76,542,167.31; Estela Bernabe, P73,827,435; Roberto Abad, P43.4 million; Jose Mendoza, P29,982,165.66; Diosdado Peralta, P29,382.037.60; Martin Villarama Jr., P21,911,495.36; Arturo Brion, P11,908,742; Jose Perez, P11,760,000; Teresita de Castro, P8,941,000; and Presbitero Velasco, P8,679,740.49.—With Tetch Torres-Tupas, INQUIRER.net

Sam Miguel
07-02-2013, 08:17 AM
Customs poser: Will ‘3 kings’ remain at bureau?

By Jerry E. Esplanada

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:49 am | Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Will the so-called “three kings” at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) be included in the next agency revamp, which Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon said was aimed at improving revenue collections?

In a text message, the former Muntinlupa City legislator told the Inquirer he would like the next BOC reconfiguration and who may be affected by it to be kept firmly under wraps for now.

However, he said, he would have no second thoughts about reassigning or reshuffling customs officials who may not measure up to expectations.

The reconfiguration of the BOC’s organizational structure is designed mainly to reposition district collectors where they can be most productive.

Biazon said the revamp “would be a continuing thing.”

In January, the first major reshuffle of BOC district collectors raised eyebrows at the Department of Finance-attached agency due to the noninclusion in the revamp of those whom bureau insiders called the “three kings.”

Customs insiders were referring to collectors Ricardo Belmonte, Rogel Gatchalian and Carlos So, heads of the Manila International Container Port, Port of Manila and the BOC office at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, respectively.

Belmonte is the younger brother of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, while Gatchalian is said to be backed by former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, and So, by the influential Iglesia ni Cristo.

BOC personnel also noted that all three ports were among the collection districts that failed to meet their revenue targets last year, as well as in the first five months of 2013.

Sought for comment on reports that some customs officials were anxious and “having sleepless nights” over the next revamp, Biazon said in jest: “Now they know the feeling of being the subject of talk that I would be replaced shortly.”

“Seriously, those officials just have to go on and do their jobs. If they get transferred, all they need is to do their best in those positions,” he said.

Biazon said the transfer to another post was “not a death sentence” but actually “an opportunity for them to show their best.”

“Probably, those who stand to lose something are those who are afraid of being included in the reshuffle,” he said.

Last week, Biazon denied rumors he had resigned from the BOC, saying that his five-day trip to Brussels at the time was an official one.

On the contrary, he was working on pursuing reforms at the bureau, he said in a statement.

Sam Miguel
07-02-2013, 08:18 AM
BOC, Insurance Commission execs face SALN raps

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:46 am | Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

The government’s anticorruption drive has been revitalized, with the Revenue Integrity Protection Service (RIPS) charging an official of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and another from the Insurance Commission (IC) for alleged irregularities in their statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

In a statement released on Monday, RIPS, a unit of the Department of Finance in charge of conducting lifestyle checks of public officials and employees, said it was intensifying its efforts to go after unscrupulous public servants, particularly by checking the accuracy of their SALNs.

RIPS announced it had filed on June 28 separate complaints against Rene Manuela A. Ochave and Mari Ann C. Osmeña, a BOC lawyer and an insurance specialist at the IC, respectively, for discrepancies between their SALNs and other official documents gathered in the process of investigation.

It said the two failed to declare some properties in their SALNs.

“[The] two officials are facing preliminary investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman due to nondisclosures and misleading information in their sworn SALNs, together with other administrative violations under civil service regulations,” the government unit said in the statement.

RIPS accused Ochave of failing to report on time a 317,000-square-meter property located in Albay that was in his wife’s name. The property was supposedly acquired by his wife in 2001 but was only reflected in Ochave’s SALN beginning 2006.

In 2011, RIPS said Ochave reported having acquired an Isuzu Crosswind for P428,000 but documents showed it was actually bought for P1.07 million.

RIPS accused Osmeña of failing to declare a house and lot in the Pacita Complex in Laguna that she allegedly acquired in 1982. It said she also failed to declare the purchase of a motor vehicle and a business by her husband.

RIPS likewise accused Osmeña of failing to declare several out-of-country trips. It noted that government officials and employees were strictly required to declare such trips.—Michelle V. Remo

Sam Miguel
07-03-2013, 08:13 AM
COA scores Pasig River rehab for junky cleanup

By Gil C. Cabacungan

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:29 am | Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

The Commission on Audit (COA) has scored the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) for creating more junk rather than removing rubbish when it bungled its P17.7-million cleanup of Metro Manila’s biggest waterway.

In its 2012 report, the COA said that millions of pesos worth of recycling equipment had been rendered junk because the PRRC had only one working materials recovery facility (MRF) out of the 10 recycling centers it committed to build over the last four years.

“(This is) tantamount to wastage of government funds and deprived the intended beneficiaries of the benefits that could have been derived therefrom,” the COA said.

In an e-mail, Regina Lopez, the PRRC chair and ABS-CBN Foundation director, said she expected to complete the MRFs within the year.

“When I first took over, my initial strategy was to do something about solid waste management. At that time, I thought that this was the way to clean the Pasig River. The equipment was delivered; however, the MRF sites were not finalized. Now the MRF sites are finalized and are currently under construction. The sites should be completed by this year,” said Lopez, the PRRC chair since April 2010.

The MRFs were supposed to anchor the establishment of clean river zones (CRZs) along the Pasig River. The MRF package includes a shredder, oven smelter and baler to recycle the garbage collected by the CRZ and provide livelihood as an incentive to reduce wastes in the community.

The PRRC awarded a P9.9-million contract to Linear Construction Corp. in May 2009 to build 10 MRFs until Jan. 17 this year. The company has managed to build only four MRFs (of which only one, at Addition Hills, Mandaluyong City, was working) before the deadline while the remaining six were less than 25 percent complete.

The COA said the MRFs at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) compound, Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) compound, and Cardinal Sin Village at Punta, Sta. Ana, in Manila, costing P1.908 million were found “nonoperational and almost deteriorated due to the rain, heat and stray animals living inside the structures.”

PRRC’s mismanagement was evident in its decision to purchase in advance the equipment for the MRFs even before their sites had been ready. In 2009, PRRC awarded an P8.631-million contract to Metro Waste Solidwaste Management Corp. to supply 188 equipment to the MRFs. However, only 47 of the equipment have remained with the PRRC. The rest were donated to local government units.

No storage facility

Without the MRFs, the COA said the equipment purchased for these facilities were not stored properly.

“Considering the length of time since the equipment was purchased, its operational efficiency has already diminished which may render it inoperable by the time all MRFs are completed. This could be attributed to the noncompletion of MRFs on time. We were informed that the PRRC has no storage facility which would accommodate all the equipment hence, they were distributed to various locations where the MRF projects are to be constructed,” the COA said.

The COA recommended that the PRRC rehabilitate the three idle MRFs and complete the remaining six MRFs to save the equipment from further deterioration. The COA also suggested that PRRC officials coordinate with government officials to look for warehouses to store the MRF equipment.

Warning flag

As early as 2011, the COA had already raised a warning flag on the wastage caused by the PRRC’s inability to follow through its program to clean up the Pasig River.

PRRC executive director Ronald Naguit said PRRC had addressed some of the COA’s concerns, specifically the 12 equipment at the DENR compound by covering these with canvass sheets and detaching their motors to prevent further deterioration.

Naguit said that the MRF at Sta. Ana was being operated in partnership with the Cardinal Sin Village administration, while the MRF at the PUP Sta. Mesa was initially operated by PRRC in tandem with Kapit Bisig Para sa Ilog Pasig.

Sam Miguel
07-12-2013, 09:47 AM
SC justice accused in court ruling

By Christine O. Avendaño and Tina G. Santos

Philippine Daily Inquirer

2:55 am | Friday, July 12th, 2013

A candidate for the lone congressional seat of Marinduque who has been proclaimed winner by the province’s canvassing board on Thursday accused the father of her rival, an associate justice of the Supreme Court, of wielding influence to make his son retain his House seat.

But a Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc ruling promulgated on July 9 annulled the proclamation of Regina Ongsiako Reyes as congresswoman.

In a press conference on Thursday, Reyes accused Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco of using his influence to get a favorable ruling from the high court for his son, Lord Allan Jay, who ran for reelection. The high court recently sided with the Comelec, recognizing the poll body’s jurisdiction over preelection disqualification issues.

At presstime Thursday night, there was no word yet from the office of Velasco in reaction to Reyes’ allegations. The justice did not take part in the high court ruling.

Reyes insisted in the press conference that she is a Filipino citizen, contrary to a ruling by the Comelec that disqualified her from running for being an American citizen. She is the duly-elected representative of Marinduque and proclaimed winner, she said, and had taken her oath of office before Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.

She said she won by a 4,000 vote lead over Lord Allan Jay.

Citizenship issue

In a vote of 4-1-2, the Comelec en banc said the proclamation of Reyes should be annulled since she had long been found to be an American citizen and lacked the one-year residency requirement to be a qualified congressional candidate.

Those who voted in favor of unseating Reyes were Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes and Commissioners Lucenito Tagle, Grace Padaca and Luie Guia.

Dissenting from the majority decision were Commissioners Christian Lim and Al Parreño, the newest members of the poll body. They cited the absence of Comelec jurisdiction over the case since Reyes was already proclaimed by the provincial board of canvassers (PBOC).

In a 19-page resolution, the commission en banc proclaimed Lord Allan Jay as the winning candidate in Marinduque. Reyes’ proclamation, it said, “is without any legal force and effect.”

A special provincial board of canvassers shall be constituted and its members shall be appointed by the poll body to proclaim Lord Allan Jay, of the National Unity Party, as the winning candidate.

‘Stray’ votes

The Comelec said the votes obtained by Reyes should be considered as “stray.”

Under the law, poll protests involving proclaimed candidates already fall under the jurisdiction of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET).

But in its decision, the poll body insisted that it had retained jurisdiction of the case since what was being declared null was the action of the PBOC, which is under the Comelec.

In his concurring opinion, Brillantes pointed out that the Comelec merely continued acting on the petition to annul Reyes’ certificate of candidacy for being disqualified.

In her press conference, Reyes said Lord Allan Jay “procured the Comelec decision declaring my certificate of candidacy as null and void.”

Reyes took her case to the Supreme Court, which upheld the Comelec’s jurisdiction over the electoral contest instead of the HRET. Reyes questioned the high court ruling.

“It is my position that there is no change of circumstance warranting the reversal of jurisprudence,” she said.

“Instead, what we have is one undeniable fact: that is, my opponent is the son of a sitting justice of the Supreme Court,” Reyes said in a statement she read before reporters.

‘Stinging rebuke’

She pointed to the dissenting opinion of Associate Justice Arturo Brion, which was supported by Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Martin Villarama and Marvic Leonen, to support her allegation against Justice Velasco.

“This is an instance where a justice of the highest post wielded his influence to reverse jurisprudence in order to benefit his family. This is a travesty of justice,” Reyes said.

Brion gave a stinging rebuke to his colleagues who voted to dismiss outright Reyes’ petition, saying among others, that the high court “should have at least heard and considered both sides before making a ruling that would favor a son of a member of the court.”

Culling from the dissenting opinion, Reyes said the high court, “in its haste to rule in favor of the Velascos, rewrote the constitutional provision on when elected officials assume their positions.”

“My term as an elected member of Congress commenced at noon of June 30. To say that I can only assume my post on July 22 would be to render all members of Congress liable for the crime of failure to assume their elected post for at least 22 calendar days,” she said.

“I beseech Presbitero Velasco to stop using his unelected post to further the interest of his family. I call on him to refrain from using his unelected post to give rise to yet another constitutional crisis where Congress may be compelled to ignore a ruling of the court reversing jurisprudence to benefit one of its own,” she added.

She said she planned to file next week a motion for reconsideration of the high court ruling, that was penned by Associate Justice Jose Perez.

In her news conference, Reyes furnished reporters copies of her Philippine passport, an Oct. 13, 2003, Bureau of Immigration document declaring she was recognized as a Filipino citizen, and an affidavit of renunciation of foreign citizenship to prove her Philippine citizenship.

Sam Miguel
07-22-2013, 08:09 AM
Ombudsman seeks arrest of ex-PNP chief for graft

By Gil C. Cabacungan

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:26 am | Monday, July 22nd, 2013

The Office of the Ombudsman has asked the Sandiganbayan to order the arrest and incarceration of six former police officials, including former Philippine National Police chief Director General Avelino Razon Jr., throughout their trial for graft involving fictitious repair and maintenance of light armored vehicles.

The Ombudsman prosecution team headed by Manuel T. Soriano Jr. has recommended the arrest without bail of Razon and his codefendants owing to the huge amount involved in the irregularity—P358.48 million for the phantom repair and maintenance of the V-150 light armored vehicles during Razon’s term as PNP chief.

Razon served as PNP chief from October 2007 to May 2008 then moved to Malacañang as then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s adviser for the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The irregularity was discovered in 2011, and the then PNP chief, Director General Raul Bacalzo, ordered the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) to investigate and determine the criminal liability of the police officials and suppliers involved.

A six-member fact-finding committee earlier found “gross violations” in the award of a contract for the repair and refurbishment of 28 V-150 light armored vehicles used by the PNP’s Special Action Force and Regional Safety Battalions.

The committee found that the repair costs under the contract were more than 30 percent of the original acquisition price of the armored vehicles.

It also noted the hasty processing of the claims and payments made in January 2007, “even before the first of the refurbished [armored vehicles] were delivered.” Those vehicles were delivered seven months later.

Criminal charges were brought against Razon and five other police officials.

The charges involved four contracts:

– P239.61-million contract for the repair and maintenance of 18 V-150s to Evans, RJP and Enviro-Aire (charged for a simulated public bidding, with the bidding notice published in a “nonexistent publication,” Alppa Times News).

– P134.39 million for the repair and maintenance of 10 V-150s to Evans, Enviro-Aire and RJP (no delivery of engine and transmission reports despite full payment).

– P8.7-million phantom delivery of supplies from RKGK and Dex-Lan.

– P2.78 million for the purchase of tires from Serpenair.

A joint team of investigators from the Ombudsman and the Commission on Audit was formed to investigate the contracts and found that the suppliers faked delivery receipts, certifications, inspection and acceptance reports, prerepair and postinspection reports and disbursement vouchers to collect payments.

The Deputy Ombudsman for Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices subsequently launched an investigation and later found Razon and several other PNP officials and employees and private individuals liable for plunder, graft, malversation through falsification of public documents and violation of the procurement law.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales approved the investigation report, and criminal charges were brought against Razon and other police officials in the Office of the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman resolved the case on Dec. 28, 2012, finding probable cause to prosecute Razon and the others.

Earlier this month, Morales affirmed the resolution, and criminal charges were filed in the Sandiganbayan against Razon and 22 former and current police officials and the private contractors.

During the investigation, Razon denied colluding with the suppliers to rig the auction for the contracts. He said there were no phantom repairs, as the light armored vehicles had been actually refurbished.

“The V-150s were repaired or refurbished. If ever, we can call it ‘alleged anomalous repairs or irregular repairs.’ Calling it ghost repair is bringing it too off-center,” Razon told reporters at the time.

Aside from Razon, five other former police officials were charged in the Sandiganbyan: former PNP comptrollers Eliseo de la Paz and Geary L. Barias; former PNP National Headquarters-Bids and Awards Committee chair Reynaldo P. Varilla and vice chair Charlemagne S. Alejandrino; and former Logistics Support Service (LSS) Director Teodorico R. Lapuz IV.

The Ombudsman indicted 11 other police officials: Victor G. Agarcio, Emmanuel Ojeda and Reuel Leverne B. Labrado; Superintendents Rainier A. Espina; Warlito T. Tubon, Henry Y. Duque, Edgar B. Paatan; Josefina B. Dumanew; Analee R. Forro; Victor M. Puddao and Alfredo M. Laviña.

Also charged were six PNP employees—Antonio Retrato, Eulito T. Fuentes, Patricia Enaje, Maria Teresa Narcise, Nancy Basallo and Alex R. Barrameda.

Charges were brought against 10 private individuals from the suppliers: Artemio B. Zuñiga, Gigie Marpa, Marianne Jimenez, Oscar Madamba, Carmencita Salvador, Rasita Zaballero, Harold and Tyrone Ong, Pamela Pensotes and Evangeline Bais.—With Inquirer Research

Sam Miguel
08-02-2013, 09:34 AM
Court orders arrest of 13 ex-DBP execs

By Gil C. Cabacungan

Philippine Daily Inquirer

2:19 am | Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Former Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas, newspaper columnist Alexander Magno and 11 other former officers of the state-owned Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) were ordered arrested on Thursday by the Sandiganbayan for complicity in granting P660 million in loans to a firm owned by businessman Roberto V. Ongpin in 2009.

The Office of the Ombudsman has claimed that the loans that DBP issued to Delta Ventures Resources Inc. (DVRI) to acquire the government financial institution’s shares in Philex Mining Corp. were behest loans. (See What Went Before)

Sto. Tomas and Magno were members of the DBP board during the Arroyo administration.

Two private individuals were also included in the arrest order, but not Ongpin, a former Marcos trade minister who posted bail five months ago.

In a resolution penned by Justice Jose Hernandez and concurred in by Justices Samuel Martires and Maria Cristina Cornejo, the antigraft court’s third division rejected the various motions filed by the accused.

The Sandiganbayan found “probable cause” to issue the warrants after it “personally, independently and judiciously examined and evaluated the resolution and order of the Office of the Ombudsman [and the] records and evidence to support the same.”

The antigraft court said it “does not find any need for additional supporting evidence solely for the purpose of determining probable cause” as it rejected moves by the defendants to delay the trial.

It said the defendants’ arguments were “matters of defense which are appropriate in the trial proper.”

Aside from Sto. Tomas, the Sandiganbayan also issued arrest warrants against Renato Velasco, Ramon Durano IV, Floro Oliveros, Benedicto Ernesto Bitonio Jr., Arturo Baliton, Perla Soleta, Warren de Guzman, Teresita Tolentino, Marissa Cayetano, Nelson Macatlang and Rodolfo Cerezo.

Velasco is a former top aide of then President Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo.

DVRI president Josephine Manalo and Goldenmedia Corp. treasurer Ma. Lourdes Torres were also included in the arrest order.

A Sandiganbayan source said Sto. Tomas, Tolentino, Cayetano, Macatlang, Soleta, Oliveros, Manalo and Torres had each posted P40,000 in bail bond.

The antigraft court spared from the arrest warrant order Ongpin and 10 former DBP officials led by its then president, Reynaldo David, Franklin Velarde, Joseph Donato Pangilinan, Miguel Romero, Edgardo Garcia, Armando Samia, Rolando Geronimo, Jesus Guevarra II and Crescencia Bundoc because they posted bail five months ago.

The case stemmed from the complaint filed by DBP chair Jose Nuñez and DBP president and CEO Francisco Del Rosario Jr.

With the issuance of the arrest warrants to all accused, the trial is expected to start eight months after Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales indicted Ongpin and the former DBP officials for violations of Section 3 (e) of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

The David-led DBP extended two loan facilities (P150 million in April 2009 and P510 million in November 2009) to DVRI despite being undercapitalized; the value of the stocks offered by Ongpin as collateral were below the standards required by the bank and regulator; Ongpin resorted to corporate layering to get the loan; and the proceeds of the second loan were diverted for use in purchasing DBP-owned stocks in Philex Mining Corp.

The Ombudsman claimed that DVRI operated as a securities dealer without license from the Securities and Exchange Commission and that the series of stock transactions it made over a one-year period smacked of insider trading.

Two months after indicting Ongpin and the others, Morales removed Bitonio Jr., Magno, Velasco, Velarde, Garcia, Guevarra II, Bundoc, Baliton, Macatlang, Cayetano, Tolentino, Cerezo and De Guzman from the service after having been found administratively liable for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

Sam Miguel
08-02-2013, 09:36 AM
WHAT WENT BEFORE: DBP’s P660M grant in alleged behest loans

Philippine Daily Inquirer

3:13 am | Friday, August 2nd, 2013

The Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) filed in August 2011 a criminal complaint of graft and violation of banking laws against 25 past and current officers, and three private persons in connection with the grant of P660 million in alleged behest loans during the Arroyo’s administration.

The complaint filed in the Office of the Ombudsman was signed by Jose Nuñez and Francisco del Rosario Jr., DBP chair and president, respectively.

Among those named in the complaint were businessmen Roberto Ongpin; former DBP president Reynaldo David; former DBP chief operating officer Edgardo Garcia; and former DBP directors Patricia Sto. Tomas, Ramon Durano IV, Alexander Magno, Floro Oliveros, Joseph Pangilinan, Miguel Romero, Franklin Velarde and Renato Velasco.

The case stemmed from DBP’s grant of P510-million and P150-million loans to Delta Ventures Resources Inc. (DVRI), allegedly with undue haste, and in violation of its own lending policies and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas regulations.

DVRI was formerly led by Ongpin, trade minister of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. David headed DBP during the Arroyo years.

In the complaint, DBP questioned the grant of P510-million loan to a “puny company” that had a paid-up capital of only P625,000. Moreover, the fact that “it was approved by the RMC credit committee, the executive credit committee and the board of directors of DBP all in one day makes it doubly suspicious,” DBP said.

Ongpin used the loan to buy Philex Mining Corp. shares at P12.75 per share, which he then sold a month later to Manuel V. Pangilinan’s Metro Pacific Group as part of a bloc at P21 per share.

Ongpin and Pangilinan were both sitting on the Philex board when the DVRI purchased the DBP’s Philex shares. In essence, Ongpin had obtained a loan from the DBP and used it to buy the bank’s Philex shares.

The transaction deprived the government bank of an opportunity trading gain of P412.4 million, DBP said in the complaint.

Ongpin denied the allegations, adding that the DBP actually profited with the interest from the loan, which he said, was repaid way ahead of its maturity and was fully backed by collateral.

David maintained that the transactions were done completely in good faith.

The inquiry into DBP transactions was led by Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima on the directive of President Aquino.

The investigation allegedly spurred a DBP documentation lawyer, Benjamin Pinpin, 43, to take his own life on Aug. 2, 2011. It also prompted a Senate inquiry into the matter.

In September 2012, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales ordered the filing of criminal charges against 22 former DBP officers and executives and three private individuals for violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

The charges against Benilda Tejada, Josephine Jaurique and Justice Lady Flores were dismissed for insufficient evidence.

Two months later, Morales ordered the dismissal from service of 13 DBP officials, saying they were administratively liable for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service punishable by removal from the service. Inquirer Research

Sam Miguel
08-02-2013, 09:38 AM
Agri official scam-happy

Accountant figured in fertilizer, pork rackets

By Gil C. Cabacungan, Ronnel W. Domingo and Michael Lim Ubac

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:02 am | Friday, August 2nd, 2013

She was the public accountant at the heart of an alleged P432-million fertilizer fund scam engineered by then Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante in 2003 which was exposed by journalist Marlene Esperat who was later murdered.

Ophelia Agawin was subsequently cleared in that case and has since been promoted assistant secretary for finance in the Department of Agriculture (DA) and gatekeeper of nongovernment organizations (NGOs) sanctioned to accept state money for livelihood projects for the last two years.

Agawin is again in hot water after pork scam whistle-blower Merlin P. Suñas tagged her as a conduit of a web of fake NGOs controlled by Janet Lim-Napoles who has been accused of systematically pillaging state funds by undertaking ghost farm projects and paying off lawmakers and state officials.

Agawin and Bolante were among 11 DA officials and businessmen who were sued by Esperat in 2003 for buying overpriced fertilizer without any bidding from Philippine Phosphate Fertilizer Corp. (Philphos) worth P432 million.

The two and their codefendants—former Agriculture Secretaries Luis Lorenzo Jr. and Arthur Yap; DA officials Edmund Sana, Ibarra Poliquit, Belinda Gonzales, Eduardo Garcia; and businessmen Jesus Varela, Benjamin Tabios and Pepito Alvarez of Philphos— were absolved by the Ombudsman in 2008.

The scam was believed to be the precursor of the P728-million fertilizer fund scandal that also involved Bolante and Napoles, whose Jo-Chris Trading (named after her daughter Jo Cristine) was the second biggest supplier of the liquid fertilizer distributed to allies of then President Macapagal-Arroyo in 2004.

Napoles visits

A DA official, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, claimed that Napoles, the alleged leader of the network of 20 bogus NGOs, had been an occasional visitor of Agawin and her immediate boss, Undersecretary Antonio Fleta, at their second floor office in Quezon City since 2011, when the department tightened accreditation of NGOs in the wake of reports of irregularities from the Commission on Audit.

The DA source said the staff remembered Napoles’ visits because of the boxes of pizza and trays of noodles and spaghetti she brought for the staff and the long meetings between Napoles and Agawin and Fleta, who shared adjoining rooms.

“The staff was always full when she came that’s why they remember her. She always came with two assistants, including Benhur Luy, that’s why he was familiar to the staff when he came out to expose the pork barrel scam,” the source said.

Napoles has denied having anything to do with Luy, Suñas and the fake NGOs bilking state money.

President Aquino has ordered Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala to respond to the allegations, according to presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda. “Secretary Alcala is ready to respond to all these allegations, so that’s not a problem for us. If there are new claims, Secretary Alcala will respond to them,” Lacierda told reporters Thursday.

Alcala said Thursday an inquiry on the alleged release of state funds through his office to bogus NGOs was expected to produce results within the week. He said he was just waiting for Agawin’s explanation.

He denied endorsing questionable projects but added that programs of accredited NGOs were being “revalidated” in light of the whistle-blowers’ claims. “It’s difficult when just anybody can dish out mere accusations,” he said. “It’s not that easy to nurture a reputation.”

Alcala said that people in the department, including himself, had worked so hard and should be judged by their accomplishments. One such feat that Alcala proudly points to is his claim that the country is now “practically self-sufficient” in the supply of rice and corn following heavy investments in strategic agricultural infrastructure the past three years.

He expressed disappointment at the Inquirer’s headline in its July 31 issue, which stated that he was himself implicated in the alleged scam. “The text of the story is fine but the headline jumps to a conclusion,” he said. “I should have been given a chance to explain. I don’t deserve this.”

Accrediting dubious NGO

Meanwhile, Agawin is lying low. Alcala said she had been going to work religiously, attending meetings and doing her tasks as usual. She declined the Inquirer’s request for an interview as well as an offer for her to air her side on the matter.

Suñas has told the Inquirer that 11 pet projects of eight representatives in the 15th Congress were endorsed for funding by Alcala in 2011 using Kaupdanan para sa Manguguna Foundation Inc.—Masbate Rep. Scott Davies Lanete (P30 million), Lanao del Sur Rep. Mohammed Hussein Pangandaman (P15 million), An Waray Rep. Neil Benedict Montejo (P14.2 million), Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab (P13 million), Bukidnon Rep. Florencio Flores Jr. (P6 million), Abante Mindanao Rep. Maximo Rodriguez (P5 million), Camarines Sur Rep. Arnulfo Fuentebella (P5 million) and Davao del Norte Rep. Antonio Lagdameo Jr. (P1 million).

Agawin accredited Kaupdanan even though it had been under fire from the Commission on Audit for its alleged involvement in the P900 Malampaya fund scam said to have been orchestrated by Napoles and former Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman.

The Inquirer has requested a copy of the DA-accredited NGOs in the last three days but the DA has not responded to it.

DA group from Quezon

Fleta is among a core group of officials from Quezon province who were brought to the department by Alcala when he took over in 2010. Upon his entry, Alcala reappointed Agawin and promoted her assistant secretary in February 2012.

Fleta is closely affiliated with the Abono party-list group whose representatives and kin allegedly coursed their pork barrel funds to a fake Napoles NGO, the Social Development Program for Farmers. They were Robert Raymund Estrella of Abono (P31.5 million); Conrado Estrella III (P20 million) and La Union Rep. Victor Ortega (P10 million).

Alcala himself and his appointee, Agriculture Undersecretary Claron Alcantara, were charged in the Ombudsman for disbursing P3.5 million in pork barrel funds to a dubious NGO when Alcala was a Quezon representative in 2008.

Alcala allocated the money to the Alcantara’s family-run NGO, Sir Pelagio Alcantara Development (Spade) Foundation Inc., which made a commitment to give P50,000 each in capital assistance to 65 farmer families, a number of whom have denied receiving the amount.

Sam Miguel
08-02-2013, 09:41 AM
WHAT WENT BEFORE: Fertilizer Fund Scam

Philippine Daily Inquirer

3:16 am | Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Ophelia Agawin was among the officials of the Department of Agriculture (DA) charged with graft in July 2004 for the alleged juggling of funds and overpricing in the purchase of P432-million worth of fertilizers.

Agawin was then DA chief accountant when the complaint was filed in the Office of the Ombudsman by Marlene Garcia-Esperat, then the DA’s resident Ombudsman in Central Mindanao.

The accused included incoming Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, Undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante and seven other officials.

In her four-page complaint, Esperat said the accused allegedly colluded in the purchase of P432 million worth of fertilizers from Philphos, a reported “favored” supplier, for the May to October 2003 rice planting season.

She said funds from the National Food Authority were used to buy the fertilizers when DA funds should have been used for such purchases, calling it a “clear case of juggling of funds,” amounting to “technical malversation.”

Esperat also alleged that fertilizers were overpriced, noting that the price of fertilizer was only P400 per bag before the P432 million procurement, but this shot up to P500 per bag.

Esperat later left the government service and became a crusading journalist in Central Mindanao’s Midland Review.

On March 24, 2005, Maundy Thursday, gunmen barged into Esperat’s home in Tacurong City in Sultan Kudarat and shot her dead while she was having dinner with her daughters.

Estanislao Bismanos (alias Jun Brown), Gerry Cabayag and Randy Grecia confessed to the murder and were sentenced to life imprisonment. They said they had been hired to kill Esperat because of her exposés.

The case against the alleged masterminds of the killing—Osmeña Montaner, DA finance officer for Central Mindanao, and Estrella Sabay, his chief accountant—has yet to conclude.

In September 2008, the Office of the Ombudsman dismissed for insufficiency of evidence the graft case filed by Esperat, clearing Bolante, Yap, Agawin and their coaccused.

In February 2012, President Aquino swore Agawin into office as acting assistant agriculture secretary. Lawrence de Guzman, Inquirer Research

Sam Miguel
08-14-2013, 09:21 AM
DOJ set to file raps vs. ‘porky’ solons

By Leila B. Salaverria

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:25 am | Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is poised to file criminal charges against lawmakers involved in the alleged misuse of public funds that the National Bureau of Investigation is looking into, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on Tuesday.

“The NBI has been validating, double-checking the accuracy of the list and we will file charges in the next few weeks where there is sufficient evidence,” De Lima told reporters in an ambush interview at the House of Representatives yesterday.

De Lima said the cases would most probably be filed in the Office of the Ombudsman, which is also doing a parallel probe. But she said she did not expect the investigations to end any time soon.

“In other words, this investigation would go on for a long time because of the massive scope of the alleged scam or the magnitude of the alleged scam,” she said.

There is also a “bigger and enhanced” team involved in the investigation of the scheme, allegedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, to channel funds of lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel, into ghost projects through bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs).

De Lima noted that Napoles’ camp earlier indicated that it did not want the probe to be handled by the same NBI team involved in the rescue of Benhur Luy, who allegedly was detained for three months by the businesswoman.

Luy is among five former Napoles employees who have accused Napoles of being the brains behind the pork barrel racket involving dummy nongovernment organizations that have taken advantage of the PDAF of at least five senators and 23 members of the House of Representatives.

Among those named were Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr., Jinggoy Estrada, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Gregorio Honasan. The senators have denied wrongdoing and said they would cooperate in the inquiry on the use of their PDAF funds. Napoles likewise has denied any wrongdoing.

De Lima said investigators and lawyers from other NBI divisions, such as the antifraud unit and the legal office, had joined the inquiry.

Napoles lawyer’s demand

Lorna Kapunan, a Napoles counsel, told GMA News TV’s program “News To Go” on Tuesday that she wanted a special fact-finding body to conduct the inquiry.

Kapunan reiterated the objection by Napoles to the participation in that probe of the same NBI team that arrested Napoles’ brother Reynaldo Lim for the alleged illegal detention of Luy.

“With due respect to Attorney Lorna, it’s not for any party, especially those who are subjects of investigation, to impose or dictate on the NBI/DOJ on what to do,” De Lima said in a text message to reporters.

De Lima denied that the investigation was zeroing in on members of the opposition.

“There is no such standard of segregating or separating the opposition from the administration. We don’t care. In the ongoing probe, it was never a criterion,” she said.

“Maybe later when we start filing charges, you would know or see that it’s not at all a benchmark, and the political color of the subject of the investigation does not matter,” she added.

Corroborative evidence

As to the 97 mayors whom the DOJ had summoned, De Lima said investigators just wanted to hear from them whether they had anything to do with the request for financial assistance under the Malampaya gas fund.

The NBI’s whistle-blowers had told investigators that the requests from mayors were fabricated and that the P900 million, which was intended to help towns ravaged by Typhoons “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” in 2009, went to Napoles or her firm, the JLN group of companies.

“What the mayors would say could be corroborative evidence,” De Lima said.

She noted that a few of the mayors earlier told the Commission on Audit (COA) and the NBI that they had not made any such requests.

Trust the NBI

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the 97 mayors, whose signatures were allegedly forged and used in the conversion of the fund, could trust the NBI to conduct a credible investigation.

“Their cooperation is needed in the investigation,” Valte told a briefing in Malacañang. “So it’s also in the interest of those people named to clear their names. As the President said, it’s important to know who were involved, and who were used.”

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas on Tuesday also thumbed down suggestions for his office to look into the cases of the 97 mayors.

“I think it would be better to let the NBI finish its investigation. If we conduct our own investigation, we might be accused of politicking,” Roxas told the Inquirer after the 112th Police Service anniversary at Camp Crame.

“If we do a separate probe, there will just be a duplication of work. Why? Are you not happy with the NBI?” he said.

Told of the clamor for the Liberal Party to lead the congressional inquiry into the alleged PDAF scam, he said: “That’s another issue.”

“Let me just make it clear that I’m in favor of an investigation of this matter. I will support any investigation of the House, Senate, NBI or DOJ,” Roxas said.—With reports from TJ Burgonio, Marlon Ramos and Christine O. Avendaño

Sam Miguel
08-14-2013, 09:23 AM
Pork scam moves Tagle to tears

Cardinal tells pols: Know life of the poor

By Philip C. Tubeza, Jocelyn R. Uy

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:15 am | Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

HORRIFIED AND SHOCKED Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle says it is only right that the P10-billion scam should be investigated. “Many other big scandals in the past have been buried and forgotten when a new issue came up.”

Repent and open your eyes to the poor’s misery.

Calling it an “intricate web” of corruption, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle on Tuesday urged politicians and others involved in the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam to go to the slums and experience what it was like to be poor.

Holding back tears, Tagle called on the culprits to repent, adding that they might have dipped their fingers in the nation’s coffers because they did not know what the poor were going through every day.

Tagle, who usually declined to answer questions about politics since becoming archbishop in 2012, talked emotionally about the pork barrel scam.

“Whoever is involved there, I appeal to you, visit a community of informal settlers … walk there at night and you will see in the sidewalk the families who open these cartons on which they would sleep,” Tagle said in a press conference at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila.

“Maybe if you could hold their hands, your hearts will also be touched … Sometimes, I think those who thought about doing this were able to do so because the poor were absent in their lives. Maybe they don’t see or refuse to see,” he said.

“But if you still see and still have empathy, maybe you would still be horrified and feel compassion,” he added.

“First of all, who would not be shocked about these reports. While it is still being investigated, (you could see) the magnitude of the money involved,” Tagle said.

“And then every day, you would see the machinations, whether true or not, it seems that it’s a very intricate web that reached this far. Who will not be horrified?” he said.

Big scandals forgotten

“What kind of Filipino who loves his country would not be bothered, especially if he is a follower of Jesus. Your heart would be crushed further. Can someone do that to his fellow man?” Tagle asked.

“Could those behind this stomach this huge damage to the nation? That is why it is only right that this should be investigated … We have heard many other big scandals in the past but these were buried and forgotten when a new issue came up,” he added.

Tagle called on the culprits to repent and let their “good side” shine through.

“I believe that there is goodness in every person so I’m appealing to that part of every person. You can be better than this. And you cannot deny it. There’s a goodness in you which comes from God. Just let it come and you will be free and happy,” he said.

Another archbishop

Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles also on Tuesday called on Filipinos to press for a thorough investigation of Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the P10-billion pork barrel scam, in the Senate just like what it did with former Chief Justice Renato Corona and retired Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia.

Arguelles said Napoles should be called to the Senate and face an exhaustive investigation by lawmakers, which he added should be aired live for transparency and so that “the public can be the judge too.”

“Let all citizens who love this country plead with the senators, if they indeed care for us and for the truth: Please call Janet Napoles to the Senate and [let her] face a thorough investigation like what they did to Angelo Reyes, General Garcia and Chief Justice Corona,” Arguelles said.

Silence in the Senate

The senior prelate was referring to the investigations that the Senate had conducted on the late former Armed Forces chief of staff Angelo Reyes over the supposed corruption and distribution of a million-peso payola to the military brass and the plunder cases against Corona and Garcia.

Arguelles also said he did not trust the investigation being carried out by the National Bureau of Investigation that was why he was appealing to the senators to take action.

“The NBI investigation can be manipulated so it should be up to the Senate to open this plunder case,” he said, describing the grave misuse of the pork barrel, the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) as a “heinous crime” against the Filipino poor.

“Our Filipino poor could have benefited from the PDAF,” he said in a text message to reporters Tuesday.

He also wondered why senators were quiet all of a sudden on the issue. “Do they have something to be afraid of that Napoles might reveal? Why all of a sudden are they all quiet on this P10-billion pork barrel scam?” he said.

San Beda law dean

Fr. Ranhillo Aquino, dean of San Beda law school, proposed Tuesday that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) create an independent legal group that would serve as a watchdog against corruption in government as part of the Church’s advocacy for good governance.

“After a while, this issue [on the pork barrel scam] will slowly end and we don’t want that to happen. Even in the Church, the advocacy against corruption is not sustained so why not the CBCP have a legal luminary study the issue [and] investigate?” Aquino said over Church-run Radio Veritas on Tuesday.

Sam Miguel
08-14-2013, 09:25 AM
In detention, Arroyo hasn’t lost her taste for ‘pork’

By Christian V. Esguerra

Philippine Daily Inquirer

6:07 am | Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—She may have lost her freedom, but not her “pork.”

Detained former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo continues to get her share of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) under the Aquino administration, which has been pushing for her conviction in separate cases of plunder and electoral sabotage.

Now on her second term as Pampanga representative, Arroyo has received a total of P175 million in PDAF, the official name of the pork barrel, since President Aquino, replaced her in 2010, records of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) show.

But her two sons—Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado “Dato” Arroyo and former Ang Galing Pinoy Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo—are not as fortunate under the present administration.

Mikey Arroyo got zero PDAF allocation from 2011 to 2013, and Dato Arroyo received no allocation in the last two years. There was no record on the DBM website of the latter receiving his pork barrel this year.

Members of the House are each allocated P70 million in PDAF every year.

The brothers’ mother, detained since 2011, received a total of P30.8 million in “new appropriation” that year. Her biggest share came the following year with a combined amount of P109.2 million in “continuing” and “new” appropriations.

This year, P35 million, or half of her annual pork barrel, has been released to the former President.

With her only son left in Congress not getting his PDAF, Arroyo allocated the biggest slice of her pork barrel this year for his congressional district.

DBM records showed she earmarked P2.1 million in “financial assistance for indigent patients of the second district of Camarines Sur” at the Bicol Medical Center.

Another P1 million was allocated for a scholarship program for “400 indigent students” in her son’s congressional district. The district’s poor patients at the Bicol Sanitarium also received P400,000 from the ex-President’s PDAF this year.

The rest of Arroyo’s PDAF was set aside mostly for Pampanga’s second district where she won a second congressional term despite being detained at Veterans’ Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City.

The fund was set aside for road construction and for assisting poor patients and students.

Last year, DBM records showed she earmarked at least P6.5 million of her PDAF for the enrollment of second-district residents in the National Health Insurance Program.

Joescoundrel
08-19-2013, 07:20 AM
COA probes P23B gas fund under Arroyo

60 percent released before 2010 elections

By Gil C. Cabacungan

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:50 am | Monday, August 19th, 2013

The Commission on Audit (COA) is investigating disbursements amounting to P23.6 billion from the Malampaya Fund by the Arroyo administration, 60 percent of which were released during a spending binge before the May 2010 presidential election, the Inquirer has learned.

Then Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. and his deputy, Undersecretary Mario Relampagos, signed more than 150 statement of allotment release orders (Saros) covering P14 billion between Oct. 21, 2009, and Dec. 29, 2009, ostensibly for victims of Tropical Storm “Ondoy” and Typhoon “Pepeng” and other infrastructure projects.

Andaya, an incumbent Camarines Sur representative, confirmed that the funds were released upon the orders of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is currently on her second term as Pampanga representative, during a series of Cabinet-level meetings, but he maintained that these were all aboveboard.

“Malampaya Law states that releases must be approved by the OP (Office of the President),” he said in a text message.

Arroyo’s spokespersons, Elena Bautista-Horn and Gary Olivar, did not reply to the Inquirer’s repeated requests for comment.

The P23.6 billion being audited by the COA out of the government share in the operation of oil and natural gas fields in Malampaya off Palawan is more than twice the P10-billion pork barrel scam allegedly perpetrated by bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs) controlled by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

Malampaya review

The Malampaya review is separate from the COA’s special audit of the P101 billion in soft and hard projects financed from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel, of senators and members of the House of Representatives from 2007 to 2009. Results of the audit, released on Friday, showed that a substantial amount of PDAF funds went to bogus Napoles NGOs and ghost projects.

The COA had issued a 2010 report that stated that the government had accumulated P77.1 billion in royalties and fees from the Malampaya Fund as of 2010. That includes the P23.6 billion under investigation.

In a June 27, 2011, memorandum, COA chair Grace Pulido-Tan said: “It has come to the attention of this commission that there were funds released by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) direct to the different national and local government agencies chargeable against the DOE (Department of Energy)-Malampaya Fund to cover the cost of additional requirements or the various programs and projects implemented by them … from 2006 to Dec. 31, 2010.”

Tan ordered the audit to determine what percentage of the fund was used for purposes other than its avowed objective, the percentage unused and its disposition. The review would also cover procurement and the use of the assets.

The biggest mystery is why the COA has not yet come out with results more than two years after Tan ordered the review.

P900-million DAR scam

The COA inquiry has assumed added significance amid revelations that P900 million from the Malampaya Fund supposedly for victims of Ondoy and Pepeng that ravaged Luzon in 2009 had been diverted to dummy agencies of Napoles.

The National Bureau of Investigation has summoned 97 mayors whose signatures were allegedly faked to secure funding for agricultural kits, purportedly coursed through the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), to be used by storm victims in areas covered by the state land-to-the-tiller program.

The NBI inquiry into the Malampaya Fund is part of the larger probe into allegations by six whistle-blowers, all former employees of Napoles, that the businesswoman channeled P10 billion from the PDAF and other state agencies over the past decade to ghost projects.

Recipients

Based on the COA memo, the recipients of the Malampaya Fund were the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), with P7.073 billion; Department of Agriculture (DA), P5.824 billion; Palawan, P3.958 billion; Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), P2.14 billion; Department of Finance-National Housing Authority (DOF-NHA), P1.398 billion; Department of National Defense (DND), P1.198 billion; DAR, P900 million; Department of Health (DOH), P745.926 million; DOE, P250 million; DBM, P62 million; Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC)-Philippine Coast Guard, P50 million; and Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (DOST-Pagasa), P400,000.

The Inquirer obtained the memo from an employee of one of the agencies that received the Malampaya bonanza. The employee felt that the memo had become relevant given the interest in the P900-million DAR controversy. The complete list showed a wide view of the Malampaya Fund.

Blanket authority

The Malampaya Fund disbursements were staggering in scope—roughly equivalent to one year’s worth of the annual pork barrel of senators and members of the House of Representatives—but highly suspect in their timing and the choices of projects. The fund was originally intended to finance energy-related projects.

Malampaya Fund purpose

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the biggest question in the Malampaya Fund releases was whether these were meant for energy and exploration and development.

“That is the principal purpose of the Malampaya Fund. But there is a catch-all phrase to the law: ‘and for such other purpose as the President may deem necessary,’” Abad said.

The official was also clueless on why the COA was dragging its feet on the review. “Why is the COA taking some time? I have no idea but if I may guess, it’s tracing and reconciling documents,” Abad said.

Only three Saros involving the Malampaya Fund were released outside the October to December 2009 period: P4 billion to the DA for the “augmentation of the Agriculture Guarantee Fund Pool and the rice self-sufficiency and other commodity programs” on Nov. 3, 2008; P1 billion for the AFP Modernization Fund on Dec. 4, 2008; and the P3.958 billion total remittances to Palawan that began in 2006.

About P7 billion were for typhoon-related projects—P1.8 billion coursed through the DA; P20 million for Ondoy victims in Botolan, Zambales; the P900 million to the DAR; P400,000 to the DOTC-Pagasa to draw up rehabilitation plans; P1.398 billion to the DOF-NHA for the construction of 6,484 housing units in Rizal; and P2.14 billion to the DILG to augment police emergency response capacity; P745.926 million to the DOH to rebuild the typhoon-damaged state hospitals; and P10 million to the DND for the repair of the Philippine Military Academy’s infrastructure damaged by typhoons.

DPWH share

The DPWH Office of the Secretary got the single biggest allocation in the department’s package—P2.773 billion for roads, highways, bridges and flood-control projects.

The other major allocations in the DPWH portfolio were P551.562 million for the rehabilitation of roads in Pangasinan; P216.250 million for its central office for an unspecified purpose; Laguna, P450 million; Antique, P270 million; Albay, P255 million; Leyte, P235 million; Region I with P207.8 million; Sarangani, P200 million; Quezon, P200 million; Butuan City, P185 million; Zamboanga provinces, P160 million; Misamis provinces, P125 million; Agusan del Norte, P120 million; Western and Northern Samar provinces, P105 million; Iloilo, P100 million; Bukidnon, P90 million; Pampanga, P80 million; Camarines Sur, P76.8 million; Sultan Kudarat, P60 million; Batangas, P50 million; Cebu, P50 million; Cagayan, P48 million; Romblon, P45 million; Aklan, P40 million; North Cotabato, P36 million; Cavite, P30 million; Rizal, P30 million; Metro Manila, P26 million; Surigao del Sur, P10 million; Pangasinan, another P24 million; and Nueva Ecija, P15 million.

Limit Palawan’s share

In December, 2007, Arroyo issued Executive Order No. 683 limiting the share of Palawan from the Camago-Malampaya royalties to 20 percent from 40 percent (pending a court dispute on Palawan’s rightful share) while granting her almost full control of the rest of the oil and gas bonanza.

Some critics claimed that with EO 683, Arroyo turned the Malampaya Fund into her personal pork barrel and bypassed Congress’ power of the purse.

The executive order empowered the DBM to release funds to the implementing agencies on the directive by the Office of the President or written request of the province of Palawan, the Palawan congressional districts or the highly urbanized City of Puerto Princesa; and a certification that the designated projects fall under the investment program of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa, and projects identified in the development program of the national government or its agencies.

Based on the Saros, only the DOE’s P250-million electrification projects for 211 barangays (villages) and the DND’s purchase of a P2.7-million power generator for the Philippine Army were directly related to power.

Environmentalist Gerry Ortega was murdered in January 2011 allegedly for his exposés regarding the misuse of Palawan’s share of the Malampaya Fund.

Sam Miguel
08-22-2013, 08:48 AM
‘Arroyo chose who, how much PDAF to give’

By Gil C. Cabacungan

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:52 am | Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

The pork barrel—public money for the pet projects of legislators—has become even more portly under the Aquino administration, the budget secretary of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said on Wednesday.

Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya said the P70 million and P200 million in yearly pork barrel allocations for representatives and senators, respectively, were “institutionalized” in the national budget when President Aquino took over Malacañang.

Andaya said such quotas were just guides during the time of the Arroyo administration.

“President Arroyo could choose who and how much to give to each congressman or senator which explains why some have more than others in the COA (Commission on Audit) report. But under this administration, everybody gets the P70 million or P200 million every year,” Andaya said in a phone interview.

The pork barrel is officially called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), formerly the Countrywide Development Fund.

Norm since 15th Congress

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the P70 million in PDAF for a member of the House of Representatives and P200 million for a senator was adopted as the norm beginning in the 15th Congress.

“We just wanted to put an end to the inggitan (envy) among lawmakers. At least everyone gets their share no more, no less. Dati may tampuhan pa kasi ’yung mas malakas, mas malaki (Before there was displeasure because those who were close [to Malacañang] got bigger amounts.),” said Abad.

For the lawmakers whose allocations were withheld in the 15th Congress, such as those for the two sons of Arroyo, their share of the PDAF was sent directly to their districts.

Up by almost a third

While the national budget increased 29 percent from P1.4 trillion in 2009 to P1.8 trillion in 2012, the PDAF swelled 267 percent to P24.24 billion in 2012—the year Congress ousted former Chief Justice Renato Corona, and passed sin-tax reform and reproductive health bills.

During this period, the pork barrel of senators surged 67 percent to P4.14 billion in 2012 from P2.48 billion.

The amount was peanuts compared with the share of the House of Representatives that saw its pork barrel allocation growing nearly five times to P20.10 billion in 2012 from P4.12 billion in 2009.

Party-list representatives alone were allocated P3.66 billion in 2012, or 829 percent more than the P393.85 million that was set aside for them as a group in 2009.

Arroyo spending more

The COA special audit, however, would show that Arroyo was already spending more than the 2012 pork-spending level in the last few years of her administration during which she faced impeachment cases and congressional probes of projects tainted with corruption.

The COA said the “soft” and “hard” projects funded by pork funds totaled P79.88 billion, or an average of P26.63 billion a year in 2007-2009.

The amount did not include the P69.62 billion that the COA said was released for the hard projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) during the period but lacked the records to show the legislators who sponsored them.

Soft projects include the procurement of seeds and support for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), while hard projects refer to road, bridges, schools and other infrastructure.

Aquino system ‘better’

Abad said the system adopted by the Aquino administration was better than Arroyo’s because it made the pork barrel releases more transparent because it discouraged “congressional insertions” (in which representatives lobbied agencies for more projects in their districts during budget hearings).

The timely approval of the budget under the Aquino administration ensured more fiscal discipline than during the previous administration, Abad said.

DSWD as gatekeeper

Andaya acknowledged that the failure to enact the budget on time during the Arroyo years had given Malacañang the final say on how to use the savings or unused allocations in the new fiscal year.

For 2014, the Aquino administration has earmarked P27 billion in pork barrel in the P2.27-trillion national budget, with the DSWD designated as the gatekeeper of releases to all nongovernment organizations (NGOs).

Fake NGOs

The COA special audit showed that the DSWD itself was lax in accrediting and monitoring PDAF releases as it allowed fake NGOs to handle P2.47 billion in soft pork from 2007 to 2009.

The fake NGO racket has flourished beyond the Arroyo administration. Whistle-blowers Benhur Luy and Merlina Suñas claimed that dummy NGOs controlled by Janet Lim-Napoles had transactions with the same implementing agencies cited in the COA report as late as last year.

Sam Miguel
08-22-2013, 08:52 AM
Opening a closet of skeletons

By Jose Ma. Montelibano

Philippine Daily Inquirer

11:06 pm | Thursday, August 15th, 2013

It is almost amusing to monitor all the ranting and raving about the reported P10-billion pork barrel fund scam. The information being downloaded by the whistle-blowers are all so juicy, real or not. It makes for a good teleserye, actually. Now, another chapter is adding itself to the drama – the warrants of arrest just issued against Janet Lim-Napoles and her brother. As of this hour, I do not know if Napoles has already been arrested.

Assuming that the allegations are true instead of assuming innocence until proven guilty, there is more than enough reported wrongdoing to justify public outrage. What I find amusing is that the justification for public outrage has been there for a long time, except that the public was not outraged. After all, the whistle-blowers’ story starts from the late 90’s and established the scam formula throughout the whole Gloria and Mike Arroyo regime.

Before the advent of whistle-blowers, which Chavit began against Joseph Estrada and which Jun Lozada courageously picked up with his ZTE revelations, the dirt about the pork barrel had been an open chismis subject until people tired of hearing about it. The railings against the pork barrel must be as old as a senior citizen by now.

It may be that the Erap Resign movement did trigger enough focus on corruption, and an objectionable immoral lifestyle, to end in the unwilling removal of a sitting president. It may be that this process of almost four months of unrest became a partial vent for deep-seated frustrations. With reduced internal pressure because of EDSA Dos, the public again took a very tolerant stance against corruption. Not funny, but public perception of corruption immediately rose in the first three months of the Gloria and Mike tandem that it overtook the worst level that Estrada reached.

Now, what can one expect from a government considered corrupt, or from a string of governments judged to be corrupt? It means corruption finds way to roll itself out. It does not stay in the chismis mode, it always applies itself into action. And because it had been doing so for decades, the application has become systemic and the culture endemic.

What makes us more shocked today than yesterday? We may think it is the alleged P10-billion scam but that cannot be so. After all, if we go back just 10 years, what has been stolen by corrupt officials and their cohorts in the private sector can be well over a trillion pesos. Many had estimated corruption to have eaten up 30 percent or more of government projects. Even operating costs including the largest, salaries and wages for government personnel, had been stained with ‘‘ghost employees’’. The one trillion pesos I speak about could have been reached just in the nine years of Gloria and Mike.

So, if it is not about a shocking P10 billion story of a scam, why are we, the Filipino public, more agitated now?

I believe the first reason is that P-Noy made Matuwid na Daan a personal vision, that a Philippine President has made fighting corruption a personal challenge and has put his entire administration on the alert against it. This bold public stance prioritizing an anti-corruption attitude does not eliminate corruption but it begins a sincere and sustained effort to do so. All his Cabinet Secretaries know that P-Noy will not hesitate to fire them if he has reasonable proof, and not even beyond reasonable doubt. Now, can you imagine reporting dishonest government officials to Gloria and Mike – and believe they will act against the thieves?

I believe the second reason is that there are now enough young Filipinos who are not yet influenced by the corruption of older generations, that idealism and nobility are finding young heroes and heroines who refuse to inherit a dirty lifestyle. I have witnessed a second generation of elected officials whose family names may not have been exempted from the perception of being ‘‘trapos’’ but are more influenced by the higher standards of ethics and performance.

I believe, thirdly, that there are more Filipino citizens who are now connecting the dots, that corruption, indeed, stunts national progress and aggravates historical poverty. Even with reports of more massive vote-buying at higher rates than before, politicians cannot simply assume that they can buy votes cheaply. And they are not as able to monitor and determine if the voter is really voting for the vote-buyer.

I believe the fourth reason is a growing kindness and concern for the poor by the non-poor, by a growing number of pro-poor programs by corporations, civic organizations, schools and volunteer groups. I believe that this emerging spirit of pro-active sympathy for the poor, especially victims of disasters, understand why corruption is not only immoral but also so wasteful in the face of great and urgent need.

I believe, as a fifth reason, that the Catholic Church is also starting its own recovery program against its own corrupt, albeit that this corruption is against the wealth of the faith more than the money of the institution. The advent of Pope Francis with his simplicity, his sincerity, and his compassion for the poor will overwhelm the acrimonious noise of high-profile bishops, and young Cardinal Tagle will represent that posture more than the CBCP. The appeal for love, forgiveness and mercy by Pope Francis will find more support and may redefine the face and voice of the Catholic Church in the Philippines.

I believe that the sixth reason is technology, a special kind whose nature is speed and transparency, which is not driven by morality but by an almost insatiable need to have data and to share that data. This sixth reason, combined with the five reasons mentioned above, will literally rock the boat in ways we have not yet imagined.

What is clear is that many skeletons are rattling, or are rattled. They sense the closet door will soon be opened, and the light will set them free. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, though, way beyond government. Many more will talk and point to each other. Because in the end, corruption could not have taken over if we did not allow it.

Sam Miguel
08-22-2013, 08:54 AM
Imagine what P10B can buy: 8,000 classrooms in 2-story buildings

2:15 am | Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Imagine P10 billion!

Readers are welcome to send in a list of goods and/or services that the P10 billion can buy.

Janet Lim-Napoles is accused of converting P10 billion in government funds into kickbacks over the past 10 years through bogus NGOs, and ghost projects and recipients.

Ten billion pesos is a mind-boggling amount. Its misuse has moved Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle to tears and appalled Commission on Audit Chair Grace Pulido-Tan.

In Tan’s words: “Kahindik-hindik (appalling).”

Tan, who announced on Friday the results of a COA special audit of pork barrel funds from 2007 to 2009, found total releases for legislators’ programs and projects amounting to P116 billion. On top of this, the COA uncovered excess appropriations amounting to P50 billion.

Tan said the fake NGOs racket was much bigger, wider and more appalling than Napoles’ P10-billion scam.

But just how much is P10 billion?

For example, Kristel Tejada, the 16-year-old University of the Philippines student who committed suicide in March because she could not pay her tuition worth less than P10,000 per semester. P10 billion can pay that amount a million times over.

Ten billion pesos can also cover the withholding tax paid by 3.8 million workers earning around P20,000 monthly and pay for the wages of close to a million minimum wage workers for a month.

For daily MRT riders, P10 billion can pay for 333.3 million round trips from North Avenue in Quezon City to Taft Avenue in Pasay City.

The P10 billion can also buy:

Food

370 million kilos of well-milled NFA rice (P27/kilo)

55.6 million kilos of pork (P180/kilo)

185 million dozens of chicken eggs (P54/dozen)

222 million kilos of sugar (P45/kilo)

83 million kilos of “galunggong” (P120/kilo)

131.6 million one-piece Chickenjoy with rice meals (P76/meal)

76.9 million Big Mac meals with regular fries and drink (P130/meal)

204 million one-piece Mang Inasal with rice meals (P49/meal)

49 million regular pepperoni pizza (P204/per pizza)

823 million 155-gram cans of sardines (P12.15/can)

1.59 million 50-gram packs of instant noodles (P6.30/pack)

4 billion pieces of pandesal (P2.25/piece)

Infrastructure

400 kilometers of standard two-lane roads (P25 million per km)

417 bus terminals similar to the newly built Southwest Interim Transport Terminal in Parañaque City (P24 million for the terminal)

Social welfare and education

5.6 million PhilHealth members (P1,800/year)

666,667 households with three qualified children under the government’s conditional cash transfer program (P15,000 per family per year)

248 million textbooks (P40 per textbook)

8,000 classrooms in two-story buildings (P1.25 million per classroom)

13,699 classrooms in single-story buildings (P730,000 per classroom)

8 billion pieces of 100-mg aspirin

4.4 billion pieces of 250-mg amoxicillin

Defense

600,240 Glock pistols (P16,660/gun)

153,846 long firearms (Gas-operated cal. 5.56, M-4 platform at P65,000/firearm)

260,402 M-4 cal. 5.56-mm assault rifles (P38,402/firearm)

57,143 low-cost houses for soldiers and policemen (P175,000/low-cost house and lot)

6 F/A-50 fighter jets (P1.58 billion each)

Compiled by Ana Roa, Almi Ilagan, Lawrence de Guzman and Kate Pedroso, Inquirer Research

Sam Miguel
08-26-2013, 12:36 PM
Corona joins ‘Million People March’, heckled

By Matikas Santos

INQUIRER.net

10:37 am | Monday, August 26th, 2013

HE’S BACK Impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona raises a clenched fist as he joins “Million People March” at the Luneta Park Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, calling for the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or “pork barrel”. He was, however, heckled and booed by the crowd as he left the park. Corona was impeached in 2012 for misdeclaring his statement of assets and liabilities and networth (SALN).

MANILA, Philippines – Impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona joined Monday the “Million People March” at the Luneta Park for the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), popularly called “pork barrel”, but was booed on his way out.

“We are here to be one with the anger of the people because of the abuses being done to the fund of the nation,” said Corona who was convicted of misdeclaring his statement of assets and liabilities and networth (SALN) in 2012 by the Senate that acted as an impeachment court.

“The money and taxes of the people are being taken from them every month thinking that it would be used properly, but turns out it would end up in anomalies instead,” he said.

The amount that was lost should have ended up in projects like the improvement of government hospitals services and projects for schools such as classrooms, he said.

On Corona’s way out of Rizal Park, he was booed and was repeatedly called “Epal”.

People also shouted “Corona baboy [pig]” at his van as it was on its way out. One protester cried: “Your family stole our taxpayer’s money!”

Sam Miguel
08-26-2013, 12:37 PM
Corona joins 'pork' protest but leaves after booed by crowd

Posted on Monday Aug 26th at 12:03pm

By Louis Bacani

MANILA, Philippines - The first Supreme Court Chief Justice to be impeached after being accused of corruption joined Monday's "Million People March Protest" in Luneta against the controversial pork barrel.

However, former Chief Justice Renato Corona also left early after he was booed by the crowd, according to radio reports.

Protesters also reportedly shouted "magnanakaw" and "epal" at Corona and prohibited the former chief magistrate to join the event further.

On May 29, 2012, the Senate sitting as an impeachment trial court, declared Corona guilty of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.

The ex-chief magistrate was found guilty of violating Article II of the Articles of Impeachment filed against him after he failed to fully disclose his wealth in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.

The chief magistrate was impeached in 2011 at the House of Representatives.

Corona attended Monday's event in Luneta clad in white similar to other protesters. Live television shots showed some members of the crowd taking pictures with him.

Meanwhile, netizens slammed Corona's attendance in the anti-pork protest.

Ex CJ Renato Corona gets booed. People shouted "Epal" when they saw him in the #MillionPeopleMarch Left the area in a huff.

— marou pahati sarne (@marou_ps) August 26, 2013

Ang lakas ng loob ni Renato Corona na sumali sa #MillionPeopleMarch samantalang bidang bida sya sa TV dati sa pagiging corrupt.

— Lux (@Luxja16) August 26, 2013

Renato Corona has been booed! Damasos should be booed also. Nakinabang sila kay Napoles. #MillionPeopleMarch

— Ryan (@yowRYAN) August 26, 2013

Di yata alam ni mr renato corona na bawal ang epal s luneta. Ang kapal!

— louie hilario (@lowiski_2809) August 26, 2013

I think ex-CJ Renato Corona should've taken Lea Salonga's advice "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should" LOL #VoicePHLiveInLuneta

— Miah Moises (@youseeitsmemiah) August 26, 2013

Thief Justice Renato Corona has some nerve showing up! He just wants to avenge his impeachment. #MillionPeopleMarch http://t.co/5CXzSbNabR

— Renzo Clyde ツ (@rctamoni) August 26, 2013

Renato Corona gets booed and people are shouting "Magnanakaw ka!". He totally deserves it! #MillionPeopleMarch

— Kaite Mariz Fuentes (@KaiteMariz) August 26, 2013

Sam Miguel
08-26-2013, 12:39 PM
^^^ What the hell were you thinking Rene Corona?

Sam Miguel
08-27-2013, 08:17 AM
People’s voice: Stop greed

Gathering at Luneta a rally of several firsts

By Leila B. Salaverria

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:36 am | Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

It was a rally of several firsts: The first largest protest assembly since President Aquino was elected in 2010 on a platform of good governance; the first initiated and ignited through the social networks; the first without a leader and political color.

The tens of thousands of predominantly middle-class Filipinos converged on Manila’s Rizal Park on Monday without a leader but pulled together by a shared desire for the complete abolition of the pork barrel and the prosecution of the people who misused it to line their pockets.

The protesters marched across Manila and streamed into the park to stage a leaderless gathering called through Facebook and Twitter to express national rage at corruption in the government.

Ignoring a slight rain and the muddy grounds, the protesters, whose number police estimated at 85,000 to 100,000, stayed all day, hoping to drive home a common message: end graft and corruption.

Aquino tried to head off the protest on Friday by announcing the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), a pork barrel that channels funds to congressional districts, but allocations for it would be set down in the budget starting next year.

But angered by a series of reports in the Inquirer on the alleged plundering of the PDAF by a businesswoman in connivance with legislators, the people appear to have rejected Aquino’s solution and proceeded with the march to demand the complete abolition of the pork barrel.

Start of being listened to

The protesters gathered at Luneta Park, some wearing pig masks and headgear.

Others carried banners saying “Scrap pork barrel!” or “No to pork!”

“We have learned here that we all have a voice,” said Peachy Rallonza-Bretaña, one of the netizens who propagated the idea for the mass protest on Facebook and Twitter.

“If we speak up, we can be heard. It’s the start of being listened to,” Bretaña said.

She said the gathering was not leaderless, but “leader-full.”

Everybody who joined could initiate action and bring about change, she added.

After the gathering, people must sustain their anger to improve things in the government, she said.

They could educate themselves about the controversy and take further action to ensure the proper use of public funds, she said. They could write to mayors, lawmakers, even the President, to air their demands, she added.

Bretaña said the people were clearly unappeased by President Aquino’s decision to abolish the PDAF and replace it with a new system that would put it in the national budget.

Complete probe in 100 days

“The effect of the announcement was that the people took a deeper look at what he was saying and they learned that he wasn’t actually stopping the pork,” Bretaña said.

She said the investigation of the pork barrel scam should be completed in 100 days, because people might forget the issue if the probe stretched longer than that.

At the center of that probe is businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, who allegedly siphoned off P10 billion in legislators’ PDAF allocations into her bank accounts through bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs) over the last 10 years.

Five senators and 23 members of the House of Representatives have been implicated in the alleged plunder of the PDAF.

Napoles has denied any wrongdoing. But she has gone into hiding after being ordered arrested by a Makati City court for the illegal detention of the principal witness in the pork barrel scam.

A special audit by the Commission on Audit (COA) found wider corruption involving the PDAF, with billions of pesos being channeled through 82 dubious NGOs.

Ten of those NGOs had been set up by Napoles and received more than P2 billion from 2007 to 2009 alone.

Honorable people

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, moved to tears by the pork barrel scam during a recent news conference, joined the gathering at Luneta on Monday and called on citizens to be heroes and to prove that Filipinos are honorable.

“Honorable people are those who fear God, respect life, value their fellowmen, care for the country, and respect nature,” Tagle said.

“The honorable self must prevail,” he said.

Tagle also called on the people to care for the poor as their fellowmen and to listen to the pulse of the nation. They must listen to God as well, he added.

Fr. Anton Pascual, in his homily during Mass at the park, said people must be vigilant, and that eternal vigilance was the price of democracy.

Pascual also said that if people want good government, it must start with the individual, who should shun corrupt acts as well.

“Structural evil is rooted in personal evil,” Pascual said.

Million mark

The Luneta gathering failed to attract 1 million people, but Bretaña said the million mark was not the point of the event.

The point, she said, is to help people find their voices and act as one.

The Luneta protest started with a post from music executive producer Ito Rapadas, who called for a million people march because of his frustration over news that the lawmakers’ pork barrel allocations, coming from taxes paid by ordinary working citizens, were channeled into ghost projects and ended up in the pockets of greedy politicians.

Rapadas’ post was shared by friends, including musician Monet Silvestre. Bretaña saw the post and suggested that it be held at Luneta Park on Aug. 26, National Heroes’ Day.

Her idea was shared on Facebook and quickly gained online support, with people she did not know vowing to join the march and offering to help organize the protest.

Goosebumps

Silvestre said the response of the people gave him goosebumps. It showed that Filipinos, though coming from different economic backgrounds and political and social affiliations, could unite for a common cause.

Rapadas played down the failure of the event to attract one million people.

He said he used “million” in his post because it was a good round number and an effective mental tool.

Despite the anger, the Luneta “pocket picnic” was festive and full of humor, in true Filipino fashion.

The costume of comedian Juana Change—a pig mask, a plunging red top, and a barrel around her waist—was a crowd drawer.

Also proving a big hit with the crowd was comedian Jograd de la Torre, who sang his parody song “Kawatan” about the pork barrel scandal, set to the tune of the popular hit “Price Tag.”

What’s next? Boycott?

For the marchers, the protest was only the beginning, as talk of what should come next had begun.

A group of employees at music companies gathered at one corner of Burnham Green was overheard suggesting a boycott of taxes if the people’s demand for the abolition of the pork barrel went unheeded.

“If we just sign up for the campaign, what happens next? By April and no one involved in this mess is in jail, or the reforms we are asking for are not done, let’s just stop paying our taxes,” said musician Mike Villegas.

After the event, the park management was glad to find that the organizers kept their word and cleaned up before leaving.

Very disciplined ralliers

Kenneth Montegrande, spokesman for the National Parks Development Council, said he had seen protesters carrying garbage bags and picking up trash.

Francis Martinez, head of the Parkway Clearing Group of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), said only a truckload of trash was removed from the park after the protest.

“Compared to other ralliers, they were very disciplined. They even put out their own boxes for trash,” Martinez said.

There were no untoward incidents during the protest. The metropolitan police, which had put its 18,000-strong force on full alert, said the Luneta gathering was peaceful.—With reports from Erika Sauler and Jaymee T. Gamil

Sam Miguel
08-27-2013, 08:19 AM
Who’s who: Corona gets booed, exits; celebs ogled

By Leila B. Salaverria

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:52 am | Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Boos and cries of “epal” greeted ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona when he went to Luneta Park on Monday for the citizen-initiated protest to force the abolition of the pork barrel and the punishment of the people who stole the funds.

Corona arrived with his wife, Cristina, at Quirino Grandstand in the morning, joining the crowd that had gathered near one of several makeshift stages in the area where speakers from different groups were railing against the pork barrel.

The Coronas came in white and were accompanied by several friends.

When one of the speakers announced Corona’s presence, some members of the crowd booed loudly and called him epal, Filipino slang for attention-grabber.

But the couple stayed for a few minutes and joined the singing of the patriotic song “Bayan Ko,” with the former Chief Justice raising a clenched fist in the air.

No talk

Reporters soon swarmed around the Coronas and threw questions at the ousted chief magistrate.

But Corona did not answer any of the questions, keeping his mouth shut though flashing a small smile at one point. His wife also did not say anything.

Corona’s friend, who identified herself as Tet Andolong, told reporters that they were just joining the march.

“That’s all. No politics,” she said.

The Coronas then walked away from the crowd and returned to their vehicle. But before reaching it, people who saw them booed the couple and called them epal again.

Some of the people followed the Coronas to their vehicle, heckling them all the way until the vehicle drove away.

The crowd’s behavior did not sit well with one supporter of Corona, who yelled at the hecklers: “What evidence do you have?”

Corona was ousted as Chief Justice last year after the Senate impeachment court convicted him of dishonesty in making his financial disclosure.

Corona had accused the Aquino administration of harassing his family in the course of the impeachment trial.

Critics said the administration-backed impeachment of Corona was railroaded by the President’s allies.

Show-biz celebrities

A handful of people also cried epal when they saw actors and TV hosts Richard Gutierrez, Georgina Wilson and Isabelle Daza at Quirino Grandstand but the crowd did not join the shouting.

More people instead gawked at show-biz celebrities like Edu Manzano, Gloria Diaz and Mariel Rodriguez-Padilla.

There were also look-alikes of Sen. Bong Revilla, one of the senators involved in the P10 billion Napoles scam; Manny Pacquiao and his coach Freddie Roach.

Getting a friendlier reception were former lawmakers Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III and Milagros “Mitos” Magsaysay.

Tañada declined to grant interviews. He was seen chatting and shaking hands with several participants in the event.

Magsaysay also talked with several protesters and allowed herself to be photographed with them.

Quietly eyeballing the scene was Emanuel V. Soriano, at 42 the youngest to serve as president of the University of the Philippines. He suffered a stroke 17 years ago and is now wheelchair-bound. The 77-year-old academic could barely speak.

Daughter Rina said he had a list of senators allegedly involved in the alleged pork barrel scam. Asked what he wanted to happen to them, Soriano raised his left hand, four fingers clenched, thumb pointing to his back. “He wants them kicked out,” said Rina.

Students from Ateneo distributed leaflets carrying the names of senators and congressmen with huge pork allotments.

bchoter
08-27-2013, 02:44 PM
Lito Atienza??? namu

MrM
08-27-2013, 05:44 PM
Imagine what P10B can buy: 8,000 classrooms in 2-story buildings

2:15 am | Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Imagine P10 billion!



In light of all the typhoons and how fast water from Antipolo rushes down to the shallow Marikina River, I'd like to know how many trees can P10 Billion can buy.

Sam Miguel
08-28-2013, 09:50 AM
^^^ As the former President of the Philippine Forestry Corporation, and now professional whistle-blower / public crybaby, I think Jun Lozada would have the definitive answer to that.

Sam Miguel
08-28-2013, 09:54 AM
Collective guilt

Philippine Daily Inquirer

11:07 pm | Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

If Renato Corona thought it was the right time to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the public, he thought wrong. The former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court went to the Luneta last Monday to join the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Filipino citizens who had gathered to denounce the staggering corruption and theft of taxpayers’ money uncovered by the pork barrel controversy. What greeted Corona, however, were boos and catcalls from the crowd. He had to beat a hasty retreat.

Nothing illustrated the unique, perhaps game-changing nature of the so-called Million People March last Aug. 26 than Corona’s rude awakening at the Luneta. Most likely he had thought the public would by now be more sympathetic to him; a number of legislators who had voted to impeach him last year for dishonesty—like Niel Tupas of Iloilo in the House and Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada in the Senate—now also stand accused of misusing their pork barrel funds. But what he learned the hard way was this: People may be furious at the government, the politicians and the rotten political system undergirding this scandal, but that didn’t mean they would now be more forgiving of Corona’s own display of dubious conduct during his time.

Corona probably thought it was the usual political game—the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But he grossly misread the people’s anger as something simplistically partisan. True, a lot of frustration and hostility was directed at President Aquino’s administration for its failure to curb corruption and, worse, after Aquino’s address announcing the abolition of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), for the seeming disingenuousness of proposing to dress up the system by another name.

However, from the day the idea of a people’s march against corruption was hatched on social media by ordinary netizens, the calls were adamant that the rally be free of ideological or political agenda—except for the commonsensical demands that the pork barrel be abolished, the crooks who stole the money be punished and official records be opened to public scrutiny. While many were immediately taken by the idea of banding together to demand such accountability from Malacañang and Congress, quite a number were also wary of the prospect of ending up a mere backdrop to well-organized activist groups hogging the stage and the streets with their own demands.

And that’s why, on the opposite end of the spectrum, leftist groups like the Kabataan party-list and Bayan Muna were forced to issue clarifications on the eve of the march that they were setting aside their usual street tactics; no effigy-burning, for one, and they would keep to their own corner, leaving the main arena of the Quirino Grandstand free for non-allied groups and ordinary citizens. The rejection must have stung; netizens preferred to be leaderless for the march rather than turn to the activist groups that, all this time, have fought and marched and suffered for better governance.

But perhaps the public had good reason to. What has emerged from the gargantuan breadth and scope of the PDAF scandal is that barely any hands in government are left untainted by PDAF. Last year, according to the budget department records, Bayan Muna also received P124.7 million; Anakpawis, P52.3 million—and this year, P20 million; the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, P20 million for 2011, P70 million for 2012; and Kabataan, P23 million in 2011; and so on. The total released so far to the Makabayan coalition: P674.215 million.

And yet, to hear it from the representatives of these groups, it’s as if only the usual traditional politicians and their partners in crime, like Janet Lim-Napoles, had their hands inside the PDAF jar. Bayan Muna’s justification for taking the money? Because it was already in the budget. And the money went to good projects anyway. But, in the light of the widespread public disgust at the pork barrel, these groups were among the first to loudly denounce the system, which is well and good, but with their own participation in it now conveniently left out. And no wonder—if they pleaded good use of their PDAF, they’d be unwittingly aligning themselves with Malacañang, which continues to insist that something good can come out of the discredited pork barrel.

The PDAF stench has exposed not just the rotten state of government, but the hypocritical lengths to which those that fed on it—no matter the contrary rhetoric—would go to exculpate themselves. Good thing the people themselves seem to be acutely discerning of the collective guilt present in this issue.

Sam Miguel
08-28-2013, 10:24 AM
Getting it

By Conrado de Quiros

Philippine Daily Inquirer

11:06 pm | Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Renato Corona materialized out of nowhere and ambled into the crowd before the Quirino Grandstand. Well, he actually materialized from the pit of the Manila Hotel where he had huddled with the usual suspects from the Arroyo camp, able to afford the luxuries of the place from the fat of the land they skimmed in their own time, and ambled into the crowd.

Maybe he thought he would be throwing himself into the welcoming embrace of that crowd. After all he had come to show solidarity with them, despite the fact that he had become the judicial face of the Arroyo camp. After all, he had come to thunder forth against the hated specter of pork, the thing the crowd had gathered there to exorcise. After all, he had been vindicated, as he vowed he would be when he made his tearful goodbye at the end of his impeachment.

Alas, whatever it was he thought would happen when the crowd caught sight of him, he was wrong. He was not cheered, he was not heralded, he was not patted on the back.

He was booed.

It showed quite dramatically how the officials of this country, past and present, missed the point of last Monday’s rally. It wasn’t something out of the past that lent itself to political straightjacketing, to partisan expressions of defense and diatribe, to formulaic expressions of being pro or against government. Corona didn’t get it. Neither did this government.

It was new. It was novel. It was phenomenal.

I got a whiff of it during the weekend when friends kept calling and texting to know how we might meet up at the Luneta that Monday. They did not bother to ask if I was going, they assumed it. They assumed right.

I got there a little late in the morning, Malate had already filled by 10:30. I ended up parking near Robinson’s, on the street beside St. Paul’s, and walking all the way to Luneta. I didn’t mind. It wasn’t just professional curiosity that drove me there, I wanted to be there. As did the people who texted/called me; the eagerness was in their voices, it was in their tones.

That was how I felt this was something new. This was the first time I’d gone to a rally with alacrity and lightness. Not out of duty, but out of wanting to be there. Enough to do a bit of trekking on gouty feet.

The sight of many people I hadn’t seen in quite a while lent a spring to my legs. Some were going in my direction, others were going against it having gone there early on but were already leaving. I hoped I wasn’t too late.

As it turned out, that would be an alien concept—late and early. In the course of the day, people would be coming and going like the ebb and flow of the tide, like the surge and fading of the seasons. On TV and radio, reporters were trying to gauge the size of the crowd, their estimates varying from 50,000 to a hundred thousand. Next day, the newspapers put it at a hundred thousand to a couple of hundred thousand.

It was in fact the hardest thing to do, gauge the size of the crowd. For the simple reason that that size turned out to be variable, turned out to have accordion-like properties. An overhead view of the crowd at one point showed a multitude gathered at the Luneta and the arteries leading to it, which was impressive enough for something that had spread only by word of mouth, by the virus of anger. It was impressive enough, a show of force in national life, a stamping of will on the nation’s destiny. But that wasn’t the wonder of it, that wasn’t the magnificence of it.

What was that the people kept coming and going, swelling and contracting throughout the day.

Almost with no one to lead them, except for the Left, which had planted themselves in a section of the Luneta, in front of Roxas Boulevard reviling government, they were streaming in and out, pitching and huddling in various corners, young and old, rich and poor, men and women and children—yes, children, some had come as whole families—unburdening themselves of the oppression of corruption. It was a fluid permanence, it was a wispy solidity, it was an ever-changing presence.

A musician who wasn’t into marches and political causes told me why she had gone there, which was probably in its myriad variations why a lot of people had gone there. It was the product of two things, she said. One was the capricious decision of the BIR to order all musicians, big time or small time, to do away with their old receipts and buy new booklets. The reason they still had the old receipts, which they had already paid for, was that they were just too many for them to use up. Suddenly, the BIR was ordering them to buy new receipts. What did the tax collectors think, they were rich people, or corrupt officials, who thought nothing of a few thousand bucks?

And then the pork barrel scam came to light. The scale of looting stunned and shocked her, wala nang tinira, the kababuyan was right in your face. Having just been made to pay through her teeth to play music, which was what P5,000 meant to her, it could have paid for her kid’s tuition or school bus, seeing the money going to people who treated it like paper to light a cigar with, something exploded in her mind. The nakawan was no longer something in the distance she could be unconcerned with. It had gotten close.

It had gotten personal.

Ages ago, the public school teachers mounted a strike that government deemed illegal and the education secretary demanded to know the names of their leaders. The teachers answered: “We have only one leader, and his name is Hunger.” It was pretty much the same thing with the march last Monday. Although it had some spokespersons, who had the virtue of being new faces, it really had only one leader. His name was Anger. His name was Outrage. His name was Juan Gising.

They just didn’t get it.

Sam Miguel
08-28-2013, 10:34 AM
Discretion

Posted on Wednesday Aug 28th at 12:00am

SKETCHES

By Ana Marie Pamintuan

It’s understandable that former chief justice Renato Corona crashed the “Million People March” the other day in Rizal Park.

Corona probably believes, not without basis, that the pork barrel — the legislature’s or Malacañang’s, or both — was instrumental in his unprecedented impeachment by the House of Representatives.

Before the impeachment complaint could be TRO’d by the Corona Supreme Court, there was reportedly a frenzied scramble among congressmen to sign the document for transmission ASAP to the Senate.

The complaint, as the public learned at the impeachment trial, was haphazardly put together. Corona, fortunately for his enemies, signed his own death warrant when he testified and put his foot in his mouth.

Corona was booed out of the Rizal Park rally by irate protesters who did not want to see their cause hijacked.

His ouster as chief justice, however, illustrates what the executive can do to influence congressional work through the use of funds covered by rules that are opaque and allow a wide room for discretion.

I suspect the same principle was at work in the unprecedented impeachment by the House of Merceditas Gutierrez. Unlike Corona, she opted to go out without a fight, quitting as ombudsman and slipping quietly into peaceful retirement.

When the president is a decent public servant and lawmakers are the usual swine, it’s good to have the executive actually controlling the purse strings in government, to push reforms or speed up urgent legislation.

But when Malacañang is occupied by a crook and the nation’s best hope for his constitutional ouster is the usual drove of swine in Congress, it’s not good to have the president holding lawmakers by their nuts through the power of the purse. Any impeachment complaint can then be blocked before it can even get off the ground.

These days, with the furor over the pork barrel, wide discretionary powers in the allocation and disbursement of funds under the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA) are being transferred from Congress to the executive.

Those powers are on top of a scheme practiced during the previous administration, which I’m not sure has been banned under the present one, in which Malacañang can stop fund releases for certain projects and appropriate the funds as “savings” for its discretionary use.

Do we want this setup, especially after June 30, 2016? We should be careful what we wish for.

* * *

(Read the rest at http://m.philstar.com/314192/show/0fb95da3be37f42b7dcdfc7d55e1a25a?t=j1h5u4lrmnjqhgt bll6sks19j4 )

Sam Miguel
08-30-2013, 09:33 AM
The jatropha a mere scam?

Published on Thursday, 29 August 2013 00:00

Written by DUCKY PAREDES

Malaya Business News Online - Philippine Business News | Online News Philippines

‘The Gloria government wasn’t the only one that bit on the jatropha scam. To our general discredit no one even tried to fully understand the science of the plant.’

THE Congressional Commission on Science and Technology and Engineering (COMSTE) was created by a joint resolution of the 13th Congress to create, amend, or repeal laws and propose budgets to make the Philippines competitive in science and technology.

At about that time, some of our scientists found themselves meeting with other Asian scientists. This was in 2004, when the country went crazy over jatropha, a plant (local name: tuba-tuba) that was supposed to be easy to grow on any kind of soil and the wonder tree would yield pure, ready-to-use biofuel. Looking back on those times, one wonder if this jatropha thing was just some kind of elaborate scam.

After all. we spent a lot of money on Jatropha plantations and even created a government owned and controlled company (GOCC), the Philippine Forest Corp. – to which we gave control over huge tracts of land and, more than a decade later (and millions – maybe even billions – gone) what do we have to show for it?

Early on, our scientists were already mostly in disbelief. At an Asian Sustainable Energy and Environment (SEE) Forum, even before the government went crazy over the prospects of that wonder tree, jatropha, Thai and Indian scientists told inquiring Pinoy scientists that jatropha was a loser.

In reality, the science was all wrong. Magic, drought resistant beans that produced biofuel even when planted even on uproductive soil should have been seen for the scam that it was.

Yet, the scam went on. Even as late as earlier this year, DENR Secretary Ramon Paje reports that, despite his best efforts to stop it, P400 M was released to PhilForest for the continued production of jathropa derived biofuels.

The Gloria government wasn’t the only one that bit on the jatropha scam. To our general discredit no one even tried to fully understand the science of the plant.

UP and other schools got funding to build machines for extracting the biofuel from the jatropha nut. Our scientists even went to India and China only to learn that no one had ever extracted any oil (or biofuel) from that nut.

Meanwhile, the whole scientific community – DOST, DTI, DOE-PNOC, Agriculture, DENR – convinced themselves that jatropha was the real thing, when what was the more reasonable way to go would have been to read up on the existing literature on the plant to figure out everything about this plant. Instead our scientific community ate up the claims from the scammers!

(Looking over my earlier columns, I had a letter from an incredulous retired scientist Flor Lacanilao commenting on the plant and suggesting other directions for the country to take; I also had reports from the Philforest president (and later ZTE whistleblower) Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr.

***

Secretary Paje explains the P400 million this year: “We did not ask for money. Why was it released? They gave me the report only lately and this is the report that we are getting from COA; so we are evaluating right now.”

Paje explains that when he took over as DENR chief in 2010, around P11 million in pork was already processed. He clarified that no other releases have been made during his term.

“As a policy in the department, we are not accepting PDAF. In fact, when I came in I made a policy, although handwritten, that we will not accept PDAF. And if there are needs in the district, we ask the legislator where and what and then we fund it through our own fund.”

There are allegations that between 2010 and 2012, millions in pork went to fake non-government organizations through the state-owned Philippine Forest Corporation, the agro-forestry arm of the DENR. A Commission on Audit report shows Philforest received P400-million in pork barrel for the production of jatropha. Paje says the fund did not pass through his department and was given directly to Philforest.

Says Paje: “But this one was not released through us because it was released directly to the corporation, not even giving us a copy. Most of these funds actually did not go to the intent of the fund and we will find that out once the COA releases its final report.”

***

In 2006, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo released P500M for planting jatropha in military camps. The Philippine National Oil Corporation through its Alternative Fuel Corporation (PNOC-AFC) had plans to grow 700,000 hectares of jatropha in 3 years, from 2008 to 2010. According to PNOC-AFC’s estimates, the plants would produce a million MT of biodiesel by 2011.

The PNOC-AFC identified eleven provinces as potential sources of jatropha seedlings for the plantation. These provinces are Nueva Ecija, Laguna, Batangas, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon, Masbate, Cagayan de Oro, Agusan del Norte, and Bukidnon. The PNOC-AFC also set up plantations in in Cagayan de Oro City, General Santos City, and Agusan del Sur. Its mega-nursery is located in Nueva Ecija.

The plans for Jatropha were massive: 28,000 hectares in Eastern Visayas; About 181,000 hectares of state- and privately-owned idle lands in the three Samar provinces for the cultivation of jatropha. Philforest reported the production of jatropha seedlings in a five-hectare farm in San Roque, Northern Samar in July 2007 with an investment of $5 million. Some of the seedlings were supposed to have been transferred to about 300 hectares of land owned by local farmers.

Another 100,000 hectares planted in Quezon province with P3.4 billion lent by the Land Bank of the Philippines to cooperatives. 50,000 hectares planted in the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm in Palawan under a MOA between PNOC-AFC and the Department of Justice.

There was also a Jatropha Biofuel joint venture agreement between the European Firm Global Tree Trust and the Herminio Teves Company Inc. with plantings in thousands of hectares and another 24,000 hectares in Negros Oriental.

A British company (Bionor) was supposed to have started a 1,000 hectare mega-nursery with the PNOC, investing US$ 1.3 billion to own 70% of a joint venture that would construct a biodiesel refinery and two ethanol distilleries and a US$ 600 million one million hectare plantation in Palawan and Mindanao.

Where have all those projects (and all that money) gone?

***

Sam Miguel
08-30-2013, 09:36 AM
^^^ Jon Lozada blew the whistle on the NBN ZTE deal. I wonder why he didn't blow the whistle quite as vociferously on this whole jatropha thing? Now he's wondering why he is being charged with graft on national television (c/o Karen Davila's ANC program) and he's protesting in that now-patented paawa look. Jun, you were the Phil Forest president when all of this happened. At the scale and amounts being talked about surely these projects / programs would have come straight to your attention as company president. THAT is why you are being charged with graft. And to echo Tito Ducky, where indeed has all that money gone?

Sam Miguel
08-30-2013, 09:46 AM
A little history of thievery

By Jose Ma. Montelibano

6:45 am | Friday, August 30th, 2013

The big mistake is to be awed by the numbers of the million people march. It did not hit one million, maybe not even one half. It is a bigger mistake to not to be awed by the event last Monday because it deserves all the credit it claims.

Having several hundreds of thousands in the Luneta when there was clear organizer is a feat. In different major cities, they had their version of the Luneta gathering as well. The numbers were not overwhelming, but those same numbers are not static. Even today, the numbers grow because the spirit of million people march remains agitated.

Thirty years ago, August 21, 1986, a big mistake was made. The dictatorship shot one man in the tarmac of the Manila International Airport. He was only one man, after all, and so many had been killed by the dictatorship by then. But one man’s martyrdom was more than enough to light a fire. It was simply time. Filipinos did not want to live in fear anymore. They said, “If they could kill Ninoy Aquino like that, they could kill any of us anytime.”

Thirty years later, August 26, 2013, Filipinos said, “If they could steal our money like that, so much, so arrogantly, they can do that anytime they want to.” People have had enough today; it is simply time.

Yes, 1986 Edsa was about freedom lost and regained. Freedom most of all was the battle cry. But the evil of corruption followed very closely as motivation for Filipinos to fight the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. The call for a boycott against crony firms after the snap elections meant that Filipinos knew how the dictator fed his cronies while he bled the nation.

Marcos underestimated the temper of the times just as he underestimated the numbers of Filipinos willing to confront him. For too long, he did not depend on the support of the people. He was too used to using the military to frighten people into quiet submission. In the end, he lost both the people and the military. In the end, the spirit for change drove the people to Edsa and Marcos to Hawaii.

In Transparency International’s list of the World’ Most Corrupt Leaders as of 2007, Ferdinand Marcos was in Number 2. This shame apparently was not enough to deter big time corruption because Joseph Estrada was convicted of plunder and found his way to the 10th place of the same list of the World’s Most Corrupt Leaders.

Estrada’s subsequent removal from Malacanang came about after an aborted impeachment trial turned into street action. Like Marcos in Edsa ’86, people went to the street. When Estrada lost the people, he also lost the military. In the same list of the World’s Most Corrupt Leaders, Estrada made it to number 10.

Twice, sitting presidents went into plunder and twice, the people and the military turned against them. It was impossible that the number one beneficiary of the Erap Resign movement would not learn from the fiasco of her predecessor. But apparently, Gloria learned the other lessons but not the most important – honesty. She kept the military close to her, or at least the key leaders from day one to year nine.

She could not keep her image clean, though, and all the more her husband’s. Early in her presidency, the IMPSA scandal broke out before she could warm her bed in Malacañang. The most expensive roads in the reclamation area scandalized the people, followed by the smuggling of rice, of sugar, of different foodstuff. The list went on and smelled so bad that in December 2002, she announced that she would not seek reelection in 2004. She lied, of course, but the lie worked enough to fool the people and eased the political pressure.

Learning as well that Edsa ’86 and Edsa Dos in 2001 worked because the Catholic Church went with the people against Marcos and Estrada, Gloria went out of her way to establish a relationship with bishops. She got enough of them to be supportive of her and there were only muted cries against the corruption of her administration. She was not able to prevent being viewed so negatively by the public that she has emerged as the most unpopular president ever in Philippine history.

Of course, Gloria now stands accused of plunder and stealing the 2004 presidential elections. It is no wonder that the 10 billion peso scam could have taken place in the environment Gloria built around her nine years in office. And it will be no wonder if many times that amount will also surface as stolen. Sen. Serge Osmena already pointed to a 111 billion scam in a bridges-to-nowhere program. COA is investigating the mis-use of the Malampaya oil amounting to 23.6 billion.

The ZTE scandal did not materialize because whistleblower Jun Lozada found the courage to tell the public about what was going on. But the story goes that the Chinese firms involved had already given advances, not to government, of course, but to government officials. But cases could not prosper despite all the corruption because the environment did not encourage prosecution.

It is expected that the current furor over the 10-billion scam, the PDAF, and the so-called pork barrel will find a government eager and willing to run after the thieves. Already, the DOJ/NBI are combining efforts with the Ombudsman and the COA, including AMLA for money-laundering activities. And why shouldn’t they? Was it not P-Noy’s first act to establish the truth Commission? Was it not Former Chief Justice Corona’s first act to shoot down that Truth Commission – because it seemed to target only Gloria Arroyo? Well, Rene Corona, we may not live long enough for government to finish finding, investigating, prosecuting and convicting her and all the thieves from 2001-2010.

A little history of the thievery will go a long way in making social media revolutionaries realize the context, and difficulty, of cleansing society of corruption in high places. But the odds are now in our favor because people power is alive

Joescoundrel
09-05-2013, 11:01 AM
Ex-PSC chair Harry Angping faces graft rap

By Cynthia D. Balana

Philippine Daily Inquirer

8:29 am | Thursday, September 5th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—Former Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Chair Harry Angping and a businessman have been charged with graft before the Sandiganbayan for their alleged connivance in the hiring of 80 personnel without public bidding and PSC board authority in 2009.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales approved the indictment of Angping, a former representative of Manila, and Edmund Montanes, then president and general manager of Philcare Manpower Services, a company engaged in janitorial services.

The three-page complaint filed by Jose Ronald Bersales, the Ombudsman’s graft investigation and prosecution officer III, said the accused allegedly conspired to hire 71 janitors and nine gardeners without the necessary requirements.

A preliminary investigation was conducted and found “sufficient ground to engender a well-founded belief that the crime charged has been committed.”

The complaint said that Angping “unlawfully and criminally gave unwarranted benefits, advantage and preference” to Philcare Manpower Service by procuring, through an addendum to the Contract of Service dated March 5, 2009, without conducting a competitive public bidding for the said services.

Based on the contract, the PSC paid P15,324.42 per personnel monthly from March 1,2009, to January 31, 2011, to Philcare Manpower Services.

The Ombudsman said that by entering into the questioned contract, the PSC was deprived of the opportunity to obtain the lowest possible bid or the most advantageous and beneficial contract, “to the damage and prejudice of the government.”

The complaint likewise said that Angping committed the crime by taking advantage of his public office in relation to his official duties.

Sam Miguel
09-26-2013, 09:31 AM
Still, getting back

By Conrado de Quiros

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:10 pm | Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

The loot is bigger than the P900 million released through the Department of Agrarian Reform to Janet Napoles’ NGOs from 2004 to 2010. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. According to the Commission on Audit, no less than P23.6 billion from the Malampaya Fund was “haphazardly” disbursed by the Department of Budget and Management to the Arroyo administration. Some 60 percent of that was used up in the last few months of that government as its officials tried to make hay while the sun still shone. There was practically no accounting.

The “irregularities” included: cash allocations exceeding official allotments by close to P4 billion; several checks totaling P271.798 million released to unidentified people without authorization papers; no accountability in the release of P2.609 billion to local governments; recipients not obliged to report their use of the funds; and the DBM did not give disbursement vouchers to the audit. In one case, in 2010, the DBM gave P7.07 billion from the Malampaya Fund to the Department of Public Works and Highways though the identified projects had nothing to do with energy.

All this is a good reminder of a couple of things. One is that much of the thievery that pork represents happened during Arroyo’s time. Which is really obvious though that tends to be forgotten: Napoles operated her P10-billion scam over a period of 10 years. That means a great deal of it happened during Arroyo’s time, at the heart of the culture of impunity. It is a facet of that culture of impunity. That culture had to do not just with the ease with which people could murder other people, it had to do with the ease with which people, notably public officials, could steal.

Two is the astounding scale of its pillage, which made the Arroyo regime the most venal and larcenous after Marcos. The sums are almost unreal in their proportions, like play money, enough to allow it to go past the public radar, which it actually did for a long time. It’s only now we are beginning to appreciate the viciousness of it, in the corresponding scale of want and misery it spawned. It’s only now we’re beginning to grasp the reality of it, and get furious about it. Twenty-three billion pesos almost makes Napoles’ P10 billion penny-ante given particularly that much of it disappeared like a rabbit in a magician’s hat but a few months to compared to Napoles’ 10 years.

Which brings us to the question: What to do about this?

I’m glad we’ve gotten round to prosecuting not just Napoles but the legislators that took part in the scam, some of them aggressively. It’s a robust sign of political will, the current government showing a willingness and determination to push through with it. Though thankfully, P-Noy was in Mindanao over the last couple of weeks, dug in in the trenches, preventing the accused senators and congressmen or their intercessors from making a beeline to Malacañang to plead their cases. Many of them were allies in the impeachment of Renato Corona.

This is far more important than the trial and conviction of Erap, which smacked of politicking, thereby leaving no deep or lasting impressions. Or producing any ripples over space or time. Given particularly a roused and vigilant public, the Ombudsman’s work has that awesome potential today.

But there is one thing we ought to be doing as well but are not. Which is really the astonishing thing: It’s the one thing that’s right there before us but cannot see.

That is to move to recover, retrieve, get back what has been stolen from us.

Jailing them will of course go a long way toward giving order to our universe, toward giving justice to the aggrieved. But nothing punishes crooks more than hitting them right where it hurts, which is in their greed, which is their venality, which is in their katakawan. Nothing punishes them more than getting back what they stole. Nothing punishes them more than making them give back to us what they took from us.

That has always been the missing link in our anticorruption campaigns: recovering the wealth and giving it back to us, those two not necessarily being one and the same. Recovering the wealth is hard enough, never mind recovering the wealth for us. That has never really happened, notwithstanding the creation of the Presidential Commission on Good Government after martial law. Though the PCGG did manage to recover some loot, it never got the bulk of it. The loot remained with the Marcoses and their cronies, giving us the sensation, each time Bongbong Marcos talks of becoming president, of being fried in our own fat.

Today, the PCGG has reached a pass where it’s seeking its own dissolution on the ground that it can do no more. When in fact it’s needed now more than ever, not just to continue hounding the Marcoses and their cronies but to begin hounding Arroyo and her cronies. Indeed to begin hounding as well the perpetrators of pork and other scams. Why should we want to recover only the ill-gotten wealth of the past and not the present? Yet that is the one thing we cannot propose as a national priority. Hell, that is the one thing we cannot even see as a need.

It’s the strangest thing in the world, our lack of any compelling need to get the loot back. Or our lack of capacity to see that it is as naturally linked to ferreting out corruption as getting paid is to getting a job. I’ve always said that fighting corruption won’t get anywhere until we ourselves get to grasp the concept of taxpayers’ money, that what is taken from us in VAT every time we watch a movie or buy mami is our money. Well, nothing drives home that point more than recovering the loot our crooks in barong Tagalogs and butterfly dresses stole from us. It’s not Congress’, government’s, or our public officials’ money. It is ours.

It’s time we got it back.

Sam Miguel
09-26-2013, 09:56 AM
Jinggoy building P120-M house?

(The Philippine Star) | Updated September 26, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Hours before Sen. Jinggoy Estrada cried foul over “selective justice” on the pork barrel scam came a news report on his alleged newest property: an estimated P120-million house in one of the country’s high-class subdivisions.

Social news network Rappler.com reported yesterday that Estrada is allegedly building the house in Wack Wack, Mandaluyong.

Rappler cited a source privy to Estrada’s expenses. The source revealed that the senator bought the 3,000-square meter lot in 2012.

Subdivision residents interviewed by Rappler said it was “common knowledge” among them that the property is owned by Estrada.

But in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for 2012, where he declared a net worth of P193.6 million, Estrada did not mention the Wack Wack property.

Construction was ongoing until the second week of September but was stopped last week, Rappler said.

Records in Wack Wack’s barangay office showed that the lot along Wack Wack Road alone is estimated to cost between P210-P240 million, as the land in the high-end subdivision is said to be priced anywhere from P70,000 to P80,000 per square meter.

Rappler said it tried but failed to get Estrada’s side.

Documents examined by Rappler from the Mandaluyong Registry of Deeds also show that the property is not registered in Estrada’s name but in Verdant Forest Highlands Inc.

Rappler, however, said there are past links between the Estrada family and Verdant, which was described in a complaint affidavit in 2001 as a “thinly capitalized dummy corporation organized by the lawyers of Estrada’s father, then President Joseph Estrada, to house and conceal his beneficial ownership” of 551 Wack Wack Road also in Mandaluyong.

The older Estrada was later ousted from office amid plunder allegations.

The younger Estrada, for his part, has denied involvement in the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund of lawmakers, commonly known as pork barrel, and expressed willingness to face the plunder charges filed by the Department of Justice against him.

Sam Miguel
09-26-2013, 09:58 AM
I feel vindicated – Corona

By Edu Punay

(The Philippine Star) | Updated September 26, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Ousted chief justice Renato Corona feels vindicated by the claim of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) had offered P50 million each to several senators after his conviction.

In a text message to The STAR last night, Corona said: “I thank God for the vindication he had given me today.”

Corona said he was not surprised at the revelation, adding that Estrada merely confirmed what he and many Filipinos had known all along.

“Since the start, I have said that the allegations of Malacañang against me are not true and all they said about me were lies,” he said.

Speaking from his hospital bed, Corona said he knew the truth would eventually come out.

“The exposé of Senator Estrada about what really happened during my impeachment trial is clear that the ouster of the chief justice was a violation of the Constitution,” he said. Corona said his impeachment trial was a sham, and that it arose from the decision of the Supreme Court under his leadership to distribute the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac to farmers.

“This vindictive regime has continued to harass and persecute me and my family, using the entire government machinery and resources against one man who dared stand up to it,” he said.

Sam Miguel
09-26-2013, 09:59 AM
Budget chief: No bribes during Corona trial

By Louis Bacani

(philstar.com) | Updated September 26, 2013 - 9:53am

MANILA, Philippines - Budget and Management Secretary Butch Abad on Wednesday vehemently denied that additional pork barrel funds were offered to senators to vote for the conviction of a former chief magistrate.

In a phone patch interview on ANC, Abad said Senator Jinggoy Estrada has to establish a strong basis for his claim that additional pork barrel worth P50 million was given to a senator who convicted then Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona.

"We absolutely deny the allegation. This administration does not have policy of bribing anyone whether they are officials or private people," Abad said.

In his privilege speech on Wednesday, Estrada alleged that senators who voted to convict Corona were alloted P50 million as provided in a "private and confidential letter" from Senate President Franklin Drilon, the finance committee chair during the impeachment trial.

"Saan galing ang pinamigay na pondo? I am sure alam ni Secretary Abad ang sagot sa tanong na ito," Estrada said.

Read: Jinggoy: Senators who voted for Corona conviction got extra P50-M

Drilon has denied giving additional funds as incentives to those who voted to convict Corona.

Estrada also blasted the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for being "silent" on the pork barrel controversy.

Not a bribe

During the interpellation of Drilon and Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, Estrada said the P50 million that he was referring to was not a bribe but merely an "appeal."

"It was not a bribe. Never a bribe. Kumbaga, walang suhol," Estrada said. "It was simply an appeal. There was no talk of giving a reward."

Estrada said during the trial, there was somebody who approached him but did not promise any reward.

The embattled senator said he did not ask additional funds from anybody after the conviction of Corona.

In a statement on Wednesday, Drilon said senators voted according to their "conscience and their impartial evaluation" of the evidence presented during the Coronal trial.

What letter?

The DBM chief said they were suprised that Estrada was referring to an alleged letter and "concluded" that there was an "attempt or actual case of bribery."

"He jumped to a conclusion that the DBM or the administration was instrumental in bribing him," Abad said.

"He said it was private and confidential, which means it must have been just a simple note. It could not have been an official document coming from government," he added.

Abad said they are not privy to the content of the alleged note and it could have been to the best interest of everybody if Estrada just read it.

"We have no idea what the content of that note is," he said.

Drilon, for his part, said he has yet to see the alleged letter mentioned by Estrada.

Jinggoy should have just explained

Abad said Estrada should have just answered the allegations regarding the pork barrel scam rather than accusing "practically everybody else."

He said the public expected Estrada to explain his side and it would have been for the "interest of truth" if he did so instead of making "unfounded" claims.

"It did not help his case... to clarify his own position," Abad said.

The DBM chief said Estrada ranting about being "singled out" in the entire pork barrel controversy only diminished the credibility of his much awaited speech.

Sam Miguel
09-27-2013, 09:12 AM
Drilon confirms P50M pork barrel

But says not a bribe; incentive, Estrada says

By Juliet Labog-Javellana, Michael Lim Ubac, Norman Bordadora

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:18 am | Friday, September 27th, 2013

Neither a bribe nor a reward.

Senate President Franklin Drilon on Thursday said the P50 million worth of pork barrel projects made available to senators after the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona last year was part of the senators’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which was withheld during the entire Corona impeachment trial.

Drilon stressed it was not a bribe.

“What I remember was during the four-month Corona trial no PDAF was released by Malacañang precisely to avoid suspicions that funds were being peddled to influence the trial. The PDAF that Senator Estrada was talking about was released after the trial,” Drilon told the Inquirer.

After the trial, he said the senators were asked to submit a list of their projects so that their PDAF could be released.

Drilon vehemently denied that the P50 million pork per senator was a bribe, noting that even Sen. Jinggoy Estrada clarified this to him immediately after the latter’s speech on Wednesday.

Estrada himself admitted that he accepted the P50-million “incentive” after the Senate convicted Corona.

“I have yet to see that letter mentioned by Senator Estrada. But if the insinuation is that the Department of Budget and Management and I gave out additional PDAF funds as incentives to those who voted to convict then Chief Justice Renato Corona, that is not true,” Drilon said in an earlier statement, adding senators voted according to their conscience and their own evaluation of the evidence presented during the trial.

Pressed on whether he did write a letter as claimed by Estrada, Drilon on Thursday said he might have.

“If there is a letter, it only said submit your projects worth P50 million,” said Drilon, who was Senate finance committee chair last year when the Corona trial took place.

“I cannot determine with accuracy if that was the additional PDAF because I do not keep track of releases as finance committee chair. I only relay the request of the senators for fund releases of their proposed PDAF projects. DBM releases the funds, and I am not informed of the total releases per senator,” Drilon said.

Drilon could not say who among the senators got or did not get the P50 million allocation.

The Senate in 2012 voted 20-3 to convict Corona for dishonesty in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth. The three who voted against his impeachment were Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Joker Arroyo.

‘Incredible leap in logic’

“I cannot say this enough and with any more clarity: The accusations that Senator Estrada leveled against me and the administration are not true. I have absolutely no knowledge of this letter, nor am I privy to its contents or circulation,” said Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.

“His conclusion—that I would somehow be involved in the distribution of the letter and the course of action outlined in it—requires an incredible leap in logic that is ill-justified by fact,” said Abad.

The budget chief stressed that the Aquino administration “does not and will not bribe any group or individuals—whether these ‘bribes’ are offered officially or otherwise—all for the sake of getting our way, or for the sake of gaining political leverage over parties that may oppose us.”

Told about the caucus of senators wherein the amount was mentioned, he said that the executive was “not privy to what happened in that caucus.”

“Second, we deny that there was a P50-million bribe to induce the senators to convict Corona,” said Abad.

When the Inquirer pointed out that several senators, including Senators Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile and former Sen. Panfilo Lacson, had already validated Estrada’s claim, Abad said: “Let me check our facts and get back to you.”

He later sent a text message to say that the process would take “some more time.”

Call it ‘incentive’

On Thursday, Estrada said the P50 million worth of projects distributed to senators after the conviction of Corona might not have been a bribe but it was an “incentive” that the executive should do away with just the same.

“That was not a bribe because that came after the fact or after the conviction… You may call it an incentive,” Estrada told reporters in a telephone interview.

Estrada said he used the allocation because there were many requests for assistance from among local government units.

“I availed [myself] of it. It’s part of the infrastructure projects. If there are senators who say they can’t remember, they should check their files if there was really a letter given them, whether they [accepted it] or not,” Estrada added.

Asked if there was anything wrong with an incentive after the Senate convicted Corona, Estrada said, “I said in the latter part of the speech there is a flawed system already that’s why we have to fix the system.”

“It can’t be that whenever there’s a crisis in Malacañang, the executive will use pork barrel funds as bribes or rewards. That happened during the time of GMA [former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo], that’s why she wasn’t impeached,” Estrada said.

On Abad’s challenge for him to reveal the contents of the confidential and private memo presented by then committee on finance chair Drilon, Estrada said, “I think he just has to check the records of the (DBM).”

“[After] the conviction of Chief Justice Corona, senators availed [themselves] of additional P50 million,” Estrada said.

No selective persecution

Administration senators on Thursday used the Senate inquiry into the pork barrel scam—ironically one of the forums that Estrada said were being used to vilify him and other opposition senators—to debunk his claim of selective investigation and prosecution.

Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano even mocked Estrada by referring to the opposition lawmaker as the “one who should not be named”—a paraphrase of the description in the Harry Potter series of the devilish villain Voldemort.

Cayetano said Estrada and his allies were being singled out by the government investigation of the PDAF scam. He asked why only Estrada and a few others were charged when there were many lawmakers that figured in the COA special report on PDAF misuse.

“It doesn’t mean that if your name is in the COA report, that will already be the subject of an investigation by the NBI [National Bureau of Investigation],” Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said during the hearing.

“As I always say, the scope of the NBI investigation is only on the Napoles component of the PDAF scam and the Malampaya Fund, meaning the information coming from the whistle-blowers and validated and verified by the paper trail,” De Lima said.

Even some personalities already named in the whistle-blowers’ affidavits aren’t charged unless the documentary support are completed, she said. Once the case documents are completed against those implicated by the whistle-blowers, De Lima said they will be charged.

Sam Miguel
10-01-2013, 09:16 AM
Santiago: Is this the right path?

COA urged to probe Palace fund releases

By TJ Burgonio

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:04 am | Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Saying it has never been this putrid, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago called on the Commission on Audit (COA) on Monday to investigate Malacañang’s fund releases after the Senate ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona in May last year.

Santiago admitted being “heartbroken” over the release of at least P50 million worth of pork barrel to each senator who voted to convict Corona, calling this a divergence from President Aquino’s “straight path.”

“This is so far from daang matuwid! Please, President Aquino and (Budget) Secretary (Butch) Abad, tell me it’s not true,” the outspoken senator said in a statement. “When Greek mythology discovered the stinking Augean stables, it never anticipated the fetid and putrid pork barrel stables of corrupt Philippine politics.”

Senate President Franklin Drilon confirmed Sen. Jinggoy Estrada’s revelation in a privilege speech last week about the release of at least P50 million in pork barrel to senators following Corona’s conviction.

But Drilon clarified that the amount was part of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) that was withheld during the impeachment trial. He denied it was a bribe; Estrada claimed it was an incentive for the senators.

In May 2012, the senators voted 20-3 to convict Corona for dishonesty in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth. The three who voted against conviction were Santiago, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Joker Arroyo.

Abad confirmed that 20 senators received a total of P1.107 billion in additional pork barrel a few months after Corona’s conviction.

Abad said the funds came from the so-called Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) introduced in 2011 to “ramp up spending and help accelerate economic expansion.”

Drilon, then chair of the finance committee, got P100 million; Sen. Francis Escudero, P99 million, and then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, P92 million.

In a letter to COA Chair Grace Pulido-Tan calling for an inquiry into the alleged bribery of lawmakers during Corona’s impeachment trial, Santiago listed several points that she said the public wanted to know from the DAP releases.

These included the particular dates on which each disbursement was released to the senator or representative; the legal explanation, if any, for giving special treatment to Enrile, Drilon and Escudero; the projects for which the three senators, and representatives spent their DAP allocations, and the actual cost of each project; the COA rule, if any, on senators and representatives who applied for, and willingly received, the DAP allocations reportedly made in August, October and December 2012.

“I understand that the COA is now busy updating the special audit reports on the PDAF. Nonetheless, I appeal for your early compliance with this request for information, because I believe there is now a compelling state interest in stabilizing the country, in the midst of multiple public outrage,” said Santiago, a former trial judge.

Scams repulsive

Santiago said the “bribery” scam should not distract the public from the P10-billion pork barrel scam allegedly engineered by Janet Lim-Napoles to turn congressional funds meant to ease poverty in the agricultural sector into phantom projects and kickbacks for lawmakers.

“Both scams are equally repulsive. But the alleged bribery scam is intended by the political opposition to cover up the Napoles NGO (nongovernment organization) pork scam,” she said.

Santiago said the DAP releases during and right after the trial constituted bribery under the Revised Penal Code.

She quoted Article 210: “Direct Bribery: Any public officer who shall agree to perform an act constituting a crime, in connection with the performance of his official duties, in consideration of any offer, promise, gift, or present received by such officer.”

Every senator who voted to convict and every representative who voted to indict, if each is shown to have received additional pork during and immediately after the trial, is “presumably guilty of bribery,” Santiago said. She pointed to the close timing between the two events.

Under the Revised Penal Code, each senator or representative is guilty of the crime of “knowingly rendering unjust judgment,” the senator said.

She quoted Article 204: “Any judge who shall knowingly render an unjust judgment in any case submitted to him for decision, shall be punished by prision mayor, and perpetual absolute disqualification.”

Supreme Court intervention

Santiago said she would encourage a Supreme Court litigation on the DAP because it violates the “equal protection clause,” which she said is the “keystone” of all human rights.

“The best hope for an impartial adjudication of these abominable abuses of public funds is the Supreme Court. I will initiate a crowd-sourced petition in social media, so that young, idealistic lawyers can raise the proper issues in the high court. I cannot obtain relief from the Senate itself, which now appears to have been complicit in bribery,” she said.

In particular, she said she would like to know if it is legal for the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to “discriminate” among senators.

While all other senators received an average of P50 million, three—Drilon, Escudero and Enrile—either got or close to P100 million each, she said.

Santiago said previous Supreme Court decisions on equal protection were based on the now obsolete rational relationship test.

Equal protection cases, she pointed out, are now based on the strict scrutiny test.

“In releasing funds, the executive branch cannot play favorites when carrying out constitutional commands such as social justice, social services and equal work opportunities. The DAP releases, flawed as they were from the very beginning, played favorites among senators. That was clearly unconstitutional,” she said.

DAP? No such animal

Sen. Sergio Osmeña III on Monday recalled receiving P50 million, but stressed this was not an offshoot of any arrangement with Malacañang.

“If P100 million came in, OK. But there was no arrangement that ‘If you vote for … I will give this to you.’ No, I will not accept that,” he told reporters. “The timing would have been worse if it were given before the impeachment.”

Of the amount he received, Osmeña said, P30 million went to the University of the Philippines in Cebu and P17 million to the construction of classrooms in Negros.

“Pork is not bad. It’s wrong if you use it for kickbacks,” he said. “So I am not against PDAF.” He said he had not heard of the DAP before.

Sen. Ralph Recto, for his part, said he never asked for a single cent during Corona’s trial, but like the other senators, he submitted a list of projects to the DBM months after the trial at the latter’s request.

“As far as I am concerned, it’s all regular PDAF. There’s no DAP. There’s no such animal in the budget,” he told reporters. He doubted it was an incentive. “It went through a normal process.”

“We’re more than willing to open it up to the public. One thing’s for sure, I did not release anything to an NGO,” he added.

Sam Miguel
10-01-2013, 09:18 AM
Palace shows Joker Arroyo’s letter requesting P47M

By Gil C. Cabacungan

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:24 am | Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Malacañang on Monday said it merely accommodated a request for P47 million for pet projects in Bicol from Sen. Joker Arroyo, who slammed the Palace for suggesting that he was among 20 senators who received pork barrel funds after the conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona last year.

Presidential spokeman Edwin Lacierda showed reporters on Monday a letter written by Arroyo, who has never availed himself of his pork barrel as senator and congressman, to Senate President Franklin Drilon, then chair of the Senate finance committee, seeking the amount.

“He wrote: ‘This is to request for the release of P47 million of my 2012 amendments as shown in the attached list.’ Remember this was written on Feb. 4, 2013, and he was referring to the 2012 amendments,” Lacierda said.

“Sen. Joker Arroyo should have known that the budget had already been approved on Dec. 15 (2011). So the 2012 amendments he was citing were not approved by his peers because, as a matter of policy, the congressional leaders acceded to our policy of no insertions. Because if you make insertions, these will distort other projects that have been set,” Lacierda added.

Lacierda, however, stressed that Malacañang was aware of Arroyo’s self-proclaimed policy of not using his pork barrel and that the projects he wanted to be bankrolled in his letter request were “very laudable”—three two-story buildings of eight classrooms in Iriga, Baao, and Buluang in Camarines Sur province as well as financial assistance for indigent patients. Each building cost P10 million.

“To accommodate these projects—laudable projects—they utilized the consolidated savings from the DAP (Disbursement Allocation Program),” Lacierda said.

Arroyo did not reply to the Inquirer’s two calls.

Bribery at Palace doorstep

In a statement on Sunday, Arroyo blasted Malacañang for attempting to deceive the public by lumping him together with 19 senators who received additional pork barrel funds totaling P1.2 billion a few months after the Senate voted to convict Corona for dishonesty in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.

“The accusation that Malacañang ‘rewarded’ the senators who voted to convict (Corona) puts Malacañang on a slippery slope, placing the charge of at least impropriety, if not outright bribery, right at the presidential doorstep,” said Arroyo, who voted against Corona’s conviction on charges of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.

Arroyo insisted that his request for funding was from the General Appropriations Act, not from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel.

Lacierda justified the creation of the DAP as a response to criticisms that the government was not spending enough in 2011 when economic growth was only half of the targeted 7-percent annual gross domestic product as government agencies, notably corrupt agencies such as the Department of Public Works and Highways, were still in the midst of “cleansing” programs.

Fund to pump economy

“We needed to accelerate spending, that’s why we created the DAP to induce infrastructure and social services spending. We have the authority to use the savings. The Constitution provides the basis for the President to spend the government’s savings,” said Lacierda, citing Article VI, Section 25, Subsection 5 of the 1987 Constitution and Section 39 and 49, Chapter V, Book VI of the 1987 Administration Code.

Lacierda pointed out that aside from lawmakers, government agencies and local government units were also beneficiaries of additional funds from the DAP.

“The DAP is not limited to lawmakers. The DAP is open to all where we need to push infrastructure and social services projects. This is for all. The executive branch also uses a part of the DAP. Why? Because we use savings to accelerate spending rather than not to use the savings,” said Lacierda.

He said most of the DAP was funneled through agencies.

Lacierda also disputed claims that the DAP was extra pork showered by the President on his favored lawmakers.

“The only reason why it is being connected now (to the impeachment trial of Corona) is because of what Sen. Jinggoy Estrada showed. But again, Senator Jinggoy was very emphatic. It was not a bribe. He stood by his vote to convict Chief Justice Corona,” Lacierda said.

“Whether you voted or not against Corona … their PDAFs were released,” he said.

Sam Miguel
10-01-2013, 09:20 AM
High court affirms cases vs Marcos crony Disini

By Christine O. Avendaño

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:32 am | Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Sandiganbayan can try the pending criminal cases against businessman Herminio Disini, a crony of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, in connection with the corruption-ridden Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) deal.

In a 5-0 vote, the Supreme Court First Division decided on Sept. 11 that the antigraft court had jurisdiction over the alleged offenses of Disini and the businessman himself even if he was a private individual and his cases had not yet prescribed as he had claimed.

“The Sandiganbayan has exclusive original jurisdiction over the criminal action involving petitioner notwithstanding that he is a private individual considering that his criminal prosecution is intimately related to the recovery of the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses, their immediate family, subordinates and close associates,” said the decision penned by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin.

In a summary of the decision released by the Supreme Court public information office, the high court denied “for lack of merit” Disini’s bid to quash two criminal cases pending in the Sandiganbayan.

Disini had gone to the high court to question the Jan. 17 and Aug. 10, 2005, resolutions of the Sandiganbayan on two cases against him.

The first case accused Disini of offering his shares in Vulcan Industrial and Mining Corp. and Energy Corp. to Marcos through the late president’s Engineering and Construction Company of Asia so as to allow Disini to seek and obtain for two foreign companies—Burns and Roe and Westinghouse Electrical Corp.—the contracts to design and build the BNPP. The two firms eventually got the contract.

The second case against Disini accused him of using his close ties with Marcos to request and receive from Burns and Roe the amount of $1 million and from Westinghouse, $17 million, for the BNPP contract.

On Aug. 2, 2004, Disini filed a motion to quash the cases allegedly because the prescription period had expired when they were filed. He also said the Sandiganbayan had no jurisdiction over him because he was a private individual.

But the Sandiganbayan denied his motion as well as his subsequent motion for reconsideration.

Acting on Disini’s petition for certiorari, the Supreme Court First Division ruled that the Sandiganbayan had jurisdiction over the offenses and over Disini.

The court said the Sandiganbayan was created through Presidential Decree No. 1606 and was amended later by Republic Act Nos. 7975 and 8249. Under Section 4c of RA 8249, the special appellate collegial court was vested with jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases filed by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) under Executive Order Nos. 1, 2 and 14-A.

While the high court division said the cases versus Disini were initially filed by the PCGG under its mandate through the executive orders, these “clearly fall under the Sandigan’s jurisdiction under RA 8249 Section 4c.’”

“That Disini was a private individual did not remove the offenses charged from the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan. EO No. 1 Sec. 2 expressly granted the authority to PCGG to recover ill-gotten wealth and this covered Marcos’ immediate family, relatives, subordinates, without distinction as to their private or public status,” said the high court division that was concurred in by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and Justices Martin Villarama, Jose Perez and Bienvenido Reyes.

The high court division also held that the cases against Disini had not yet been prescribed.

It disagreed with Disini’s contention that the prescription period of the cases against him began to run from 1974 when the BNPP contracts were awarded to the two foreign firms.

The high court division said the offenses involving the BNPP were only discovered after Marcos was ousted by a people power uprising in 1986 and after the PCGG conducted an exhaustive investigation into the BNPP issue.

“The prevailing rule on prescription is that, irrespective of whether the offense charged is a felony punishable by the Revised Penal Code or a crime punished by a special law, it is the filing of the complaint or information in the office of the public prosecutor for purposes of preliminary investigation that interrupts the period of prescription,” the Supreme Court division said.

Sam Miguel
10-02-2013, 09:48 AM
By any other name

By Conrado de Quiros

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:50 pm | Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

From the start, it sounded like palusot. To begin with, Frank Drilon’s and Butch Abad’s immediate response to Jinggoy Estrada’s accusation that Malacañang paid off the senators to vote to convict Renato Corona didn’t jibe.

For Drilon the P50 million each the senators got wasn’t additional at all, it was their regular PDAF which had been suspended preparatory to the impeachment to prevent suspicion of impropriety, or precisely that the senators were being bribed. The money was released later on when it was safe to do so.

For Abad, the P50 million was in fact additional PDAF, but was completely justifiable. “These fund releases have recently been touted as ‘bribes,’ ‘rewards,’ or ‘incentives.’ They were not. The releases, which were mostly for infrastructure projects, were part of what is called the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) designed by the Department of Budget and Management to ramp up spending and help accelerate economic expansion.”

The second pretty much refutes the first, and we take it to be the more reliable because Abad ought to know, he is the budget secretary. But his explanation is full of holes too. The most obvious is that if the P50 million each given to the senators was a way of precipitating growth by funding their favorite infrastructure projects, how come Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Bongbong Marcos got nothing? Both voted in favor of Corona, along with Joker Arroyo.

Of course by rights Marcos shouldn’t be given any money for whatever reason—in fact money of the order of billions of dollars ought to be seized from him and his mother—but that is another story altogether. The point is simply that it refutes Abad’s contention of what the money was for.

Quite apart from that, you want to spur growth—and true enough it was held back in the second half of 2010 and the whole of 2011 by lack of public spending—why need the senators at all? Why course it through the PDAF at all? Government doesn’t lack for priority projects, or priority infrastructure projects. Education is chief of them, as the Constitution itself bids, building classrooms is chief of them. Why not just allocate it to it? Why think pork? Why go pork?

But comes now an even bigger blow to Abad’s explanations. Arroyo is furious about being used as a stooge and has every reason to be. To dissimulate the fact that those who did not vote for Corona’s conviction got no additional PDAF, Abad made it appear that Arroyo did so as well. Specifically, he said Arroyo got P47 million from the DAP.

That’s a lie, says Arroyo. The P47 million in fact came from “amendments introduced in the General Appropriation Act of 2013 and not PDAF by any language…. Secretary Abad maliciously bundled the budgetary amendments I introduced for medical and educational provisions together with the questioned 2012 releases. He said the funds given to the senators came from a newly minted program designed by the DBM, called the DAP, yet again another one of those lump-sum appropriations unheard of until he pulled it out of his hat.”

That’s not just unethical, Arroyo proposed, that’s criminal. Abad, he said, has just opened himself up to prosecution for falsification of legislative documents. The Penal Code holds liable “any public officer … who causes it to appear that persons have participated in any act or proceeding (when they did not do so) or making untruthful statement in the narration of facts.”

I don’t know that jail awaits Abad, however Arroyo and others loudly call for his head. But it doesn’t help to know that government itself is capable not just of tolerating lump-sum appropriations, which are the most toxic element in the PDAF, putting public money beyond the pale of close scrutiny and allowing scams like Janet Napoles’ to spawn, but of inventing them. The DAP is not something the government can attribute to the Gloria Arroyo regime. It deals the final, mortal blow at pork, robbing it of any justification whatsoever. The idea that government can make pork safe by instituting corrective measures isn’t strengthened by the DBM’s own willingness, if not eagerness, to resort to things like this to keep Congress in line.

Indeed, the prospect that Malacañang will be tempted to resort to things like this to pursue its agenda, or to raze down the things that stand in its path, may no longer make pork palatable, if it was so at all from the start. Arguably, the agenda is good, the daang matuwid is something worth fighting for. Arguably, people like Corona are not, they are worth fighting against. But the means cannot justify the end, the daang matuwid cannot be prosecuted through the daang baluktot. The latter will always be a minefield that could blow up anytime in your face. This fiasco shows so.

The irony is that the prosecution of Corona didn’t need pork at all, didn’t need greasing at all. It was popular in the extreme. True, at the end of the day it was the senators that were going to rule on it, it was the senators that stood to push or block government’s effort to get at Gloria, Corona simply being an obstacle to it.

But those senators also knew that in trials like those, as shown by the Erap impeachment, it wasn’t just the tried that was on trial, it was the triers too. It wasn’t just Corona who was on trial, the senators were too. With the people sitting as judges, and with elections the following year to make their judgment known.

What could have been is speculative, what has been is not. And what has been is that government gave P50 million additional PDAF to those who voted against Corona. Call it incentive, call it reward, call it bribe: A rose by any other name will smell just as sweet.

“Additional PDAF” by any other name will smell just as bad.

Sam Miguel
10-04-2013, 09:35 AM
Arroyo, 3 Cabinet men charged with plunder

P337M in kickbacks went to high officials, whistle-blowers say

By Cynthia D. Balana

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:16 am | Friday, October 4th, 2013

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, three of her Cabinet secretaries and 20 others were charged with plunder in the Office of the Ombudsman on Thursday for allegedly stealing P900 million from the Malampaya Fund meant for impoverished victims of back-to-back storms in 2009.

In a letter-complaint, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and the National Bureau of Investigation recommended that a preliminary investigation be conducted to determine if a case merited trial in the Sandiganbayan against the 24 who have allegedly diverted and “stolen” the fund coursed through the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in a scheme arranged by Janet Lim-Napoles.

Napoles, the alleged mastermind in the P10-billion pork barrel scam, is among those named respondent with Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative, who is under hospital arrest for plunder in the alleged misuse of funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

Also charged were Arroyo’s Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman and his undersecretary Narciso Nieto, Budget Secretary and now Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., and his undersecretary Mario Relampagos, and Candaba Mayor Rene Maglanque.

De Lima said the lack of specificity in Arroyo’s and Ermita’s identification of the authorized purpose by which the Department of Budget and Management could access the Malampaya Fund resulted in almost discretionary, if not arbitrary, granting of implementing agency requests for millions of pesos in funds by the DBM.

This, De Lima said, happened without the submission of any agency work or development plan showing that the funds will actually be used for the purpose authorized by the President.

“This leniency control displayed by the then President in the use of and access to an essentially presidential discretionary fund made possible the plunder of such fund, either intentionally or through gross inexcusable negligence,” De Lima added.

Also included in the charge sheet were DAR officials led by Teresita Panlilio, then director of finance and management administration office and presently officer in charge of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council secretariat; and Angelita Cacananta, Nilda Baui, Dominador Sison Jr. and Ronald Venancio.

The private respondents included Napoles, her relatives, presidents and staff of her nongovernment organizations (NGOs).

They were Evelyn de Leon; Ruby Tuason; Jesus Castillo, driver; Dalangpan Sang Amin Utod Kag Kasimanwa Edn.; Lilian Espanol, househelp; Saganang Buhay sa Atin Foundation Inc.; Genevieve Uy, JLN’s family friend; Kasaganahan para sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc.; Ronald John Lim, JLN’s nephew, Ginintuang Alay sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc.; Eulogio Rodriguez, JLN Corp. driver; Lorna Ramirez, wife of JLN Corp. security/driver, Ginintuang Pangkabuhayan Foundation Inc.; Ronald Francisco Lim, JLN’s brother; Micro Agri Business Citizens Initiative Foundation Inc.; Simplicio Gumafelix, JLN Corp. administrative officer, Karangyaan para sa Magbubukid Foundation Inc.; and John Raymund de Asis, JLN Corp. security/driver; Kaupdanan para sa Mangunguna Foundation Inc.

Biggest cut to Arroyo cousin

In a press conference, De Lima said that the whistle-blowers, all employees of Lim, identified Pangandaman as having received a P75-million kickback in cash from Napoles and through bank withdrawal care of Manlaque; Panlilio, P14 million received in cash from Napoles and through a bank withdrawal; Nieto, P6 million received through bank withdrawal c/o De Leon; and Tuason, P242.775 million received through bank withdrawals for a still “unidentified principal.”

Tuason’s husband is a cousin of Mike Arroyo, husband of the former President.

In all, the identified kickbacks and their receivers amounted to P337,775,000. The complaint did not say if Arroyo, Ermita or Andaya received cuts from the deal. Arroyo was identified as a “conspirator” in the misuse of the Malampaya Fund for her alleged negligence.

“The rest of the DBM and DAR officials participated and conspired in this scheme by facilitating the irregular release of the P900 million from the Malampaya Fund to the DAR and the processing of the check payments to Napoles NGOs despite the fact that all documents pertaining to the award of said projects were manufactured and faked and the projects were all ghost projects with zero delivery,” De Lima said.

De Lima also said the signatures of 97 city and municipal mayors where the projects were identified were all faked, including the memorandum of agreements and other documents.

“The mayors’ signatures were faked but the signatures of officials of DAR were genuine,” she stressed.

De Lima said the liquidation documents prepared by Napoles’ staff were manufactured as these again contained the faked signatures of mayors.

The schemes became possible mainly because of the issuance of Executive Order No. 848 on Oct. 13, 2009, by Arroyo authorizing the DBM “to release funds in such amount as may be necessary” from the Malampaya Special Fund (DOE SAGF-151) created under Presidential Decree No. 910 to implementing agencies for “whatever purposes as may be authorized by the President.”

Ermita request to DBM

On the same date, De Lima said, Ermita sent a letter informing Andaya of the former President’s approval of Ermita’s request for authorization to use the Malampaya Fund “in such

CHARGED WITH PLUNDER Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita smile in this photo taken in Malacañang in 2009. INQUIRER PHOTO

amounts as may be necessary,” for the relief operations, rehabilitation, reconstruction and other works and services to areas affected by natural calamities, without, however, citing the EO as legal basis.

De Lima said the letter did not specify what amount from the fund representing the government share in the revenues from the operation of gas and oil fields off Palawan province was to be allotted to DAR for release to local government units and farmer-beneficiaries in agrarian reform communities hit by Tropical Storms “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” in 2009.

The NBI used as proofs the testimonies and documentary evidence of the whistle-blowers who are former JLN Corp. employees led by Benhur Luy, affidavits of former local executives, documents of Napoles’ NGOs from the Securities and Exchange Commission, disbursement vouchers, and DAR documents on the Malampaya Fund projects such as the Malampaya Fund special allotment release order (Saro).

Among the irregularities noted in the processing of the transactions were the selection of the Napoles NGOs that were incorporated only in 2009 (four), 2008 (seven) and 2004 (one); the presidents of NGOs were either JLN Corp. employees or Napoles’ household staff, relatives and family friends.

The NBI said Napoles’ NGOs had been allowed by the DAR officials involved to implement an average of seven projects each almost simultaneously, in flagrant disregard of the Commission on Audit circular. Napoles is under detention in connection with the alleged illegal detention of Luy.

In addition to the plunder charge, some of the accused were also recommended for prosecution for violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, Code of Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and the Revised Penal Code.

Joescoundrel
10-09-2013, 09:24 AM
About time

By Conrado de Quiros

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:59 am | Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

At long last, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has been charged with plunder. Along with Nasser Pangandaman, Eduardo Ermita, and Rolando Andaya Jr., former Cabinet secretaries all. They are accused of diverting P900 million from the Malampaya Fund meant to relieve the plight of “Ondoy” victims into Janet Lim-Napoles’ NGOs.

Of course P900 million is a pittance compared to the gargantuan scale of thievery wrought by the Arroyo regime. But quite apart from the fact that close to P1 billion is enough to build 100 moderately equipped rural health centers and feed close to 100,000 hungry children for a year, tell that to the victims of Ondoy in whose name that particular piece of villainy was done. It’s the plight of those victims, the bereaved, the ravaged, and the despairing, that drives home the viciousness of the act.

At long last, and emphasis on “last,” it’s happened. Like most Filipinos I, too, had begun to wonder which was dwindling more rapidly, the amount of flesh clinging to Gloria’s bones or the prospect of her ever having to face the bar of law and/or public opinion to account for her sins. The former leader’s prosecution comes at an opportune time—too opportune, P-Noy’s critics are bound to say.

It puts things in perspective, something that’s currently being distorted grotesquely. Of course P-Noy deserves his share of brickbats, but some of those thrown his way of late have been patently unfair and raise questions about their sources and motivations. “King of Pork” he’s been called, which is tantamount, given that “pork” has become almost synonymous with “corruption,” to being called “King of Corruption.” Can anything be more idiotic? Hands down, he’s the cleanest president since Independence, with the exception only of Cory.

Unfortunately, that cannot be said of the people around him. The ones in particular who are anxious to see that the sun continues to shine as they make hay and are desperate to make sure it does after 2016. They’re the ones I particularly distrust. The corruption at Customs wouldn’t be so rife if they weren’t building a war chest for the presidency.

And arguably, the means P-Noy himself has taken to achieve some of his ends leaves much to be desired. Chief of them being the way he went about removing Renato Corona as the chief obstacle to prosecuting Arroyo. Noble ends, ignoble means. Can there be a bribe after the fact? Oh, yes. The word of someone who is firm, may isang salita, even if used for an infirm end, is good as gold, or P50 million. Of course, other than with Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla, and Juan Ponce Enrile, there’s nothing to show that the money was wasted. But the payoff itself must raise questions about it. Faulty means will always subvert faultless ends.

Just as well, can anything be even more idiotic than the calls for P-Noy to resign that have been appearing in the social media? What in God’s, or Beelzebub’s, name for? So he can be replaced by his predecessor who is not unlikely to experience a miraculous recovery after being given the prospect of recovering power? So he can be replaced by Jojo Binay, the current Vice President and next in line, whose claim to cleanliness is as solid as his pal Erap’s claim is to godliness? So he can be replaced by the loser Mar Roxas, who is currently acting as the vice president, if not indeed the president, even if he lost his bid for vice?

The charging of Arroyo for plunder restores our perspective, our sense of proportion, on things. Hell, it restores sanity into our world, into our universe. You want to see the bona fide, honest-to-goodness or dishonest-to-badness, Queen of Pork, you need look no farther. The fact alone that Napoles’ scam had a 10-year shelf life must suggest that the bulk of it, if not the entire thing itself, happened during Arroyo’s time. The Malampaya scam certainly did.

There’s more. Arroyo is the Queen of Pork not least in the quite literal sense of using the pork barrel to keep the senators and congressmen in line, or amenable to such things as shooting down the two impeachment bids raised against her, finding “Hello Garci” the product of the poisoned tree, and agreeing to the legality, if not morality, of executive privilege which exempted her from answering questions about the NBN (national broadband network). Which, not quite incidentally, was what prompted the need for a Freedom of Information law, and which, not quite incidentally, the current administration continues to buck, and block.

But the point was, you did not agree to those absolute atrocities then, you got no pork. You remained politically, or financially, vegetarian.

Indeed, more than the Queen of Pork, Arroyo is the Queen of Fork, quite apart from the Queen of the Forked Tongue, in what she wrought beyond the confines of pork. P-Noy has every right to say: “[The loot] could have surpassed P1 trillion. How much was lost, stolen and played around with, or used in transactions to stay in power? Is it too much to suspect that this money is now being circulated to undermine your trust in daang matuwid? To sow trouble and terror in many forms, and challenge those of us who had long been abused, and are now seeking justice to hold the violators accountable?”

By all means let us shout bitterly against pork. By all means let us not forget Napoles and the senators and congressmen who conspired with her to steal the money that could have kept street children out of the streets. By all means let us not let pass the P50 million each that went to the senators who voted to convict Corona.

But let us never lose sight of the one person who began it all, who spawned it all, who needs more than anyone else to be hounded by the Furies.

The InGlorious One.

Sam Miguel
10-10-2013, 09:18 AM
Andaya got blank check on Malampaya Fund

By Gil C. Cabacungan

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:20 am | Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo practically gave then Budget Secretary Rolando G. Andaya Jr. a blank check to fund any project using the Malampaya Fund on the pretext of providing relief to provinces devastated by Tropical Storms “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” four years ago, the National Bureau of Investigation said.

This is the reason why, based on the documents obtained by the Inquirer from the Commission on Audit (COA), Andaya signed a total of 145 special allotment release orders (Saros) between Oct. 30 and December 2009 worth a total of P14.393 billion that was paid out of the government’s share of the oil and gas revenues off Palawan province.

This includes P62 million that Andaya, now a Camarines Sur representative, allocated to his own agency, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), through two Saros (G-09-09059 for P47 million and G-09060 for P15 million) on Dec. 17, 2009, both without any work program to indicate their relevance to the relief and rehabilitation efforts.

Presidential Decree No. 910 issued in 1976 mandates that revenue from Philippine oil sources be channeled to a “Special Fund to be used to finance energy resource development … and for such other purposes as may be hereafter directed by the President.”

On Thursday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the NBI filed plunder charges against Arroyo and Andaya and 22 others for allegedly stealing P900 million from the Malampaya Fund coursed through the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and funneled to bogus foundations controlled by detained businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

In the summary complaint, acting NBI Director Medardo de Lemos blamed the “lack of specificity” in Executive Order No. 848, which empowered Arroyo to spend the Malampaya Fund for projects she desired.

Arbitrary

De Lemos said this “resulted in almost discretionary, if not arbitrary, granting of implementing agency requests for millions of pesos in funds by the DBM without the submission of any agency work or development plan for the use of the fund whatsoever.”

De Lemos said: “The DBM was practically given blanket approval to fund any and all relief and rehabilitation projects at the mere request of any implementing agency without the need of any further approval from the President, even when no clear work plan is submitted by the implementing agency showing that the funds will actually be used for the purpose authorized by the President.”

He said Andaya also ignored two memos from then Budget Director Nora Oliveros who had cautioned against the release of the Saro and notice of cash allocation for P900 million because it lacked the required Presidential Agrarian Reform Communities resolution and rehabilitation plan backing the request and that it would exceed the agency’s budget allocation for 2009.

De Lemos said this was “not a matter of mere oversight or inadvertence on the part of DBM officials, particularly Andaya.”

The DOJ-NBI complaint claimed that the use of the Malampaya Fund was premeditated as Napoles had been tipped off of the DAR’s share in the windfall three months before Arroyo issued her EO and before Ondoy and later Pepeng ravaged central and northern Luzon.

Andaya himself requested on Oct. 8, 2009, the use of the Malampaya Fund—five days before Arroyo signed the EO and then Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita sent his letter of instructions for the fund’s use to Andaya.

Leniency of control

De Lemos said Andaya “was already assuming that the restrictions on the use of the (Malampaya Fund) will be lifted to accommodate liberalized access by the DBM, as may be provided by the President.”

“This leniency of control displayed by the President in the use of and access to an essentially presidential discretionary fund made the plunder of such fund either intentionally or through gross inexcusable negligence.

“The former case is made all the more credible in light of the fact that the recipient of the major share in kickbacks amounting to P243 million, coursed through Ruby Tuason, remains unknown,” De Lemos said.

Tuason is the wife of former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo’s first cousin, the late Philippine Sports Commission Chair Carlos “Butch” Tuason.

Andaya denies wrongdoing

Andaya has not replied to the Inquirer’s attempts to get his side of the story. However, in a statement he issued after he was included in the plunder charges, Andaya denied wrongdoing, saying he was unaware people were going “to take advantage of a tragedy so as to make money and do their racket.”

“What’s worrisome is that we are setting a precedent wherein all those involved in the ministerial release of the funds, including DBM officials, should from now on become automatic coaccused in every graft case to be filed in the country,” he said.

“Why am I being made a coaccused if evidence shows that my only participation is the expediency in the manner of the release of the funds to alleviate the miseries of the typhoon victims?”

Sam Miguel
11-04-2013, 07:57 AM
DAP: thinking in time

By Edilberto C. de Jesus

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:19 am | Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

Technology has given us wristwatches that tell time within a fraction of a second. This has not necessarily made us more punctual in our habits. Often, we still have to guess the duration of a given “Filipino time” or, more common regionally, “rubber time.”

This casual attitude toward time, unfortunately, can lead beyond missed appointments or mistakes in judgment. Take the case of the claim that the administration released additional pork barrel funds through the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) to buy the impeachment of then Chief Justice Renato Corona. Why has this allegation appeared plausible, despite its dubious source, a senator charged with plunder?

The administration has denied that DAP funds were given as pork barrel and dismissed any link between the release of these funds and the impeachment trial. This response, critics will say, was only to be expected.

But, second, no senator has come forward to admit that his or her vote had been bought. Even Jinggoy Estrada, who first raised the bribery issue, maintained that the pork, which he accepted, did not influence his decision, although he could not speak for his colleagues. No one has confessed to voting on the basis of a bribe.

Third, some senators who voted to acquit apparently received these funds, while others who voted to convict did not.

These factual considerations alone should have laid the bribery charge to rest. And yet, the suspicion persists, and it may be drawing traction not just from parties desperately trying to divert public attention from the Priority Development Assistance Fund plunder cases against Janet Napoles and her partner-legislators. It lingers also, I suspect, because the diversion effort exploits how we naturally think about causality and time.

The Senate impeached Corona. And then—actually, about six months later—they received DAP funds. Therefore, they must have received these funds because they had agreed to impeach Corona. The premise that what happened before caused what happened after appears plausible, since the cause must come before the effect.

Our philosophy teacher used a favorite example of this fallacy that mistakes a temporal sequence for a causal relationship: Roosters crow just before daybreak. Should we believe that the crowing of the cocks causes the sun to rise?

Respecting the chronology of events would also help avoid unwarranted conclusions. Newspaper headlines, for instance, have called attention to the continuing irregularities in the use of PDAF and DAP funds in the P-Noy administration. Whether intended or not, such headlines sell the spin that the administration already knew about the Napoles racket, but knowingly permitted it to continue. It insinuates administration complicity in the corruption.

Even the Commission on Audit, however, only saw the evidence of the PDAF scam at about the time that the Napoles staff started blowing the whistle. Why it took the COA so long to undertake the audit is an important side issue, but it bears stressing that the order to do so came only with the advent of the P-Noy administration. Until that time, PDAF operations, whose origins preceded P-Noy, enjoyed the presumption of legality.

Given this presumption, the administration, in implementing the DAP, allowed 9 percent of the funds to be treated like the PDAF, allowing legislators to recommend projects, as long as they met DAP guidelines. Unfortunately, some senators—and the media have surfaced, among others, the names of Senators Vicente Sotto, Gregorio Honasan and Ferdinand Marcos Jr.—have allegedly managed to direct these funds to Napoles and, perhaps, other bogus nongovernment organizations.

It is disappointing that former senator Ping Lacson should ask why senators had to be consulted if the DAP targeted already approved projects. As he must know, very few legislators can be accused of doing the right thing only because it is the right thing to do. The project may be good, but the perennial question comes up: What is in it for me, or, less crassly, for “my constituency?”

Legislators are politicians, and politics everywhere is a negotiations game. The executive branch would prefer cordial relations with Congress to keep the bargaining within the bounds of decency. The Napoles scam, whether the funds came from the PDAF, DAP or Malampaya Fund clearly breached ethical and legal boundaries.

The Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of the PDAF and of the DAP. These are two different mechanisms, neither invulnerable to corruption. But the constitutional issues are separate from the criminal charges filed and to be filed against those accused of plundering public funds.

In a recent national address, P-Noy reassured his “bosses” that he will pursue to its conclusion the investigation and prosecution of the pork barrel cases. The scale and brazenness of the corruption already exposed now make imperative the accounting of the use of pork barrel funds by all legislators, whether from the opposition or the administration.

Hopefully, we will see this in Philippine standard time, not in rubber time.

Sam Miguel
11-07-2013, 08:43 AM
Justice Leonen’s Mission Impossible

BREAKTHROUGH

By Elfren S. Cruz

(The Philippine Star) | Updated November 7, 2013 - 12:00am

It was a milestone when the Supreme Court decided to form a special committee to investigate alleged influence peddlers in the judiciary, especially a certain Arlene Angeles Lerma identified as the suspected “Ma’m Arlene,” the judiciary’s version of Janet Lim Napoles.

Personally, I was very relieved when the investigation was taken out of the hands of Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez. As I have stated before, this previous spokesperson of impeached Renato Corona has been responsible for judicial discipline and investigation of administrative cases filed against judges.

I am not a lawyer. But several lawyer friends of mine have told me that when cases are filed in the Office of the Court Administrator, like a tiring refrain from an old song, “they just lie there and they die there.”

The head of the special investigation committee is Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen. Although I do not personally know him, his credentials and reputation give me hope that finally we have a person who will have the courage and integrity to start the cleansing of the judiciary.

Justice Leonen, at 49, is the youngest member of the Supreme Court. He was the government peace negotiator and during his stint the Peace Framework Agreement between the Philippine Government and the MILF was signed. Before that he was Dean of the U.P. College of Law.

In the same year that he passed the Bar, he co-founded the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, Inc., a legal and policy research and advocacy institution which focused on providing legal services for upland rural poor and indigenous people’s communities. He served as Executive Director for 15 years.

It is good to remember that the executive department can file all the charges but it is the judiciary who will determine guilt or innocence. There have been so many charges filed against personalities like Imelda Marcos, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Jocjoc Bolante, et al. But how many have been convicted?

The best control system to ensure good governance — whether in government, business, religious groups or the judiciary – is public transparency. After all, why insist on secrecy if there is nothing to hide?

That is why I have been repeatedly requesting that there be public disclosure of all the pending administrative cases in the Office of the Court Administrator. Is it true that there are more than 180 cases still pending in the office of Midas Marquez? Is it true that some of them are several years old?

I recently had a conversation about the Office of the Court Administrator with Marites Vitug, one of the few truly credible investigative journalists in the country. She has suggestions on other information that should be made public by this extremely secretive office.

I hope Justice Leonen does not mind a few suggestions from a couple of non-lawyers. Here are some information that should be monitored and made public.

First, the identity of justices, judges and court personnel sanctioned, as well as for what offense, each year. This will give us an idea how many (or how few) judicial personnel are actually sanctioned. It should also tell us how many (or how few) have been sanctioned for major offenses.

Second, the budget of each court and the savings from funded courts which are not operating. Now that the Supreme Court is about to render a decision on the DAP, it would be interesting to find out how the judiciary decides to reallocate their own “savings” or whatever term they use.

Third, the caseloads of lower courts from regional trial courts to municipal trial courts. This will show which courts can be paired with others. For example, if the case load of one court is low, then the judge of that court can be assigned to concurrently work in a court with heavier load.

Finally, I want to repeat a story a lawyer friend told me that when a court is vacant, then assisting judges can be appointed for specific cases. Supposedly, a permanent judge in another court can be appointed as a temporary assisting judge for a specific case as a “reward.” But I am not sure how being assigned to a land title case is considered as a reward.

There was a time when being a lawyer was considered an honourable profession. And the peak of this profession was to be a member of the judiciary. Is it possible to see a return to those times?

I was listening to a recent television interview of several law students from some of the best law schools in the country. One interesting comment was that all of them would be very willing to be a lawyer for Janet Lim Napoles. One said, in particular, it would be “challenging” to win defending a client the whole nation hated.

For these law students, winning is the most important thing. This reminds me of businessmen who say that maximizing profit is the principal purpose of a business. These businessmen believe that as long as they obey the laws, any action in maximizing profit is justified.

Fortunately, today more and more businessmen accept that they have corporate social responsibilities which go beyond just obeying laws. Sometimes adhering to these responsibilities to society may be at the cost of additional profits. But in the end, it is the common good that overrides personal or corporate good.

Perhaps, someday our lawyers will have their own version of their social responsibilities for the common good which goes beyond winning cases.

Perhaps, the Leonen Committee will restore the judiciary to its previous honourable standing. Perhaps we will finally witness the “mission impossible” of cleansing the judiciary of all forms of corruption. Just like in the movie.

* * *

Joescoundrel
11-07-2013, 08:51 AM
Sandigan junks GMA bail plea in PCSO case

By Michael Punongbayan

(The Philippine Star) | Updated November 7, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Sandiganbayan yesterday denied a petition for bail of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in connection with the P365.9-million plunder case filed against her for alleged involvement in the misuse of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds from 2008 to 2010.

The anti-graft court rejected Arroyo’s request for temporary liberty, citing evidence of alleged conspiracy between her and former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte, a co-accused in the plunder case who has yet to be arrested.

The charges against Arroyo stemmed from her approval of repeated requests for additional PCSO confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) during the last three years of her administration.

The Sandiganbayan said there is strong evidence of conspiracy as the former president approved the requests despite the absence of details on the purpose of the additional funds.

“The purposes stated in Uriarte’s letter-requests were basically the same for three years,” the ruling said, noting the oft-repeated reasons of unwarranted or unofficial use of ambulances, lotto and sweepstakes scams, and illegal gambling problems.

“Arroyo did not question Uriarte’s repetitive and simplistic bases for the requests, as she approved it unconditionally,” the Sandiganbayan said, adding her approval facilitated the cash advances and accumulation of CIF funds by Uriarte.

The anti-graft court said considering the amounts involved – P75 million in 2008, P90 million in 2009, and P150 million in 2010 – the former president should have sensed that something was wrong.

Aside from Arroyo’s petition, the Sandiganbayan also denied a similar plea filed by former PCSO budget and accounts manager Benigno Aguas, another respondent in the case.

Last June, the Sandiganbayan granted the petition for bail filed by former board chairman Sergio Valencia and former PCSO directors Manuel Morato and Raymundo Roquero due to the absence of strong evidence against them.

Arroyo’s lawyer Anacleto Diaz vowed to appeal the Sandiganbayan decision either by filing a petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court or a motion for reconsideration.

“It took the Sandiganbayan some time to resolve the motion for bail and that is good for us because it means that the anti-graft court had its doubts on whether there really is strong evidence,” Diaz said.

He said having more than one dissenter in the ruling was a good sign, as it would mean that at least two justices did not find strong evidence of guilt to deny bail.

Diaz had been arguing that the evidence presented by the Office of the Ombudsman failed to show that Arroyo received a single centavo from the CIF releases.

Of the five magistrates, First Division chairman Efren de la Cruz, presiding justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, and associate justice Rafael Lagos voted to deny bail, while associate justices Rodolfo Ponferrada and Jose Hernandez wanted to grant Arroyo’s petition.

In his dissenting opinion, Ponferrada said the respondents should be allowed bail as the prosecution failed to show strong evidence of guilt of the accused.

He said during the hearing for bail, the prosecution’s principal witness – PCSO board member Aleta Tolentino – failed to point the presence or whereabouts of the alleged ill-gotten wealth.

“On the contrary, there is evidence showing that the said amounts were spent or used for other non-PCSO related purposes, which although highly irregular, negates or, at the very least, creates doubt as to the existence of the offense of plunder,” he said.

Hernandez shared Ponferrada’s belief that Arroyo and Aguas should be granted bail as provided under the law on the rights of the accused to bail. – With Paolo Romero

Sam Miguel
11-20-2013, 10:12 AM
3 senators in ‘pork’ scandal face ethics raps

By Nancy C. Carvajal

Philippine Daily Inquirer

7:48 am | Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—The Office of the Ombudsman has referred the administrative charges of serious dishonesty and grave misconduct against three senators charged with plunder by the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to the Senate ethics committee, said Levito Baligod, the lawyer of the pork barrel scam whistle-blowers.

“We have received information that administrative charges had been referred to the Senate ethics committee and the filing is a welcome development because as elective officials it is hoped that the Senate Ethics Committee’s action on the matter will lead toward restoration of public trust,” Baligod told the Inquirer.

The senators facing administrative charges for the alleged misuse of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) are Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada and Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr.

Preventive suspension



Stephen Cascollan, another lawyer of the whistle-blowers, said he hoped the new development would lead to the issuance of preventive suspension orders against those involved in the pork barrel scam.

“Preventively suspending all involved appointive officials and employees be immediately issued so that evidence in their custody or under their control can be secured” the lawyers said.

The lawyers for the whistle-blowers also said there are legal bases for the preventive suspension since the administrative offenses are grave in nature and an objective investigation of the charges can only be made if the integrity of the evidence is preserved.

Told about the new development, Enrile said he was ready to face the charges.

Enrile ready



“According to my lawyer, they just put a docket on the old charge. I do not know. As far as I’m concerned, I’m ready to face the case,” Enrile told reporters.

Lawyer Joel Bodegon, counsel for Revilla, said he had yet to get a copy of the referral and the Ombudsman’s reason.

“I am unaware of any precedent that the Office of the Ombudsman made such a referral before when the target respondent of its investigation is a member of Congress,” Bodegon said in a text message.

“I can only speculate that perhaps the referral is an expression of due deference by the Ombudsman to the Senate’s primary jurisdiction over ethical issues involving its members,” he said.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said it was the Senate’s duty to tackle the administrative complaints but doubted that they would be taken up this year.

Debating budget



“We will await the referral and once we have it we will organize the ethics committee. It’s our duty to constitute that. I doubt that we could have it this year,” Drilon said.

But he said the Senate might not have the time to tackle the referral within the year. “We will be debating the budget, and the interpellations will terminate on Nov. 28, the approval of the third reading for it would be on the first week of December. We may not have the time. Also, the freedom of information (FOI) bill is on the floor.”—With a report from Norman Bordadora

Joescoundrel
12-04-2013, 09:38 AM
Does Corona deserve retirement pay at all?

GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc

(The Philippine Star) | Updated December 4, 2013 - 12:00am

More lessons from the confusion brought by earthquake and super-typhoon in the Visayas:

• The Air Force needs more C-130 transport planes. It used to have 14 such Hercules turboprops that can load tons of humans and cargo in one giant hold. The number has dwindled, from crashes and misuse, to three — found inadequate to meet the emergency needs of Leyte-Samar provinces alone. If not for the US Pacific Fleet’s help, food and medicines wouldn’t have reached on time calamity-stricken areas in Cebu, Panay, Negros, and Palawan.

Rep. Rodolfo Albano III (Isabela) suggests that the government buy C-130s instead of fighter jets. The Air Force brass says the optimum number of units is 12. Sen. Ralph Recto adds that three of the junked C-130s can still be refurbished into airworthiness.

The figures add up. The Air Force needs nine C-130s to augment its existing three, for the optimum 12. Recto says it will cost P1.5 billion — P500 million apiece — to refurbish the three serviceable ones. That makes six. The government needs to buy six more, at P1.93 billion each, or P11.58 billion tops. For P13.08 billion in all, the Air Force can quadruple its number of C-130s.

Where to get the money? Junk the P18.9-billion fighter purchase from Korea. After all, talks have bogged down on basic issues like down payment and spare parts delivery for the 12 FA-50 jets. By switching to C-130s from purely territorial defensive fighters, the government can save P5.82 billion.

• What to do with that P5.82-billion balance? Buy fast-transport ships for the Navy. Albano says the vessel shortage was felt hard in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan.

• The defense office must restart the purchase of 21 refurbished Huey helicopters, handy for combat, rescue, and food drops. Its bidding last Sept. failed when the lone bidder failed to qualify. There’s ready money for the re-fleeting: P1.26 billion.

• Also needed, Albano says, are basic land equipment — backhoes, bulldozers, pay-loaders — to clear highways of earthquake or typhoon debris.

* * *

Deposed Chief Justice Renato Corona denies reports that he is collecting P50-million retirement pay from the Supreme Court. It’s open knowledge that nobody in government service commands such huge amount, he says. He blames it all on the Former Senior Government Officials (FSGO), a watchdog of bureaucratic abuses.

But Corona is only practicing a craft that doesn’t need four years of law school to master: hairsplitting. For, he recently did file for pension. Just that, the amount may be less than the stated P50 million, which the FSGO did not pull out of thin air but picked up from a news report.

So the real issue is whether Corona deserves a single centavo of pension. He insists he does. The Constitution’s proviso on impeachment metes mere removal from office as punishment, he says, not forfeiture of retirement benefits.

That’s again hairsplitting, which any hairdresser can cure. In any office, public or private, an employee fired for cause is never paid pension. At best, the office does it quietly, rarely taking out an ad with the guy’s picture captioned, “So-and so is no longer connected with ... any transaction entered into by him shall not be honored.”

Speaking of forfeiture, it’s Corona who owes the state. He was found guilty of unexplained wealth, around P200 million. It consisted of five condos in the Philippines, two houses in the US, and secret dollar deposits. Under the law, a public official who cannot explain incomes beyond his official salary and legal business shall forfeit such wealth. Corona, in the Senate trial, could not explain his wealth. He was exposed to have used his influential government position to grab prime lands of his in-laws. And he alleged to have struck it big in the currency market as long ago as 1962, at the ripe young age of 12, when he was in Grade 6.

* * *

The FSGO statement in full:

“In declaring the PDAF and similar pork barrels unconstitutional, the Supreme Court has repaid the trust of those who regard it as the guardian of our rights and liberties.

“As FSGO members express our commendation for this path-breaking decision, we ask that it continue to pursue and enforce the people’s right to good government. It has taken to task both the Executive and the Legislative branches on the pork barrel issue. It must now apply the same ethical standards on the Judiciary.

“Is Corona really claiming P50 million as his retirement pay? How is the amount computed, and where is the source of funding? Does not the Salary Standardization Law (SSL) prescribe a uniform system for determining the compensation and benefits awarded to public officials?

“But the crucial, more fundamental question is whether Corona deserves retirement benefits. He did not retire; he was thrown out of office. He has not been accepted into the Association of Retired Justices.

“An earlier Supreme Court decision denied a clerk in a Davao court her retirement benefits because she failed to disclose ownership of a stall in the public market in her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN). Corona is reportedly still facing charges on multiple issues related to the truthfulness of his SALN and the taxes he should have paid.

“Do those who achieve higher positions gain impunity from sanctions for offenses even more serious than that committed by the Davao clerk? Some apparently do not think this should be the case. Is it true that the Supreme Court’s own Office of Legal Affairs has rejected Corona’s right to retirement benefits and recommended his disbarment?

“Nothing will more surely provoke popular outrage and undermine trust in the government than a Supreme Court affirmation of what the “masa” already suspect: that two sets of laws govern the country, one for the subordinates and another for the superiors. The Supreme Court’s ruling on the Corona Retirement Case can help dispel the belief that those empowered to make the rules blatantly do so to favor themselves.

“By taking a principled stand on the case, the Supreme Court can reinforce its own credibility and the people’s confidence in our democracy.”

The FSGO gave as refererences four former cabinet members: Edilberto de Jesus, Isagani Cruz, Karina Constantino David, and Jesus Estanislao.

* * *

Joescoundrel
12-13-2013, 10:57 AM
Alleged ‘fixer’ in judiciary identified

By Erika Sauler, Nancy C. Carvajal

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:47 am | Friday, December 13th, 2013

A Supreme Court insider has identified the so-called “Ma’am Arlene” who was earlier described as “the Janet Lim-Napoles of the judiciary” for allegedly influencing court decisions in favor of her clients with huge payoffs to judges and justices.

The source said the alleged “decision-broker” in the judiciary was none other than Arlene Angeles Lerma.

Lerma is known to most of members of the judiciary, according to the Inquirer source who asked not to be identified for lack of authority to speak to the media.

The media earlier reported that there were three Arlenes who showered members of the judiciary with gifts and cash.

The source was among those called by the Supreme Court committee under Associate Justice Marvic Leonen investigating corruption in the judiciary.

“We know her because she also attends parties for retired judges and events, but she is not a member of the judiciary,” the source said.

The Supreme Court insider said he overheard Lerma in one party for members of the Philippine Judges Association (PJA) saying “Iniwan ko na yung pang raffle (I left something for the raffle).”

Lerma came with Manila Vice Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso to the PJA party, the source said.

The source said Lerma was close to retired Deputy Court Administrator (DCA) Antonio Eugenio Jr., a former Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge.

TROs

RTC judges and Court of Appeals justices are known to issue temporary restraining orders (TRO) that adversely affect or benefit litigants. There are reports that these TROs can be bought.

The source confirmed that the photo obtained by Inquirer was taken at the retirement party of Eugenio last year.

“The party was attended by judges and DCAs and she (Lerma) was there,” he said.

Two-time PJA president

He said Lerma was a strong supporter of Eugenio who served as a two-time PJA president when he was a regional trial court judge.

The source described as “unprecedented” Eugenio’s feat as two-time PJA president.

Lerma’s name cropped up as the “influential person” during the recent election for PJA president in October.

Lerma allegedly bankrolled the election of PJA officers and held parties for members of the judiciary.

Supreme Court Administrator Midas Marquez, who conducted an initial investigation of the alleged vote-buying in the PJA election, earlier said he had asked the three candidates vying for the leadership of the PJA to explain allegations of irregularities during the election.

The PJA candidates for president were Judge Ralph Lee of Quezon City (who won the presidency), Judge Rommel Baybay of Makati City and Judge Felix Reyes of Marikina City.

Hotel bookings, trips

Arlene reportedly booked 50 rooms in a high-class hotel for the judges and their spouses during the election and gave expensive bags and trips overseas as gifts.

Marquez has issued a circular reminding judges to conduct themselves properly during PJA elections and listed prohibited acts.

Isko kid’s godmother

Domagoso acknowledged that he knew Lerma, a godmother of one of his children.

“I never denied it. She’s my friend. She’s my neighbor in Balut, Tondo,” the vice mayor told the Inquirer in a phone interview.

Asked if he went with her to a party of the PJA, he said, “many times.”

He said he knew Lerma as an “ordinary, simple woman” who is a sister of a barangay chair.

“She has no business. She’s employed in a company,” Domagoso said.

He couldn’t recall her specific job and company.

Asked if he was aware of the alleged case-fixing activities of Lerma, Domagoso said, “As far as I’m concerned, I don’t know that’s she’s into [case] fixing. I have a high respect for the members of the judiciary. I don’t think that is happening nowadays.”

Lerma has been likened to Napoles, the alleged mastermind behind the P10-billion pork barrel scam. Napoles, along with Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, and other lawmakers, has been charged with plunder and malversation in the Office of the Ombudsman for allegedly pocketing millions of pesos from the Priority Development Assistance Fund, a pork barrel.

Joescoundrel
12-13-2013, 10:58 AM
What Went Before: Corruption talk rocks judiciary

Philippine Daily Inquirer

2:06 am | Friday, December 13th, 2013

The election of national officers of the Philippine Judges Association (PJA) in October was marred by a controversy of vote-buying instigated by a lobbyist known as “Ma’am Arlene.”

According to Supreme Court Administrator Midas Marquez, his office has been monitoring the corruption reports in the judiciary as early as September and conducting a discreet investigation.

Marquez said there were apparently three “Ma’am Arlenes” suspected of involvement in case fixing in the Court of Appeals but that only one—a court clerk—was a judiciary employee.

The others are a former employee at the Manila Regional Trial Court and a Manila City Hall employee.

Marquez said one of the “Arlenes” reportedly financed a candidate for president in the recently held PJA election.

On Oct. 15, Andres Reyes Jr., the appellate court’s presiding judge, also launched a separate investigation of Arlene.

On Oct. 17, Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te said that the high court en banc had created a committee to investigate reports of judicial corruption and influence-peddling and case-fixing in the lower courts.

The Supreme Court consolidated the Marquez and Reyes probes and the investigation that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno had asked the National Bureau of Investigation to undertake.

Te said the high tribunal had designated Associate Justice Marvic Leonen to head the committee, with two other retired justices to be appointed as members by Leonen.

The Supreme Court en banc asked the NBI to transmit the results of its investigation to the Leonen committee.

Records of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) showed a certain Arlene left the Philippines on Oct. 16. A BI official said he checked the woman’s travel records only after inquiries were made about her.

“She is not necessarily the same ‘Ma’am Arlene’ being implicated in the issue,” said the official. “We’re just saying that this certain person [that we were asked about] had left the country.”

On Oct. 20, the Supreme Court said it was checking if the Arlene Angeles Lerma that left the country on Oct. 16 was involved in case-fixing and other forms of judicial corruption.

“The reports regarding the departure of a certain Arlene Angeles Lerma from the Philippines are being validated and formal confirmation from the BI will be done as soon as possible,” Te said in a text message to the Inquirer.

Sam Miguel
12-17-2013, 08:27 AM
Lawmakers target Ducut

ERC chair in deeper hole over pork scam

By TJ A. Burgonio

Philippine Daily Inquirer

2:33 am | Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

The chair of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) may have found herself in a deeper hole after whistle-blowers tagged her as a conduit of alleged pork barrel queen Janet Lim-Napoles and several members of Congress, lawmakers said on Monday.

ERC chair Zenaida Cruz-Ducut, however, should not use the pork barrel scandal as an excuse to skip the Senate energy committee’s hearing on the huge power rate increase of P4.15 per kilowatt hour (kWh). Otherwise, she would be subpoenaed, lawmakers said.

The Senate committee has invited Ducut to shed light on the possible collusion among power producers that simultaneously shut down last month and other issues.

The shutdown prompted Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) to buy more expensive supply from the spot market and pass on the cost to its customers.

“Definitely [she’s in a deeper hole],” Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, who filed the resolution seeking an inquiry into the P4.15/kWh increase in power rates in Meralco’s franchise area.

“Her involvement in the pork barrel scam shows the likelihood that there’s collusion here. If she snubs the hearing on Wednesday, we will ask the committee to subpoena her,” he added.

Skipping hearing

Ducut has skipped hearings by the House of Representatives on the three-tiered power rate adjustments to be implemented beginning this month.

As she deals with the furor over the power rate increase, Ducut has been implicated by principal whistle-blower Benhur Luy in the alleged conversion of P10 billion in pork barrel into kickbacks over 10 years beginning with the Arroyo administration.

In his Nov. 26 testimony to the NBI, Luy claimed that Ducut was a friend of Napoles and acted as an agent to obtain projects using government funds.

Ducut allegedly visited Napoles’ office regularly at the Discovery Suites to get her commission and the kickbacks of six lawmakers then—Rozzano Rufino Biazon (Muntinlipa), Arthur Y. Pingoy Jr. (South Cotabato), Salacnib Baterina (Ilocos Sur), Douglas R. Cagas (Davao del Sur), Marc Douglas C. Cagas IV (Davao del Sur) and Arrel Olaño (Davao del Norte).

But in other instances, the commission was deposited in her personal account, Luy said.

5-percent cut

The whistle-blower said Ducut had demanded a 5-percent commission for every pork barrel project she delivered to Napoles, alleged brains of the scam involving the lawmakers’ pork barrel from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

Ducut was among the 34 people, including seven former lawmakers and Napoles, charged on Nov. 29 with malversation in the second set of cases that the National Bureau of Investigation filed in the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with PDAF transactions from 2007 to 2009.

Ducut represented Pampanga’s second congressional district from 1995 to 2004. She was appointed ERC chair in 2008 by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who now represents the district.

Compel her to attend

In the House, militant lawmakers are demanding that Ducut be compelled to attend the next committee on energy hearing.

ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio wondered why the committee was allowing Ducut to ignore its invitation for the second straight week.

Ducut had sent ERC Executive Director Francis Saturnino Juan to represent her in the hearing.

Tinio said that attending committee hearings was part of Ducut’s duty as a government official to ensure transparency. “She cannot use her meetings as an excuse not to attend especially when it directly concerns her office. She should be present in our hearing (next month) or we will take drastic action,” he said.

“Chair Ducut should be subpoenaed by the Congress energy committee so that she can explain the recent power rate hike and her agency’s inability to defend the interest of consumers,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares.

“She should also be open to questions pertaining to her activities when she started in public office. If she cannot fulfill her function due to the various cases filed against her then she should resign from office,” he added.

In Malacañang, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda steered clear of calls for Ducut to take a leave of absence amid allegations that she served as an agent for Napoles.

Personal decision

“We leave that to her personal decision whether she should take a leave, resign,” Lacierda told reporters.

He said the Office of the Ombudsman was investigating the alleged racket involving billions in PDAF that was channeled to bogus foundations put up by Napoles.

“Let’s wait for the Ombudsman [to finish the investigation],” he said.

“There is a presumption of innocence. So we will hope to see the Ombudsman release the results soon to determine if there is a basis for the case filed by the DOJ (Department of Justice), and if there is, [to identify] those who need to be charged.”

Explain

Sen. Sergio Osmeña III, chair of the energy committee in the upper chamber, said there was no reason for Ducut not to appear officially. “But I’m sure maybe personally.”

If Ducut skips Wednesday’s hearing, she would be asked to explain, and later on, be subpoenaed, Osmeña said.

“Yes, we might have to subpoena her. First ask her to explain because that’s our standard procedure. Maybe she was sick but we will definitely write her immediately to give her seven days to submit her explanation and after that the committee can decide to subpoena her for the following hearing,” he told reporters.

So far, Ducut has not confirmed her attendance, Osmeña said.

“I would understand. She would not appear with this kind of allegation that has been thrown her way,” he said.

Sen. Ralph Recto said that Ducut had to explain why the ERC approved the power rate increase in the first place.

“They approved it just like that. But the first issue: Why is there a rate increase? They should have studied it first,” he said.

Collusion

Osmeña said the main objective of the hearing was to inquire into the collusion.

“We will ask them (ERC) to explain if they have any reason. Personally, I doubt that they have any cause to intervene unless there is proof of collusion. You cannot intervene, that’s the free market,” he said.

In the same manner, the government could not intervene when oil companies raise fuel prices, the senator said.

“We can check. We can investigate the prices that they paid for, but it’s all subject to the international market. We cannot arrest Petron or Caltex or Shell or the others just because they raised their prices but we will see if there was collusion because the law prevents collusion,” he said.

Collusion, however, is another matter, Osmeña said.

“Any collusion in business in a free market even like ours is against the law. You can’t have an arrangement. That’s criminal. You go to jail for that if they can prove it. So, that’s why we’re always watching the energy companies to check if there’s collusion,” he said.—With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan and Christian V. Esguerra

Sam Miguel
12-17-2013, 08:50 AM
Alcala, NFA head face P457-M plunder complaint

By Michael Punongbayan

(The Philippine Star) | Updated December 17, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and National Food Authority (NFA) administrator Orlan Calayag are facing plunder charges before the Office of the Ombudsman for allegedly pocketing P457.2 million from a P4.1-billion rice importation deal with Vietnam eight months ago.

Lawyer Argee Guevarra, in a 10-page criminal complaint, also accused Alcala and Calayag of violating various provisions of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act by entering into what he called a manifestly and grossly disadvantageous contract.

Guevarra said that sometime in April 2013, NFA officials transacted with Vietnam Southern Food Corp. (Vinafood II) general director Truong Thanh Phong for the importation of 205,700 metric tons (MT) of rice.

Calayag, deputy administrator Dennis Guerrero, and alleged “broker/fixer” known only as “Buddy R” reportedly checked in at the Shangri-La Hotel in Makati City on April 1, 2013 and met with Vinafood officials.

Weeks later, the trio flew to Vietnam without official clearance for a meeting with Truong “ostensibly to conclude the deal,” Guevarra said.

After Vietnam, Guerrero and Buddy R. reportedly flew to Singapore and stayed at the Hyatt Hotel in Room 1501. Truong and Vinafoods officials were billeted in the same hotel.

“Why this unofficial meeting? These and the circumstances described hereunder lead to the conclusion that an exchange of kickbacks occurred in Singapore,” Guevarra said.

On May 8, the complainant said Guerrero and Buddy R. flew back to Vietnam where they met NFA deputy administrator Ludovico Jarina to arrange an increase in the minimum access volume (MAV) and allow more imports under a government-to-government (G2G) scheme.

Based on his computation and taking into account other factors like cost insurance flight, freight on board, shipping and cost of delivery to warehouse, Gueverra said the overprice amounted to $50.75 per MT or $10.439 million (P457.240 million).

The alleged kickback, he said, was a “a virtual ‘pork,’ the use of which is under respondents’ absolute power and discretion.”

“The transaction was concluded in a cloak and dagger operation, without the concerned NFA officials having been cleared for official travel. This smacks not only of irregularity but of outright corruption in the form of secret deals for kickbacks,” he said in his complaint.

“For this April G2G alone, public funds lost to corruption amounted to $10,439,275 or P457 million, a windfall for a single transaction,” he said. “This sufficiently explains the DA’s and NFA’s overzealous insistence on pushing the private sector out of the international rice trade business,” he said.

Guevarra argued that the contract with Vietnam was supposedly for the import of only 187,000 MT of rice but the NFA allegedly inserted an additional 18,700 MT to push the import volume to 205,700 MT without any prior approval from the Department of Finance (DOF) under the Fiscal Incentive Review Board.

“The NFA Council for its part merely acted as Secretary Alcala’s rubber stamp, acceding to his and respondent Calayag’s absolute control of the rice trade,” Guevarra said.

“Despite crystal clear indications that the imported rice was overpriced, and that the additional 18,700 MT insertion was illegal; and despite the imperious need to address the rice crisis, the NFA Council merely bowed in submission to respondents’ every wish and design,” his complaint read.

“The string of circumstances or series of respondents’ acts, criminal in themselves even when taken singly, point to the fact that plunder was the ultimate goal, i.e. to amass for respondents an enormous sum of money representing the difference between the overpriced imports and the actual price thereof,” he said.

Guevarra said that what the respondents had transacted with Vietnam was a monopolistic G2G rice smuggling and not importation.

He also said Alcala and Calayag “deliberately opted” to ignore the June 30, 2012 expiration of quantitative restrictions (QR) imposed on private rice importation when they made the transaction with Vietnam.

“The reason is not as lofty and noble as to protect local rice farmers from foreign competitors. The diabolical plan is to preserve government monopoly over rice importations in order to earn large kickbacks for themselves by reason of their public offices,” the plunder complaint read.

“By ‘importing’ millions of sacks of rice for the next three months, Proceso Alcala and company (are) bound to sack almost P2 billion in cold cash. This, after just a few months when he sacked P400 million,” Guevarra, in a statement issued after the filing of the charge sheet, said.

He even tagged Alcala as the “biggest scammer” in the Aquino Cabinet “not only because of his habitual empty promises of rice self-sufficiency and ill-transparency in rice importation, but more so because he used Typhoon Yolanda as an excuse to import more overpriced rice instead of rehabilitating farmlands to restore the agricultural livelihood of farmers in the Visayas.”

Guevarra said he is challenging Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales to conduct a special investigation into the G2G rice deal between Alcala and Vietnam and promptly slap the officials with plunder charges before the Sandiganbayan.

Sam Miguel
12-17-2013, 08:52 AM
GMA may spend Christmas, New Year alone

By Paolo Romero

(The Philippine Star) | Updated December 17, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo may spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve by her lonesome as new restrictions bar immediate family members from staying overnight in her detention room at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City.

Arroyo’s chief of staff Raul Lambino said he was surprised by the restrictions imposed by the Philippine National Police (PNP).

He said Arroyo’s immediate family members were allowed to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve with her in the past.

He said under the new PNP protocol, all visitors could not stay in her hospital suite beyond 9:30 p.m.

“She (Arroyo) has been looking forward to spending Christmas and New Year with her family,” Lambino said. “Why are they doing this now? Christmas is all about family.”

He said he wrote a letter yesterday to PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima appealing for Arroyo to be allowed to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve with her family at the VMMC.

The new restrictions barred her husband Jose Miguel from making conjugal visits, limited her sun exposure time to one hour a day, and prohibited her from attending mass at the VMMC chapel. Arroyo is only allowed to hear mass inside her hospital suite.

The lawmaker is detained on charges of plunder. The Sandiganbayan has yet to start formal trial on her case. Opposition lawmakers last week warned officials of the Aquino administration of “karma” for the new restrictions.

1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III, who earlier filed a resolution asking the Sandiganbayan to grant Arroyo a furlough this Christmas, said Malacañang should tread carefully in treating the ailing lawmaker.

“They are people too, there’s what we call karma in life,” Bello said.

Bello’s House resolution 537 has obtained more than 70 signatures from administration and opposition lawmakers.

“It is an appeal to the Christian spirit of the honorable members of the Sandiganbayan. Out of humanitarian and compassionate consideration, I hope they will give her time to join her family,” Bello said.

He said the document was not a “legal demand, or a legal claim” for the Sandiganbayan.

Sam Miguel
01-27-2014, 09:43 AM
Did P-Noy meddle?

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:43 pm | Sunday, January 26th, 2014

This newspaper has always stressed the mixed nature of the impeachment process, that it is at once both legal and political.

At the start of the impeachment trial of Renato Corona in 2012, then the chief justice, we belabored the obvious: “Impeachment is both a legal and political procedure. Legal, because it has to abide by the constitutional provision as well as the Rules of Court. Political, because it is carried out by the two very political chambers: the House of Representatives, which draws up the Articles of Impeachment, and the Senate, which has the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment.”

In other words, because the principal actors in any impeachment drama are politicians, it is an abdication of responsibility on the part of both congressmen-prosecutors and senators-judges to ignore their constituents’ will.

Perhaps nothing illustrates this dual and inter-related nature better than the collapse of the impeachment trial (the first ever in our history) of Joseph Estrada, then the president of the Philippines. The decision of the Estrada-allied majority in the Senate not to open the so-called Jose Velarde envelope on Jan. 16, 2001, directly led to a walkout of the House prosecutors, and eventually to the second outpouring of People Power.

On Jan. 20, the day Estrada decided to leave Malacañang after failing to get support for his belated idea of a snap election, we noted the legal-political connection: “The suppression of evidence shattered the faith of Filipinos in the impeachment process, and drove them to the streets in a final showdown with the President. The people’s outrage can no longer be redirected toward a snap election.”

In other words, a mishandled legal question (whether to allow possibly incriminating evidence into the record or not) found its ultimate answer in a decidedly political outcome.

The dual nature of the impeachment process is again in the headlines, because of Sen. Bong Revilla’s belated privilege speech last week, which claimed that President Aquino intervened in the Corona impeachment trial by asking

Revilla to convict the chief justice. “Is it right for the President of the Republic to interfere with a legal process that is supposed to be independent?” Revilla asked, rhetorically.

We have used this same space to ask Revilla why he didn’t direct the very same question to Gloria Arroyo, the leader of his own political party, when she was president and the object of impeachment complaints that were manhandled in the House of Representatives.

But we should also note that, unlike Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, a coaccused in the alleged plunder of pork barrel funds, Revilla did not allege any form of bribery on Mr. Aquino’s part. The President had asked him to vote against Corona as a personal favor, he said, and left it at that. It is almost as if Revilla did not want to create more legal problems for himself, because he had in fact voted to convict Corona.

Revilla’s rhetorical question assumes that an impeachment trial is only a legal process, and that the President was out of line for taking up Senate business. But this is a narrow view of the impeachment process, and a misunderstanding of the President’s position as chief executive. Having determined that a recalcitrant Corona was a primary obstacle in his pledge to clean up the government after Arroyo (Corona’s political patron), Mr. Aquino had a political stake in the trial. It would have been irresponsible for him, as a political leader, to ignore the consequences. Those who pretend they are shocked, shocked at the President’s political involvement, are also pretending that an acquitted Corona would not have tried to exact retribution at the expense of administration programs.

This is not to say that there are no legal or moral boundaries in the situation. It would have been wrong in the absolute for President Aquino to bribe or intimidate any senator into voting for conviction. (If Revilla has proof, let him show it, even though it would damn him too.) It would also have been entirely wrong for the President to ask a senator to vote regardless of the evidence.

It was the evidence, in the end, that convicted Corona: It turns out he made a habit of not reporting as much as 90 percent of his immense wealth. Revilla and Estrada have the burden of proving that Mr. Aquino’s “meddling” suppressed contrary evidence, or caused the most important legal questions in the impeachment trial to go unanswered.

Sam Miguel
01-27-2014, 09:45 AM
Echoes from Corona impeachment

By Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas S. J.

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:41 pm | Sunday, January 26th, 2014

In his recent privilege speech before the Senate, Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla alleged that President Aquino sought to influence his vote on Chief Justice.

Renato Corona’s conviction. As expected, President Aquino denied that he tried to influence anybody, but he admitted that he talked to Senator Revilla and other senators in the wake of the mounting pressure on the prosecution. What then was the point of the visit if not to help the prosecution? Merely to say “Hello”?

The incident has triggered two questions. First, was the conversation with Senator Revilla an impeachable offense? Second, what effect could the revelation of Revilla and the admission of President Aquino have on the conviction of Chief Justice Corona?

On the first question: If you are inclined to support impeachment, the grounds you will have to weigh are “culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.” Choose your pick. I am not inclined to join in the game especially when I consider the current composition of Congress where impeachment cases must go.

The second question is more interesting. I have been asked if it is possible for the Supreme Court to review and reverse the conviction of Chief Justice Corona. The first thing I can say about this is that there is no jurisprudence on the question. I have discussed this before; but since it is being asked again, especially in the light of Senator Revilla’s accusation and President Aquino’s admission, let me discuss it once more.

Necessarily we have to begin with the constitutional provision which says: “The Senate shall be the sole judge to try and decide all cases of impeachment.” How absolute is the exclusivity of the power of the Senate?

It might be noted that the power of the electoral tribunals is couched also in exclusive terms: “The Senate and the House of Representatives shall each have an Electoral Tribunal which shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of their Members.” Nevertheless the Supreme Court has reviewed and invalidated a final vote tally made by an electoral tribunal which the Court found to have been unsupported by evidence. How did the Philippine Court arrive at its conclusion?

The answer of the Court to that question was Article VIII, Section 1, a new provision in the 1987 Constitution, which has been accepted as an expansion of the powers of the Supreme Court. This provision says that “Judicial power includes the duty of courts of justice… to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.”

Moreover, Section 5 of the same Article VIII says that the Supreme Court has the power to “Exercise original jurisdiction over… petitions for certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto, and habeas corpus.” Certiorari is precisely for handling cases of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. This was the basis for the Supreme Court’s review of a number of decisions of an electoral tribunal. The question now is whether the Court will apply this same provision to decisions of the Senate in an impeachment case.

In trying to discern which direction the Court might go in the impeachment case, I am reminded of what one writer said of the US Supreme Court:

“The reason underlying this difficulty is all too well known: the Supreme Court is not simply a Court; it is an important part of the American political process. Because the key phrases of the Constitution have such grand ambiguities, the Court has wide discretion in passing on matters with a constitutional dimension, and because such matters are likely to concern and affect the larger issues of American life, the Court, in passing on them, exercises great political power.

“The Court thus has a hybrid role; and the arresting thing is that were its role to be purified in either direction—by having it become more simply a court and nothing more, or by having it become, bluntly, a political agency and nothing more—it would lose its power and its purpose. The special burden of the Court, then, is to exercise great political powers while still acting like a court, or if we prefer, to exercise judicial powers over a wide domain while remaining, realistic, and alert as to the political significance of what it is doing.”

Indeed, there is grand ambiguity in the apparent conflict between the expanded power of the Supreme Court in Article VIII, Section 1 and the exclusive power of the Senate in Article XI, Section 3(6). The Court should resolve this ambiguity in a manner that will best serve the nation. However, I do not believe that it would be in the best interest of the nation for the Supreme Court to initiate a head-on collision with the Senate, especially since Corona himself, the person most involved, or the person with the clearest locus standi, seems to have accepted the Senate verdict.

Sam Miguel
02-04-2014, 10:56 AM
Morales OKs criminal raps vs 2 ex-Ombudsman execs

By Cynthia D. Balana

Philippine Daily Inquirer

5:40 am | Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

MANILA, Philippines—Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has approved the filing of criminal charges against former Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon Mark E. Jalandoni and former Assistant Ombudsman Nennette M. de Padua for allegedly tampering with official documents.

The information for 13 counts of falsification of public documents and 56 counts of infidelity in the custody of public documents through concealment under the Revised Penal Code would be filed Tuesday in the Sandiganbayan.

Morales said the filing of charges against the two top former Ombudsman officials should send a strong message to the public and corrupt officials about the seriousness of the Office of the Ombudsman’s anticorruption campaign.

“The office shall continue to run after and prosecute all—even our own people—found to be involved in shenanigans that compromise the integrity of public service. We shall continue cleaning our own backyard,” Morales said.

In two separate orders signed on Dec. 5, 2013, but released only on Monday, Morales approved the recommendation of the Internal Affairs Board (IAB) affirming the July 25, 2013, resolution and denying the motions for reconsideration filed by Jalandoni and De Padua.

In the July 25 resolution, dismissed for lack of probable cause were the criminal complaint against co-respondents Amie Lou Fernandez, associate graft investigation officer; Grace Anne Arnan, graft prevention and control officer; and Ruby Ann Medallada, administrative aide.

However, by order on Jan. 22, 2014, Morales granted the motion for reconsideration filed by former Ombudsman executive assistant Rosalyn D. Martinez after she agreed to become a prosecution witness.

The case stemmed from a complaint filed with the IAB in June 2011 by former Overall Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro who discovered the tampered decisions, resolutions, orders and other official documents which the respondents worked on during their tenure in the office. Casimiro was then the Acting Ombudsman after Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez resigned in April 2011.

The IAB established that there was a systematic tampering of official documents that had already been reviewed and signed by approving authorities, including former Ombudsman Gutierrez, by the superimposing or “patching” of the signatory portions with pieces of paper bearing Jalandoni’s name.

In at least 56 cases, the release of already-approved documents was delayed because it was made to appear that Jalandoni had yet to act on them.

In at least 13 cases, the “patches” were signed by Jalandoni, making it appear that he was authorized to sign the documents, when in fact they had been signed by the approving authorities.

In a separate decision dated July 25, 2013, Morales found Jalandoni administratively liable for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

The administrative complaint as against De Padua and Martinez was dismissed for lack of administrative disciplinary jurisdiction, the two having separated from the service in good faith.

Fernandez and Medallada were found administratively liable for simple misconduct and were meted out the penalty of suspension for one month and one day, while the administrative complaint against Arnan was dismissed for lack of substantial evidence.

Sam Miguel
02-07-2014, 09:49 AM
Ruby Tuason to tell all in Napoles scam

She will turn state witness, return money to gov’t

By Juliet Labog-Javellana

Philippine Daily Inquirer

3:25 am | Friday, February 7th, 2014

MANILA, Philippines—The lawyer of Ruby Tuason, one of those charged with plunder over the pork barrel scam, confirmed to the Inquirer that she would return to the Philippines Friday to testify against the perpetrators of the scam.

Lawyer Dennis Manalo told the Inquirer on Thursday that his client would turn state witness and that she had executed her sworn affidavit.

Tuason has been admitted to the Witness Protection Program of the Department of Justice (DOJ), Manalo added.

The following is Manalo’s statement in full:

“I am Atty. Dennis Manalo, and I am the legal counsel of Ruby Tuason. Upon instructions of my client, I confirm that she executed the sworn statement containing her answers to questions propounded to her by the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) regarding the DOJ’s cases against those involved in the so-called PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) and Malampaya scams.

“On the basis of this, my client applied for and was admitted to the Witness Protection Program of the DOJ.

“She is committed to testify before the appropriate agencies or courts that will investigate or hear these cases.

“My client came forward to clear her conscience despite knowing full well the dangers to her life and reputation. She did not receive and was not promised any financial consideration or payment in exchange for her testimony apart from what the law provides under the program. In fact, she will return to the government whatever monetary gains she may have derived from the transactions that are the subject of these cases. Neither is it my client’s purpose or intention to create or perpetuate the scandal against anyone. It is not her goal to assist any political agenda or objective. It is the truth and nothing else that is primordial in my client’s heart and mind.”

Sam Miguel
02-07-2014, 10:08 AM
Ombudsman charges PhilHealth officials with graft

By Cynthia D. Balana

Philippine Daily Inquirer

5:50 am | Friday, February 7th, 2014

MANILA, Philippines—The Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) on Wednesday indicted six incumbent and former officials of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PHIC or PhilHealth) on multiple counts of graft for alleged misuse of funds.

Charged with nine counts of violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act in the Sandiganbayan was former PHIC Administrative Services Department manager Nadya R. Castillo.

Former senior vice president Reynaldo N. Dalma Jr. and administrative officer Joseph O. Vergara were both indicted on three counts.

Slapped with one count of graft each were group vice president Gregorio C. Rulloda, building and grounds supervisor Victor B. Sia, and administrative officer Maribeth R. Sincuya.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales approved the resolution recommending the indictment of the PhilHealth officials in August 2013 but the cases were filed only this week.

According to the criminal information, the accused took part in the registration of PhilHealth’s fleet of service vehicles for comprehensive insurance coverage with BF General Insurance Co. Inc. between March 2000 and May 2001 for a total of P722,774.

The OMB said the law prohibits government property being insured with private insurance firms as they must be insured only with the Government Service Insurance System.

Sam Miguel
03-07-2014, 09:27 AM
Corona indicted for tax evasion

By Edu Punay

(The Philippine Star) | Updated March 7, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Justice (DOJ) has formally charged former chief justice Renato Corona before the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) for allegedly evading taxes on P120.5 million in assets.

The DOJ filed 12 counts of tax evasion – six counts for failure to file income tax returns and another six for attempt to evade tax payment – against Corona on Monday.

“Last year, the panel found probable cause for tax evasion against CJ Corona. CJ Corona then filed MR (motion for reconsideration) and we denied it last week,” Prosecutor General Claro Arellano, head of the DOJ’s prosecutorial arm, told reporters yesterday.

Arellano said the documentary proof submitted by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) outweigh the denials made by the ousted SC chief.

He said Corona posted bail of P10,000 per count or a total of P120,000 on Tuesday.

Arraignment on the two separate cases with the CTA’s second division and third division has been set on April 2 and March 26, respectively.

The DOJ panel stood by its finding that Corona failed to pay the correct income taxes from 2003 to 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010.

The prosecutors cited “consistent pattern of underreporting large amounts of income, and of the failure of the taxpayer to include all of his income in their books and records, such as in the instant case, is indicative of his willfulness to violate Sections 254 and 255 of the National Internal Revenue Code.”

The DOJ also upheld the findings of the BIR that Corona earned income from other sources aside from his compensation as a public official.

“The ousted SC chief failed to file his annual income tax returns for the subject taxable years and to pay the corresponding taxes due thereon,” it said.

In its complaint, the BIR cited several findings in the impeachment trial of Corona in 2012, including undeclared bank deposits and two real properties – a condominium unit at the Columns on Ayala Avenue, Makati worth P3.6 million and a property in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City amounting to P9.16 million.

The bureau also alleged that Corona had undervalued his properties, including the Bellagio condominium in Taguig and La Vista Maranao in Quezon City, which were under-valued by P7.7 million and P8 million, respectively.

For his part, Corona said the filing of the case did not come as a surprise.

“From the very start, I never had any illusions about getting fairness and justice from the DOJ whose head, (Leila) De Lima, testified so virulently against me during my sham, bribe-laden impeachment trial,” he said in a statement.

Sam Miguel
03-19-2014, 11:03 AM
Court gets assets of ‘Jose Velarde’

Philippine Daily Inquirer

8:51 am | Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

MANILA, Philippines—A local bank has completed the surrender to the Sandiganbayan of all assets, including cash and stock certificates, in the name of “Jose Velarde” which the antigraft court had declared to belong to former president and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.

Banco de Oro Unibank Inc. (BDO) informed the Sandiganbayan of the turnover of the assets of Investment Management Account (IMA) number 101-78056-1 in the name of “Jose Velarde,” in compliance with the antigraft court’s forfeiture ruling issued on Jan. 28, 2008, and a subsequent Notice to Deliver on July 12, 2013.

Among the assets turned over to the court since 2008 were cash in the trust fund amounting to P101.3 million; 450 million shares of stock of Waterfront Philippines Inc. registered in the name of The Wellex Group Inc.; 300 million Wellex shares of stock in the name of William T. Gatchalian; the originals of the promissory note and chattel mortgage pertaining to a P500-million loan by Wellex from the owner of the Velarde account.

In a reply to the notice dated March 6, 2014, BDO legal officer Francisco Gerardo C. Llamas informed the Sandiganbayan the bank had terminated the IMA trust account following the transfer of the assets to the custody of the antigraft court.

The court ordered the forfeiture and subsequent return of the assets to the state after it convicted Estrada of plunder on Sept. 12, 2007.—Cynthia D. Balana

Sam Miguel
03-19-2014, 11:11 AM
GMA signed, not just witnessed, NBN-ZTE

GOTCHA

By Jarius Bondoc

(The Philippine Star) | Updated March 19, 2014 - 12:00am

“I did not clear Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the NBN-ZTE scam,” Joey de Venecia told me yesterday on the phone. “The Ombudsman prosecutor only asked me if I ever met or talked with ex-President GMA about the deal. I said no, as that’s the truth. But I could not have exculpated her (because) there are documents.”

Joey was clarifying the headlines of his testimony Monday at the Sandiganbayan. GMA and husband Mike are charged with plunder for the past administration’s $329-million overpriced contract with the partly state-owned Chinese telecom firm, ZTE Corp. Joey in 2007 had blown the whistle on the $200-million (P10-billion) kickback. He was the original proponent in 2006 of a national broadband network, as a build-own-operate plan, at no cost to the government. But it was taken away from him when the Department of Transportion and Communication contracted ZTE to supply the NBN, under a stiff Chinese government loan. Mike Arroyo allegedly ordered him to “back off.”

The Senate extensively had investigated the scam in Aug. 2007-Apr. 2008. It was shown that GMA not only had witnessed the DOTC-ZTE contract signing in Boao, Hainan, China, on Apr. 21, 2007. She also had instructed four Cabinet aides in writing to proceed with the NBN and other deals with ZTE. The documents were splashed all over the newspapers then; copies are accessible in their websites.

One such document was a “special authority,” dated Apr. 20, 2007. It was for then-DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza (now deceased) to sign the NBN contract the next day in Boao “in behalf of the President.”

GMA issued the order despite forewarnings of irregularities from then-Sec. Romulo Neri, National Economic & Development Authority. She herself said so in a DZRH radio interview at the height of the controversy.

Neri revealed to the Senate that then-Comelec chairman, Benjamin Abalos brokering for ZTE, had offered him P200 million to approve the deal. From testimony transcripts, Neri swore he reported the bribery on the night of Apr. 20 to GMA, who told him to reject it.

Still GMA left the bedside of First Gentleman Mike, who had just undergone heart surgery, to fly to the Boao Forum late night Apr. 20. Before flying back early the next morning, she witnessed the signing at the Hainan airport of the NBN-ZTE and other deals with China. “She came and went like a thief in the night,” a Malacañang press release stated.

In the DZRH interview GMA said she proceeded to Boao, despite the negative info on the NBN-ZTE deal, since “it was with another state.” But another whistleblower, Dante Madriaga, had a different account.

IT-expert Madriaga testified at the Senate that his principal, whom he called “the Greedy Group,” was at the time asking ZTE for $30-million advance. The Group, consisting of engineer Leo San Miguel, finance man Ruben Reyes, and retired police general Quirino dela Torre, had been tasked by Abalos to work out the technicals-financials with ZTE. Fan Yan, ZTE’s finance officer, refused to release any more advances, after two earlier ones totaling $8 million. But when guaranteed that GMA no less would witness the signing, she relented to the additional $30 million.

Madriaga stated that $10 million went to the Arroyos.

Another whistleblower, Jun Lozada, came forward Feb. 2008 to tell about ZTE’s initial representations with the NEDA months ahead. The NBN was then more modest, costing $200 million, with $132-million overprice. Half the kickback was for the administration’s May 2007 congressional election campaign, the other half for the First Couple and Abalos’ Group.

GMA issued one other special authority for the NBN-ZTE deal, with then-Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita. Dated July 12, 2006, it was for then-Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila to sign with subsidiary, ZTE International Ltd., a $4-billion memo of understanding for several projects, including the NBN. Favila signed the MOU that same day, with ZTE Corp. president (ZTE Int’l) chairman) Yu Yong.

GMA instructed presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor to sign as witness. Defensor’s counterpart witness from ZTE Corp. was chairman Hou Weigui.

Yu and Hou also signed the main NBN-ZTE contract in Boao with DOTC’s Mendoza. The latter’s authorization from GMA gave him full powers to implement the contract. With that, Mendoza asked then-Finance Sec. Gary Teves in May 2007 to facilitate the loan approval with China Export-Import Bank, and then-Justice Sec. Raul Gonzalez in June to render a supporting legal opinion. GMA let the latter two Cabinet aides move, despite Neri’s report of anomalies in April.

A week after GMA’s special authority to Favila, with Defensor, she gave them a second one. It was to grant Yu and Hou mining rights in the Mt. Diwalwal and North Davao gold rush sites in Compostela Valley. The Constitution, which bars foreigners from mining except under limited terms, was broken.

A year earlier, in Mar. 2005, GMA had granted China the right to survey the Palawan Sea bed, as part of “disputed waters” of the Spratlys. It was similarly unconstitutional. But it paved the way for multibillion-dollar business deals with Chinese state firms, mostly overpriced and unnecessary. In 2009 China declared ownership of the entire South China Sea, under a nine-dash map that includes the Palawan Sea.

* * *

Sam Miguel
04-02-2014, 11:04 AM
Tax court postpones Corona’s arraignment

By Tetch Torres-Tupas

INQUIRER.net

10:43 am | Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

MANILA, Philippines–The Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) Second Division has rescheduled the arraignment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona on the tax evasion case filed against him by the Department of Justice (DOJ) from April 2, his arraignment is set on June 4.

The Corona camp sought a suspension of the arraignment saying it still has a pending petition for review before the DOJ.

Corona is facing 12 counts of tax evasion case. Seven of the 12 counts have been consolidated before the CTA’s 2nd division.

He is facing a tax liability of P120.5 million for violation of Sections 255 (failure to file income tax return) and 254 (attempt to evade payment of taxes).

Based on the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) complaint, Corona did not declare all his assets in his Statement of Assets Liabilities and Net worth in 2010.

Aside from the bank deposits, he also did not declare two real properties he acquired during his stint in government: a condominium unit at the Columns, along Ayala Avenue that he bought for P3.6 million in 2004 and a property in Fort Bonifacio that he bought for P9.16 million in 2005.

After examining Corona’s bank records and compared it with his net worth, BIR Commissioner Kim Henares said they discovered a substantial disparity between the acquisition cost of the properties declared in his SALNs and the cost declared in the certificates authorizing registrations.

Corona was removed from office through impeachment in 2012.

Joescoundrel
04-25-2014, 08:26 AM
Ex-COA chief nabbed for plunder

By Marlon Ramos

Philippine Daily Inquirer

6:38 am | Friday, April 25th, 2014

Police arrested former Commission on Audit (COA) chief Reynaldo Villar yesterday in connection with a plunder case which stemmed from the alleged misuse of P366 million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) confidential and intelligence funds during the Arroyo administration.

Agents of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) served the arrest warrant for Villar at his residence at a posh subdivision in Parañaque City, according to Senior Supt. Roberto Fajardo, chief of the CIDG-National Capital Region.

Villar, 72, was one of the coaccused of former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the plunder case filed by former Customs Deputy Commissioner Danilo Lim and former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros.

At the time of the transactions, Villar headed the COA, which was tasked with examining and auditing public funds to make sure they were spent properly. He stepped down from his post in 2011 following a controversy over when his term as COA chair would end.

Fajardo said the ex-COA chief did not resist arrest when CIDG agents went to his house at No. 5 Washington Square in Merville Park at around 4 p.m. armed with the warrant issued by the First Division of the Sandiganbayan.

“He had actually gone into hiding. We have been looking for him for quite some time,” Fajardo told the Inquirer.

“I dispatched a team to serve the arrest warrant after receiving an information that (Villar) returned to his house after the Holy Week,” he added.

As of 7 p.m. yesterday, Villar was still undergoing medical examination and booking process at the CIDG-NCR office.

He was appointed COA commissioner in 2004 for a seven-year term ending in 2011. In 2008, he was named COA chair, and a new commissioner was named to take his place and serve the rest of his term.

Villar had argued that with his new appointment as chief of the audit agency, he has a fresh seven-year term ending in 2015.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that Villar could not have been validly appointed to a full seven-year term as COA chair in 2008. With a report from Leila B. Salaverria

Sam Miguel
08-28-2014, 09:42 AM
Fertilizer scam: No cause for plunder vs Jocjoc, Cito

By Michael Punongbayan (The Philippine Star) |

Updated August 28, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Sandiganbayan has not found enough evidence to proceed with the charge of plunder against former Department of Agriculture (DA) secretary Luis “Cito” Lorenzo and undersecretary Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante for their alleged involvement in the P728-million fertilizer fund scam.

Magistrates of the anti-graft court’s Second Division, however, decided not to junk the charges and gave the Office of the Ombudsman 60 days to provide additional evidence against the accused, who were officials of the previous administration.

While there may be no plunder, the Sandiganbayan believes that a crime was still committed based on the anti-graft agency’s accusations that Bolante misused and misappropriated public funds, which Lorenzo supposedly allowed.

Both were indicted in June 2011 for allegedly giving unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference to parties for the Farm Inputs and Farm Implements Project (FIFIP) under the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA).

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was also investigated for alleged involvement but the Office of the Ombudsman, in a resolution issued last May 2, 2014, cleared her of any liability.

Sam Miguel
12-16-2014, 08:25 AM
3 Sandiganbayan justices quit cases vs Jinggoy Estrada

Marlon Ramos

@inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer

3:15 AM | Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

MANILA, Philippines–“Pressure” from the public and “higher authorities” prompted the three-member Sandiganbayan division to withdraw on Monday from the plunder and graft cases against detained Sen. Jinggoy Estrada over the P10-billion pork barrel racket, according to an Inquirer source.

In an unprecedented move, Associate Justice Roland Jurado, chair of the antigraft court’s Fifth Division, and Associate Justices Alexander Gesmundo and Ma. Theresa Dolores Estoesta inhibited themselves from handling one of the most controversial cases in the country’s judicial history.

The three justices informed the Sandiganbayan of their decision in a single-page letter they sent to Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang—a first in its 36-year history that the entire division asked to be recused from hearing a case.

No specific reason was stated other than “personal reasons.”

But a court insider told the Inquirer that the justices gave in to pressure from various sectors for them to deny Estrada’s petition for bail on which hearings had been going on since July.

BIR added pressure

The source, who agreed to talk on condition of anonymity, said the decision of the Supreme Court to allow the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to look into the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of the Sandiganbayan magistrates had also affected the justices’ decision.

“Since the issue of the pork barrel scam broke out in the media, the public perception is that all the personalities implicated in the controversy should be convicted,” the source said.

“Even the higher authorities were consistently and confidently saying in public that all legislators charged in the Sandiganbayan would be found guilty by the court. If you’re a judge, that would definitely weigh on how you would treat this case. It’s a pressure on your judgment,” he added.

Asked if he was referring to Malacañang when he mentioned “higher authorities,” the source said: “Just read my lips.”

Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Bong Revilla have also been indicted and arrested for their alleged complicity in the scam by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

Revilla and Estrada are detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center at Camp Crame, Quezon City, while the 90-year-old Enrile is under hospital arrest at the PNP General Hospital.

Harassment

Two weeks ago, the Sandiganbayan First Division denied Revilla’s bail petition. The senator was given until Dec. 17 to ask for a motion for reconsideration.

Besides the Estrada’s plunder case, the Fifth Division is also hearing the graft and malversation cases against former Makati City Mayor Elenita Binay, wife of embattled Vice President Jejomar Binay.

The division is also hearing the graft cases against former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and several retired police generals regarding the alleged sale of secondhand helicopters to the PNP.

According to the Inquirer source, the high court’s resolution which granted the BIR’s request to scrutinize the SALN of the Sandiganbayan justices was an “added pressure.”

“We know what happened to the known critics of the government and those allied with former President (Gloria Macapagal-) Arroyo. They were harassed by the BIR by threatening to file tax evasion cases against them,” the source said.

“The problem with the BIR officials is that they treat government officials who have discrepancies in their SALNs as if they are already guilty of embezzling public funds. The Supreme Court resolution is a blanket authority to harass the justices of Sandiganbayan,” he argued.

Compelling reason

The Inquirer tried but failed to get the comment of Jurado, who attended the court’s last en banc session on Monday, the last for this year. Both Estoesta and Gesmundo were on leave.

Renato Bocar, the Sandiganbayan executive clerk of court, said Tang referred the letter to the court en banc for discussion in January and hear the explanation of the three justices.

He told the Inquirer only one of the three members of the division was present during the en banc session on Monday, but he declined to identify the magistrate.

“The justice did not want to elaborate what was their reason because he was not authorized by the two other justices,” Bocar said. “But the reason must be really compelling because all the three of them agreed with the reason why they had to inhibit.”

In a text message to reporters, Alexis Abastillas-Suarez, Estrada’s lawyer, said: “We have absolutely no idea of the ‘personal reasons’ why they want to inhibit from the case. We wonder why now?”

“I am really at a loss,” said Justice Undersecretary Jose Justiniano, a member of the prosecution team. “I can’t say why they inhibited,” he told reporters. “I hope the inhibition will not cause any delay.”–With a report from Jerome C. Aning

Sam Miguel
12-17-2014, 10:40 AM
Justices asked to explain recusal from Jinggoy Estrada case

Gil C. Cabacungan

@inquirerdotnet

3:11 AM | Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

MANILA, Philippines–Two lawmakers on Tuesday urged the Sandiganbayan to compel the three justices who inhibited themselves from the plunder and graft trial of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada to explain their sudden move.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said it behooved the three associate justices of the Fifth Division—Roland Jurado, its chair, and Alexander Gesmundo and Ma. Theresa Dolores Estoesta—to clarify their decision to quit the Estrada trial after hearing his appeal for bail for five months.

“It’s unfair to the public, to the prosecutors, to Jinggoy. They should give their reasons,” Rodriguez said in an interview with reporters.

He said that if the justices would not reveal the real reasons they recused themselves, the Supreme Court should step in and force them to do so.

For his part, Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III said the three antigraft court magistrates should resign if they refuse to explain.

“The cases were raffled off and it’s their job to decide the case whether or not it is popular with the public. What they did is an abdication of duty,” Albano said in a phone interview.

“If they are afraid of the repercussions of their decision in the case, they should just quit,” he added.

Rodriguez said it was unusual for all three justices, or an entire division, to recuse from a case.

Jurado, Gesmundo and Estoesta only cited “personal reasons” for dropping the case in a one-page letter to Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang.

“Normally, it is only one justice [that inhibits himself] but never an entire division,” Rodriguez said.

Renato Bocar, Sandiganbayan executive clerk of court and spokesman, said the antigraft court had no power to deny the request for recusal of a justice who is allowed to do so on “just and valid grounds or compelling reasons other than those specifically enumerated in the Rules of Court.”

Under the Rules of Court, a justice may inhibit him or herself from a case involving a litigant who is a relative up to the sixth degree or of a counsel up to the fourth degree of consanguinity. Justices may likewise be recused from a case if they had previous ties to a litigant or his lawyer.

But Rodriguez stressed that Estrada’s was a high profile case where the public, the prosecutors and defendants deserved full transparency.

“Nobody wants this impasse because it is detrimental to all the parties, especially the accused who will continue to remain in jail as long as his bail plea is not resolved,” Rodriguez said.

Sam Miguel
12-18-2014, 08:27 AM
3 Sandiganbayan justices’ bid to quit Jinggoy Estrada case junked

Marlon Ramos

@inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer

4:13 AM | Thursday, December 18th, 2014

MANILA, Philippines–Finish what you have started.

The Sandiganbayan on Wednesday turned down the request of three of their colleagues to back out of the plunder and graft cases of detained Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, saying the reasons the three raised were “not compelling” to justify their inhibition.

Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, however, declined to disclose the reasons raised by the Fifth Division justices during their closed-door full court meeting, which lasted over an hour.

“They actually explained their personal reasons. But they requested us not to discuss it with (the media). Let’s just respect their request for it to remain with us. I hope you will respect it,” Tang said.

In a special en banc session, the magistrates of the antigraft court “advised” the three members of the Fifth Division to stay put and carry on with the hearing of Estrada’s bail petition, which started in July.

Tang said the decision of the three justices had nothing to do with the Supreme Court’s resolution allowing the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to look into the statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of the members of the special court.

Pressure

Tang also flatly denied reports that Malacañang was exerting pressure on the members of the Fifth Division—Associate Justice Roland Jurado (chair) and Associate Justices Alexander Gesmundo and Ma. Theresa Dolores Estoesta—to throw out Estrada’s petition.

“I can assure you that it has nothing to do with the (issue about our) SALN or the supposed conduct of investigation concerning the bank accounts of the justices by the AMLC (Anti-Money Laundering Council),” Tang said in a news briefing.

“That’s not true. The reported Malacañang pressure is not also true. There’s no such pressure,” she said.

The presiding justice maintained that the members of the antigraft court had made available their SALNs to the public even before the cases pertaining to the P10-billion pork barrel scam were filed.

Besides Estrada, two other senators—Juan Ponce Enrile and Bong Revilla—are facing plunder charges in the Sandiganbayan in connection with the tens of millions of pesos from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) that they allegedly pocketed in connivance with businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

Tang noted that a media company had gotten hold of the SALN documents after its request was granted by the high tribunal.

“I don’t think one should [be] fear[ful] if he or she did nothing wrong. So, it’s OK,” Tang said.

In a single-page letter they sent to Tang on Monday, Jurado, Gesmundo and Estoesta expressed their intention to withdraw from Estrada’s case over “personal reasons,” without elaborating.

However, a court insider told the Inquirer that the justices’ decision was prompted by “pressure” from the public and the “higher authorities” for them to rebuff Estrada’s attempt to secure his temporary freedom.

BIR scrutiny

The source, who agreed to talk if he would not be named, said the high court’s approval of the BIR request to scrutinize the Sandiganbayan justices’ SALN was also a factor in their sudden change of heart.

“Since the issue of the pork barrel scam broke out in the media, the public perception is that all the personalities implicated in the controversy should be convicted,” the source told the Inquirer.

“We know what happened to the known critics of the government and those allied with former President (Gloria Macapagal) Arroyo. They were harassed by the BIR by threatening to file tax evasion cases against them.”

But Tang emphasized that none of the three justices mentioned that somebody had tried to influence them, saying each of them justified their own reasons for wanting to withdraw from Estrada’s case.

Asked if Gesmundo, Jurado and Estoesta cited similar circumstances, Tang said their reasons were almost the same “but in varying degrees.”

“The chair (Jurado) has, I think, a more serious concern… I wish I could tell you, but I’m bound by my undertaking not to disclose it,” said the presiding justice.

Request for guidance

Tang also explained that the three justices did not actually quit from handling Estrada’s case and that they merely asked for guidance from the court en banc.

Said Tang: “There is a difference between the two because if they voluntarily inhibited, neither the court en banc nor the presiding justice has the power to deny (their inhibition). But since their letter merely requested recusal, we treated it as a request for advice from the en banc.”

In deciding not to grant their colleagues’ request, she said the 11 justices all agreed that it would be best for them “not to pursue the request for inhibition and to continue handling the case.”

“We feel that this is one of the important cases being handled by the court and the justices should really continue handling it because many things have happened (since) the filing of the case,” she added.

Asked if the justices’ aborted plan to bow out of Estrada’s case may affect their eventual ruling, Tang said: “Personally, I don’t think there is any adverse or significant impact. I believe in the three members of (the Fifth Division) and I believe that they can do their job well.”

She expressed confidence that the issue would not have any negative effect on the court’s credibility.

Sam Miguel
12-18-2014, 08:36 AM
Uninhibited

Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:12 AM |

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

When a whole division of the Sandigabayan asks to be excused from trying a highly controversial plunder case, one is tempted to ask: Isn’t that precisely what an antigraft court was created to do? Should the judges be surprised at the high-powered parties they have to confront? Or is the ancient adage true that “laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through”?

The recusal exposes the vulnerabilities of Filipino judges, and chastises both the judges themselves and the Filipino public they are sworn to serve. The judges must stand fast and honor their duty to render “judgment according to law.” The public should remain vigilant that the judges not use legal technicality to derail the heroic drive to end corruption.

The three judges of the Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division wish to inhibit from the pork-barrel-related plunder case against Sen. Jinggoy Estrada. Their one-page letter to Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje Tang was simple and straightforward. “May we request for [sic] our recusal in the above-indicated criminal cases for personal reasons.” It was cryptic and doesn’t say what those “personal reasons” are, and leaves everyone—the accused, the prosecution, the judiciary and the Filipino people—guessing.

Their request to inhibit can be seen in two ways. The first is the mainly legal. When do the rules allow a judge to be excused from judging a case? The duty to judge is so peremptory that, the law says, a judge is duty-bound to decide even in a case where the law is silent. “No judge or court shall decline to render judgment by reason of the silence, obscurity or insufficiency of the laws.”

The Code of Judicial Ethics lists the permissible grounds for inhibition, and they all pertain to conflicts of interest. The judges’ cryptic language (“personal reasons”) itself undermines the bedrock values of the Code, which says that judges by their conduct must enhance “public confidence in the judicial system” and the “moral authority and integrity of the judiciary.” We are left to speculate what reason prompted the request.

We can locate two so-called “canons of judicial ethics” that the judges can claim. One is “independence,” the judges’ duty to decide cases “on the basis of their assessment of the facts and in accordance with a conscientious understanding of the law, free of any extraneous influence, inducement, pressure, threat or interference, direct or indirect, from any quarter or for any reason.” Indeed, the Code says that judges must even “be independent in relation to society in general.” The other is the canon of “propriety,” which calls on judges to “disqualify themselves from participating in any proceedings in which they are unable to decide the matter impartially or in which it may appear to a reasonable observer that they are unable to decide the matter impartially.”

If the judges’ reasons were truly “personal,” then perhaps each of them can tell us how their independence and impartiality had been compromised. Did anyone speak to them? But if their reasons were shared by the entire division—e.g., pressure from public opinion—then all the Sandiganbayan justices suffer from the same problem. Who will be left to decide the case then?

That is why we turn to the second way of looking at the case, which is from a strategic viewpoint. Courts are supposed to decide cases dispassionately, oblivious to public opinion and indifferent to partisan pressures. Unidentified sources in the Sandiganbayan have reportedly cited the extreme political pressures brought to bear upon the judges in the pork barrel cases. So what did the recusing judges expect to achieve with their letter?

The most short-term is personal for the judges concerned, and that is to be rid of the burden of hearing the pork barrel case and let it be someone else’s headache. The medium-term benefit is for the next set of judges assigned to the case (assuming that recusal was granted), who thus enjoy the benefit of having a public already forewarned of the pressures they face, and presumably more inclined to accept whatever decision they make. But the long-term effect on the Sandiganbayan as an institution is to confront as candidly as possible its role in ending corruption in our country. Its role is not to find every legal excuse in the book to let the accused off the hook. Its role is to ascertain whether public money has been diverted to private pockets, and to ensure that those who betrayed the public trust shall be exposed and punished. The court may be neutral vis-à-vis the parties, but it is not neutral vis-à-vis the cause of eliminating corruption.

Joescoundrel
03-20-2015, 07:50 AM
Daughter of trial justice in Erap plunder hits Sandigan for allowing Jinggoy to attend son’s graduation

Marc Jayson Cayabyab

@MJcayabyabINQ

INQUIRER.net

9:56 PM | Thursday, March 19th, 2015

MANILA, Philippines – The daughter of a former Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Anacleto Badoy lamented the antigraft court’s decision allowing detained Senator Jinggoy Estrada to attend the graduation rites of his son.

In a Facebook post that has gone viral, Lorraine Marie Badoy said his father , who chaired the antigraft court third division which heard the plunder trial of convicted former president (now Manila mayor) Joseph Estrada, did not even allow the Estrada patriarch for house arrest despite a bribe given to him.

Jinggoy was also part of his father’s plunder case that included charges of accepting millions of pesos from proceeds of jueteng and misappropriating P130-million in excise taxes from tobacco but he was later cleared.

“And yet now, more than 14 years after that ruling, Sandiganbayan Justice (Roland) Jurado has allowed the repeat offender plunderer Jinggoy Estrada to attend his son’s graduation,” Badoy said.

The Fifth Division chaired by Associate Justice Roland Jurado allowed Jinggoy Estrada to attend the latter’s son Julian’s graduation at OB Montessori last March 17.

The senator is detained for plunder this time for allegedly amassing kickbacks from his Priority Development Assistance Funds in Janet Lim-Napoles’ purported pork barrel scam

Jurado in open court said Estrada must be present in his son’s graduation because his absence may be “traumatic” to the child. “We’re not doing this for Senator Estrada, we’re doing this for the son,” the Justice said.

Pictures on social media showed Senator Estrada sharing a light moment with his wife Precy and son Julian during the graduation. On his Twitter account, Jinggoy Estrada even posted a photo of him pinning a ribbon on Julian, an actor.

Badoy said this is a mockery of the justice system because the poor, less privileged detainees could not attend similar graduations of their children.

“I could bet you both my arms and I’ll throw in my legs… that right now, there are scores of children of prisoners who will not have their parents present in their graduation,” Badoy said.

She added that antigraft court’s decision to allow Estrada to leave jail briefly seems to show that justice only worked for the powerful and influential.

“(This) makes me see the REAL crime here is: the crime of being POOR AND UNCONNECTED,” she said.

“(T)he law will bend itself over backwards one hundred million times for the rich, will contort itself blue in the face and in various painful angles and give f*kingly inane and tragic-comical reasons for doing so such as ‘We are doing this for the son, not the father,'” Badoy added.

“What about the sons of the poor, Justice (Jurado)? Ang kakapal ba ng mga psyche nila na hindi sila mata-traumatize? Pang rich lang ang trauma, di ba? Mga poor? Mamatay kayo! Suck it up,” Badoy said.

Badoy said the division’s decision reflects the “obscenely huge divide between the rich and the poor.”

“(I)n a country down on its knees and bleeding from the wholesale and widespread thievery of those in office, Justice Jurado has further widened the unforgivable crime of a yawning chasm of a divide,” she said.

She said it is not a coincidence that the court granted the request of an influential high-ranking public official

“Justice is not blind, (Jurado) is saying he took a good look at the accused in front of him and saw a senator. An obscenely rich, obscenely powerful, obscenely arrogant, unrepentant shameless f*ck of a public servant who stole over and beyond what any fertile and wild imagination could ever comprehend,” Badoy said.

“And this Justice blinked,” she said.

Badoy is the daughter of Associate Justice Anacleto Badoy Jr., who chaired the antigraft court Third Division which heard the plunder case of the two Estradas over gambling money.

Estrada was convicted in 2007 but he was later pardoned by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The senator, meanwhile, was granted bail in 2003 or after almost two years in detention, he was cleared of plunder in 2007.

In 2001, the Third Division chaired by Badoy denied both Estradas’ request for house arrest in their Greenhills Mansion, saying confining both in their own house in a posh subdivision while other detention prisoners were in congested detention facilities “will further dramatize the great divide between the rich and the poor in our society.”

Sam Miguel
06-19-2015, 09:56 AM
SC affirms voiding of Arroyo midnight appointments

@inquirerdotnet

07:29 PM June 16th, 2015

THE Supreme Court on Tuesday affirmed the Executive Order issued by President Benigno Aquino III against the “midnight appointments” made by his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo..

“In the matter of Cheloy Velicaria-Garafil vs Office of the President, Dindo Venturanza vs the Office of the President, Irma Villanueva and Francisca Rosqueta vs Court of Appeals and Office of the President and Edie Tamondong vs Court of Appeals and Executive Secretary, the Court voting 8-6 dismissed the petition and declared as null and void the appointments of petitioners to the post they occupied,” high court’s Information Chief Atty. Theodore Te said at a press conference.

The high court said Executive Order No. 2 issued by Aquino “is constitutional in its entirety, especially as to its definition of midnight appointments and its recall, revocation and withdrawal of midnight appointments.”

EO No. 2, which was issued on Aug. 4, 2011, recalled, withdrew and revoked about 800 appointments made by Arroyo two months before the 2010 elections.

Among these appointments are of that of the petitioners.

Velicaria-Garafil was appointed State Solicitor II at the Office of the Solicitor General while Venturanza was appointed as city prosecutor of Quezon City. On the other hand, Villanueva was appointed as Administrator for Visayas of the Board of Administrators of the Cooperative Development Authority while Rosqueta was named Commissioner of the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples. Tamondong was appointed member of the Board of Directors of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority.

Under Section 15, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution, “two months immediately before the next presidential elections and up to the end of his term, a President or acting President shall not make appointments, except temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety.”

For purposes of the 2010 polls, the high court said the cut-off date for valid appointments was March 10, 2010 while March 11, 2010 was the reference date for midnight appointments.

About the petitioners, the high court said they failed to provide proof showing that their appointments were made prior to March 11, 2010.

“The petitioners have failed to show their compliance with all four elements of a valid appointment. They cannot prove with certainty that their appointment papers have indeed been issued before the period covered by the appointment ban,” the high court said.

The high court also took note of the fact that petitioners themselves admitted that they took their oaths of office during the period of the appointment ban.