Monthly Archives: January 2012

“The Special Court”

The main issues so far in the on-going impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice (CJ) Renato Corona are: what exactly constitutes “due process;” which rules of court should be adopted; and ultimately, the quantum of proof to convict. On the last issue, the Prosecution suggested “preponderance of evidence” which means there’s more evidence pointing to guilt than there is for an acquittal – the easiest for conviction. As expected, the Defense went the other extreme and proposed “beyond reasonable doubt,” explaining the gravity of the penalty of being removed from office and barred from ever assuming another government post again. It seems the Senators will choose something in between –- clear and convincing evidence.

The problem the impeachment court has is the lack of jurisprudence in as far as our own history of impeachment proceedings is concerned, for the simple reason that we have not had a single impeachment trial in this country. The trial of President Estrada was abbreviated so does not count as one, yet it is still alluded to which only underscores the absence of jurisprudence that could be serving as guide posts for the on-going trial.

But amidst changing and uncertain rules governing the impeachment trial, being that it is a “unique” court unlike any other, there is one thing that will and cannot change yet is being overlooked and that is the oath taken by the Senator judges when they convened as an impeachment court. The solemn oath taken should be the accompanying guide of the Senator-Judges when unsure of how to view and treat issues as they arise. The last phrase in that oath would go a long way if they adopted it as their mantra and it reads: “to do impartial justice according to the Constitution and the law of the Philippines.” Sadly, this goes contrary to what Honassan and Trillanes have already said will guide them: “the public pulse,” “public acceptability.” The last time we looked, we heard nothing of the sort included in the oath they had taken. To have sworn to that would have even sounded silly except, perhaps, to the “mob mentality.” Somebody please remind them of the oath they took or better yet, it might be a good idea for all the Senators to take that oath before each trial-day proceeding begins. That way, all Senators constantly remember and, maybe, more importantly, so the public is also reminded by which standards the Senators should themselves be judged, and there is no better basis and context within which the public may evaluate their performance than on what they are sworn to. That way, the people are not swayed by emotions devoid of understanding of the task of the Senators as judges.

The Constitution and its laws are not meant to be treated liberally or flexibly in an unlimited manner and there’s enough jurisprudence in criminal and civil law that define them clearly, in case there are questions raised by either the defense or the prosecution. The impeachment court is not at liberty to make up rules or redefine laws as they go along because they are sworn, and we go back to this, to following the Constitution and the laws of the Philippines as their oath demands. And contrary to what some Senators believe, it is our opinion that the High Court can step in if there is grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Senate. There should be no single government body that is allowed to run away without checks and balances by another. But since this is a special court, the abuse that could be cited by the highest court of the land should be one that is blatantly out of bounds, in other words, unlikely to happen and cause a confrontation between the Supreme Court and the Senate as a special court. The framers of the Constitution must have realized that the Senators would be, for the most part, rational, sensible, and intelligent men and women who are appreciative of laws, them being the lawmakers of the land. They must have thought the same for the members of the Lower-House to whom they gave the sole power to initiate an impeachment. On that latter presumption, we’re afraid they misread the capacity of 188 Representatives to try and outdo each other in their rush to kiss one and the same ass (donkey). Let’s see if the Senators can make up for their better half.

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“yellow media”

For Friday, Jan. 20, 2012
Good Morning Philippines
ON SECOND THOUGHT

The biggest surprise to a large number of people who were made to believe Chief Justice (CJ) Corona was guilty a thousand times over is the possibility that he may not be guilty, after all, of any of the charges filed against him. In the weeks in between the time he was impeached by the Lower House to the time the trial commenced in the Senate a few days ago, the prosecutors, Malacanang, and what is now known as the “yellow media” – Philippine Daily Inquirer and ABS-CBN – bombarded the public with sensational stories of a thoroughly corrupt Chief Justice, owner of an unbelievable number of condos and houses. He was not afforded the chance to adequately reply. We remember the prosecutors asserting they had a plethora of evidence when they went all over town via radio and TV waving documents, releasing pictures to the media, and having the public believe the case was a done deal. It turns out, the shameless assault was replete with spurious land titles, a fabricated World Bank report, false accusations regarding his sterling academic achievements, and other tall tales that put him in the worst light. It was obviously a blitzkrieg designed to traduce, malign, and vilify CJ Corona enough to make him, or anyone for that matter, resign. Didn’t work.

Now, at the on-set of the trial, the Congressmen are pleading with the Senator Judges to reconsider the barring of private prosecutors from making legal arguments on the prosecutor’s behalf and restricting their participation to witness and evidentiary presentation. They were ridiculed on the second day of trial when their first presentation of documentary evidence did not have proper authentication and their unpreparedness was glaring to say the least. From hubris and arrogance during the days leading to the trial, plummeting down to begging for help to allow their private lawyers to take over has not been lost on the public. The prosecutors have had no choice but to come back down to earth seeing how inadequate their capabilities were against a defense “dream team” of experienced, knowledgeable, seasoned, and brilliant lawyers with beauty to boot in the person of Karen Jimeno, the youngest among the team and a graduate from the UP College of Law, cum laude, with a Master of Laws from Harvard University. All that and with dignified humility.

In addition, the outrage the Congressmen had hoped to incite in the public has now been divided: yes, there is public outrage against Corona but also another growing one, this time, against the prosecutors themselves.

And now that the presiding officer in the trial, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, has put his foot down on attempts at “trial by publicity,” and asked all involved to refrain from commenting on the merits of the case while the case is at bar or sub judice, the prosecutors’ enthusiasm has palpably been reduced if not deflated.

But the Chief Justice remains the underdog in this fight, which is not necessarily a position undesirable in this land of “lovers of underdogs” — the reason being because the great majority of Filipinos are exactly in that situation – underdogs to a small elite – and they live it everyday, for generations, and with much suffering. More are now saying that instead of being embroiled in his personal battles against political enemies, the President should have put more time in addressing climate change related calamities and in improving the economy and the lives of the people. Moreover, if the populace begin to believe Corona’s assertion, not exclusive to him, that this is all about Hacienda Luisita, the anger of the people could be worse than a woman scorned. There is more discontent with government than is generally perceived, amongst the people hidden underneath the “yellow propaganda blanket” which is driven by a powerful newspaper daily, a broadcast network, and the Palace itself.

The Hacienda Luisita farmers may still get their “just deserts” before the family of P-Noy gets what the President believes should be awarded his family. The amount of the “just compensation” is P12B minimum – it is, at least, what the family reckons is “just” and PNoy appointee, Justice Serreno, agrees with; compared to P350M as pegged by Corona and 9 other Justices; while the remaining 3 Justices opine that the DAR should be left alone to determine its valuation; and the last one to complete all 15 Justices has abstained from voicing his opinion. Hacienda Luisita is the controversial land that is the “ancestral home” of two Presidents, Cory and PNoy. It has provided the Cojuangco family — the President’s family — with their wealth, prestige, and symbol of power since 50 years ago, right around the time PNoy was born. The Supreme Court will be making the decision on the correct valuation of the land soon, either under the baton of PNoy, or of Corona. That’s the road, straight or otherwise, this impeachment trial will inevitably lead to.

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Trusting the PNP

For January 13, 2012
Good Morning Philippines
ON SECOND THOUGHT

The bid to purchase 12,500 pistols conducted by the DILG/PNP late last year was announced as back to scratch and a new bidding process will commence early this year. The reason for the aborted bid was due to time constraints that saw an inconclusive winner by year-end, with the allotted budget returned to the DBM. The amount involved in this transaction is in the vicinity of a quarter of a billion pesos. The bidding process did seem to have gotten enough media coverage commensurate to the money involved. “Transparency” should include sufficient and ample notice to the public and invitations to media to ensure that it is conducted in “broad daylight,” so to speak, and not in some “sleazy dark alley” where unsavory dealings could occur. This is true not only for the DILG/PNP but for all government agencies. We hope U-Sec Rico Puno, in this new attempt to bid out this important peace-keeping requirement, much needed by our police, will again go out of his way to inform the public of the outcome of each step of the bidding process as he had done the first time around. We imagine he is very aware of the need to bolster the image of the PNP with the general public because no police force on earth can hope to be successful if the public does not trust it. It is not enough for this government to say they adhere to the much touted daang matuwid; it behooves all administration officials to go the extra mile to show that they mean it.

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After the coming weekend, the nation will be witness to an unprecedented impeachment trial of a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, whose personal life remains relatively unknown to the majority, unlike the accused in the impeachment trial of a former President and popular movie actor in the person of Erap. Although the “demonizing” of Chief Justice Corona has started in earnest for sometime now, particularly by the Congressmen-allies of the President and by what is now called the “yellow media,” his side of the story still has to be heard.
Though President Aquino, if we are to believe the surveys, remains popular to the large majority of people, he cannot appear to be too participative in the process at a time when, again, if we are to believe the surveys, there have been big jumps in the number of people that see the economy as either stagnating or deteriorating. In fact, the last polls published just a couple of days ago, show that only 18% of those asked think the economy has improved. Among them — the 18% — only 60% said they “somewhat felt it.” These figures jive with the latest hunger index that likewise showed significant increases in the number of people experiencing hunger or no food in their plates “at least once in the last 3 months” and “more than just once” in the same period of time. His over-concern with the impeachment will reinforce the growing perception that he does not have his priorities in order. Another growing perception among the population is the connection between the Supreme Court decisions on the case of Hacienda Luisita, and PNoy’s obsession and intense hostility towards the Chief Justice. It has been said that the underlying motive in PNoy’s encroachment into the judiciary, and apparent need to control it, is to preempt future decisions still pending with the courts that would decide the amount of the “just compensation” for the Luisita land of his family. That could be anywhere from zilch (farmers assessment), to P350M (Corona’s and 9 other justices computation based on 1989 value), to P12B or more (based on 2006 valuation), which is what PNoy appointee, Justice Serreno, by her lonesome, reckons it should be. People kill for a tiny fraction of that amount; controlling the court for that amount, since he’s already President, does not seem far-fetched at all. To give us an idea of what, say, P10B is: to finish spending that amount, you would need to spend One Million Pesos a day, everyday for 27 years; or, Five Hundred Thousand Pesos a day, everyday, for 54 years. It actually could sound like a curse…unless you knew where to shop, I guess. Still….

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It’s More Fun To Start With NAIA

From the time Mr. Tourist lands in one of the worst airports in the world, NAIA, to the time he arrives in his hotel, a good hour and a half to traverse just a ten kilometer distance, “more fun” would not have been his description of that initial experience. When he steps outside his hotel to make his way to the nearest bank to buy local currency, “fun” would be the last thing in his mind while walking the less than clean streets and the incredibly long wait in the bank just to change his money. Arriving back at his hotel and reading the news in the local broadsheet over breakfast, the headline about the kidnap for ransom of an Australian national did not inspire “fun” by any means. A chill down one’s spine is not symptomatic of fun. The breakfast was “okay” but “more fun” would be stretching it. By the end of the day, a third of it spent stuck in traffic, unless his cab driver was a beautiful Filipina in mini-skirt, it’s hard to imagine what could have been “more fun in the Philippines” so far. If he likened the dare-devil manner in which his cabbie speedily weaved through traffic to a theme park roller-coaster ride, a fun childhood experience of his, that could have been a “more fun” ride; but this one was more nerve racking than the highest loop of the coaster ride of past and there was nothing fun about it at his now mature age. Day 2 would be spent beginning not with Michael Schumacher, thank God, but (he spoke too soon), with Sebastian Vettel behind the wheel this time. Finally arriving at the domestic airport, a heated argument ensues because Mr. F1 champ deliberately “forgot” to enable the taxi meter. Awaiting inside the terminal is news about the PAL union strike….
We can only pray his next destination is a lot “more fun” but sometimes, the “tyranny of the first impression” is hard to shake off, and so the rest of Mr. Tourist’s stay would have been on “defensive mode” which, alas, is no fun at all. Let’s “start from the very beginning, a very good place to start,” ika nga ni Julie Andrews in the classic musical film “The Sound of Music.”
Until we build an earnest international airport attuned to this century with capabilities corresponding to our most ambitious forecasts in the long term, and other airports in provinces strategically located, we’re not serious about building a tourism industry that could very well be our top earner in the coming decades.

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“Sensationalism, Propaganda, and Justice”

For Friday, January 6, 2012
Good Morning Philippines
ON SECOND THOUGHT

With still more than a week to go before the impeachment trial is to commence, the “pro impeachment” and the “pro Corona” camps are already full speed ahead in their efforts to win the hearts and minds of whoever feels passionate enough about the outcome of the “morality play” that promises to entertain the country in the coming weeks. The people will be glued to their TV sets to witness who really is the “bad man” in this battle about something we may never really find out what, who, or why, but the choices are there: an autocratic President; “a corrupt Chief Justice;” a cover-up for government incompetence; GMA’s “sins;” retention of, or “just compensation” for (HLI wants P12B), Hacienda Luisita; or a combination of all of the above. Though the “articles of impeachment,” the defense’s formal reply, and the prosecution panel’s response, have all been submitted and publicized, we’re certain those “following” the proceedings, the non-lawyers at least, have not read any of the three volumes of documents simply because we still are not a country of “readers” unless the stories are sensationalized. So, the “camps” involved in the battle are aware that to win the hearts and minds of the general public, they will have to sensationalize their propaganda and synthesize their messages into catch phrases and slogans which PNoy and his followers are, arguably, the reigning experts in that field, as evidenced by what brought PNoy to Malacanang in the first place – “kung walang kurap, walang mahirap,” not to mention their control of media.

So far, the competing strategies are, on the one hand, to equate the assault on Corona with an assault to the independence of the judiciary as well as the autocratic tendencies of PNoy; and on the opposing side, to equate the trial to PNoy’s supposed on-going drive against corruption and lump Corona together with GMA who up to this day, is still considered a “kiss of death.”

As far as personalities are concerned, to pit Corona against PNoy may be a one sided contest in favor of the President, as far as perception is concerned, so we may see a shift in tactic on the side of the pro-Corona group to, instead, pit the Chief Justice against the foaming-in-the-mouth “attack dogs” in the Lower House, a body whose reputation is not unsullied by any means. That should provide the surrealism to the drama. The anti-Corona group will stay with their strategy to interweave Corona together with GMA believing, rightly, as Gibo only knows too well, that GMA will be the albatross around his neck, weighty enough to bring him down.

If public perception turns out to be too one sided, the Senators, the re-electionists in particular, will have to go with the flow like debris washed with the gushing current. If the battle for perception turns out to be even handed, then we may see justice actually being served but that seems to be the last scenario both sides will be counting on. It must be remembered that above all else, this drama is being played out not so much in the “august halls of the Senate,” a description some people cringe when hearing, but in the country called the Philippines. And as we all know, many strange things have happened here that has popularized yet another phrase even foreigners seem to have picked-up, and that is: “only in da Pilipeens!” So, expect that unexpected developments and surprises await and lurk in every turn of the corner in this latest tele-novella that will rivet and entertain but, alas, also distract, again, from our deepening woes.
Sound… camera… action!

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HOW MUCH SHOULD BE PAID FOR HACIENDA LUISITA?

The case of Hacienda Luisita was decided on by the Supreme Court about a month ago, pursuant to an order of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) in December 2005 (during GMA’s term), upholding PARC’s order to distribute the 4,915.75-hectare Hacienda Luisita land to the original 6,296 farmer-beneficiaries. It was a unanimous decision.

Aquino appointee, Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, however, stated that the land price of Hacienda Luisita should be pegged at the market value in 2008, which could amount to P2.5 million per hectare — P2.5M per hectare x 5,000 hectares = P12.5B. None of the other Justices agreed with her stating that the land price of Hacienda Luisita should be pegged at the 1989 level, which is about P40,000 to P70,000 per hectare, or when multiplied by 5,000 (x 70,000) would equal P350M or a difference of P12,150,000,000. The Palace nor Congress did not raise a howl about the possibility that Justice Sereno was biased in favor of her appointing power, PNoy, whose immediate family would be the recipient of that amount, perhaps, because it would not be fair to her for them to presume that; and the Palace and Congress are not one to be unfair, right?

That kind of money, P12.5B, or the dollar equivalent of US$ 298M is a large amount for any family to receive, the wealthy Cojuangco’s included. When you consider that the Court also ordered the Cojuangco family to pay the original farmer-beneficiaries with over P1.33 billion it earned from selling the 500-hectare converted portion of the land estate, including the P500 million it received from Luisita Realty Inc. for the sale of 200 converted hectares, P750 million for the sale of the other 300-hectare converted land to Luisita Industrial Park Corp. by its subsidiary, Centennary Holdings Inc., and the P80, 511,500 it received from the government for the SCTEX project that now charges motorists for its use. When you add that all up, you realize that the family could sure use the amount Justice Serreno has suggested even if no other Justice agreed…for now. It has also been reported that HLI owes San Miguel another P2B bringing their total payables to close to P5B. That’s a lot of debt to pay even if they’ve made multiple times more than that over the last 50 years from the produce and partial sale of the land they’ve managed to hold on to since they acquired it. The acquisition was made possible in 1958 through a government loan that required them to distribute the land to the farmers as early as 1968, or ten years after acquisition, as part of the terms of that loan. If the amount of the land were pegged at the price Justice Serreno opined, no problem; that would still leave them with a hefty P7.5B in change after paying those debts. However, if the price the rest of the Justices said was the correct price, then they would have to dig into their pockets, deep as they are, for another P4.5B to pay their debts.

If you were in the shoes of their family and one of you happened to be President, a popular one at that, what would you do? And imagine, too, that you were a Representative of Congress, needing to be re-elected next year, without scruples the likes of most of them, and were asked by Malacanang, holders and distributors of the “pork barrel,” to impeach Corona never mind for what reason since you were not allowed to read the articles anyway, what would you do? You may ask, “what does the impeachment have to do with Hacienda Luisita”? Everything. If the President were sincere in his “daang matuwid,” he would not tolerate, much less encourage, the old corrupt practice of control of the Lower House with the use of “pork barrel.”
( See Related Video — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiC24dKXGBc )

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