Leave the Supreme Court alone

posted August 11, 2016 at 12:01 am
by  Emil Jurado
THE problem with the exposure of the so-called narco-politicians by President Duterte is that those on the list can easily be judged for their involvement in illegal drugs—whether it is true or not. As such, they could be targets of summary and vigilante killings.

Malacañang says the public has a right to know. Yes, we do want to know who these people in high places are so that the law can take its course.

In the case of the four (of the seven in the list) judges, they have become useless as magistrates. Shorn of credibility, honesty and integrity, a judge is nothing.

I see the concern of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno who wrote a letter to President Duterte saying that any indiscretion or violation of the law by a member of the Judiciary is within the ambit of the Supreme Court. Thus, Sereno warned the judges not to present themselves unless a search warrant is served on them.

Sereno, my gulay, was just following the rule of law. Duterte must know this, being a lawyer and former prosecutor himself.

Thus, when the President reacted adversely to Sereno’s letter—even threatening to declare martial law—I got to thinking what a president should and should not do.

I have gone on record as praising Duterte as a leader. He walks his talk. He means business and he acknowledges he is responsible and accountable for his acts. The public never had this from BS Aquino.

But when Mr. Duterte messes with the line that divides the government into three—the executive that implements the law, the legislature that crafts it, and the judiciary that interprets it —that’s something else.

Duterte must realize that there are some things he cannot do like discipline members of the judiciary. That’s within the purview of the Supreme Court as a co-equal and independent branch of government. He also cannot dictate on Congress.

The President must use extra caution. He must remember that he is no longer a city mayor who can rule his turf the way he likes it. Every word he utters has repercussions and implications on the lives and futures of more than 101 million Filipinos under his watch.

I don’t know if the President realized what he said when he threatened to declare martial law if a constitutional crisis occurred. He should read once again Article VII, Section 18 of the charter to realize that martial law, as contemplated by Cory Aquino’s appointed delegates, is toothless.

Wasn’t Duterte told that as Commander-in-Chief, he can only call the Armed Forces of the Philippines to prevent lawless violence, invasion or rebellion? A declaration of martial law must be submitted to Congress, which can revoke such proclamation. Even the Supreme Court can review such proclamation.

In his determination to end the illegal drug trade once and for all, Duterte threw caution to the wind by telling the police that they would be protected by him in going against drug lords and dealers. The result: summary killings to the tune of almost a thousand now, the surrender of thousands of dealers and addicts worsening the congestion in jails. This has also highlighted the need for rehabilitation centers and sounded the alarm on loose firearms and private/vigilante armies.

* * *

In the process of meeting his own deadline of eradicating crimes, illegal drugs and corruption within three to six months, the President may have committed shortcomings, like when he singled out international businessman Roberto “Bobby” Ongpin as an oligarch.

Mr. Duterte may have failed to realize that in his war against oligarchy embedded in government, he failed to mention the family of his Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez, the Ayalas, and the Villars. I can go on and on.

Bobby Ongpin, for his part earned his millions through excellent entrepreneurship and managerial expertise. He did not inherit his money like that the Ayalas and Tuasons. Most importantly, he amassed his fortune not by smuggling or corruption but by sheer hard work.

I am saddened for Bobby whose credentials and integrity I believe in.

* * *

Fighting corruption is one of the issues that catapulted President Duterte to the presidency. And the common public perception is that the Bureau of Customs and the Bureau of Internal Revenue are the most corrupt agencies. President Duterte has also mentioned the Land Transportation Office as another one.

* * *

A recent ruling that brought back to sharp focus the issue of corruption is the uniformed services (AFP and PNP). The Court of Appeals annulled two decisions of former President BS Aquino who had ordered the dismissal from the service of Chief Special Prosecutor Wendell Barras-Sulit of the Office of the Ombudsman.

News reports said that the CA Special 10th Division ordered the reinstatement of Sulit, who was dismissed by BS Aquino for entering into a plea bargaining agreement in 2013 with Major General Carlos Garcia, former controller of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, who was being tried for corruption. Under the deal, Garcia returned to the government more than P135.433 million in stolen money.

The Court ruled that the plea bargaining deal “was the outcome of a prudent, reasonable and practical evaluation of the cases against Garcia,” and that it carried the approval of the Office of the Solicitor General, the Sandiganbayan, the Anti-Money Laundering Council and then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

Garcia was accused of plunder in connection with the scandal involving the grant of millions of cash gifts to at least three former AFP Chiefs of Staff. A lifestyle check also showed Garcia had amassed hundreds of millions and real property including an expensive condominium unit in New York City.

Garcia’s case was just one of the many instances of corruption, like the questioned helicopter deal and the “euro generals” that caused the AFP and the PNP to be perceived as the most corrupt agency of the government. In fact, in March this year, Ombudsman Conchita Morales reported that the PNP and the AFP ranked as the second and third most corrupt agencies with officials of local government units coming out, too. This has been the trend in the last five years, Morales disclosed.

In what must come as a pleasant surprise to Customs people, Morales said cases against BOC personnel have been in a downtrend in the last five years. This puts Customs as just no. 10 in the Ombudsman’s 2015 corruption list.

All along, the public’s perception is that Customs and BIR are the most corrupt government agencies. But now, it appears that these agencies have been replaced by the AFP and PNP.

This fact assumes a particular significance with the appointment of former Marines Captain Nicanor Faeldon, who has confessed that he knows nothing about Customs administration, policies, rules and procedures. So, in addition to his being a member of the AFP, which is considered the most corrupt agency, his competence is also open to serious question.

Now read this: In spite of the military reputation, Faeldon is said to have brought in some 20 former mutineers belonging to his Magdalo faction, and supposedly recommended new bar passers as district collectors and deputy collectors. Santa Banana, what do these neophytes know about Customs rules and procedures, trade facilitation, product valuation, tariff application, BOC’s 24/7 operations, misdeclaration and other ways of smuggling?

The threat of Faeldon to “kill” corrupt Customs personnel has earned the ire of 3,500 members of the Customs Employees Association. My gulay, how can Faeldon achieve its collection targets at the rate he is going? People are running circles around him.

Topics: Emil Jurado , Supreme Court , narco-politicians , President Duterte , illegal drugs , Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno
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