Is the BBL Peace Panel really a private entity?

Last week, the panel created by President Benigno Aquino III to review the provisions of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) was criticized for being useless and illegal – useless because the bulk of its membership have no expertise in Constitutional Law to thoroughly grasp the legal aspects of the BBL, and illegal because the President has no power to create a public office.

To repeat, the President himself admitted that the review panel will help him promote the BBL and make it acceptable to the general public.  This made the review panel a mere rubber stamp of the president.    

Over the past several days, however, certain changes regarding the review panel were made by Malacañang.  It has been re-named a “Peace Council” and its composition was expanded to include “co-convenors” such as, among others, former Commission on Elections Chairman Christian Monsod and University of the Philippines College of Law Dean Danilo Concepcion.  The council will not have a designated chairman, and its members will be divided into several clusters to address the different parts of the draft BBL. 

The Peace Council held its first meeting at the Hotel Inter-Continental Manila in Makati.  Who paid for the expenses of this meeting has not been identified.

Deputy presidential spokesman Abigail Valte announced that the Peace Council will not be a public office but a private entity.  If this is true, then why was it convened by the President?  If it is a private entity, why are its members personally selected by the president?  Does this mean that only those chosen by the President may join the council?  Can the panel even publicly identify itself as an adjunct of the Office of the President without creating a legal issue?   

Since the Peace Panel is supposed to be a private entity and not a public office, taxpayers have the right to expect that no public money shall be spent, and no public property shall be used, for the operations and activities of this supposed private entity.  After all, public money and public property cannot be earmarked for the use of and enjoyment by a private entity.  The moment the Peace Panel breaches this prohibition, the constitutional validity of the council may be at once questioned in the Supreme Court, and whoever is responsible for the panel’s expenditure of public funds may be charged for violating the anti-graft law before the Office of the Ombudsman. 

Public interests advocates will be monitoring if public money has been spent and will be spent in this unorthodox public-private experiment of Malacañang.  

Senator Trillanes and the Court of Appeals

Senator Antonio Trillanes announced that Makati City Mayor Jun-Jun Binay bought the temporary restraining order issued by the Court of Appeals to stay his suspension as city mayor as ordered by the Office of the Ombudsman.  More specifically, Trillanes said that the justices of the appellate court who voted to issue the injunction received a financial consideration in exchange for the judicial reprieve in favor of Binay.  If this is true, Trillanes should make his exposé immediately so that crooks in the appellate court can be readily identified and investigated.  As a senator, Trillanes owes that to his voters.

May the Court of Appeals restrain the Office of the Ombudsman from suspending a city mayor who is undergoing an administrative investigation?  Under Section 14 of Republic Act No. 6770, no court may issue an injunction to delay an investigation being conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman.  The section refers to an “investigation” and not a “suspension” of a public official.  This will be the main point of contention between the Solicitor General, who represents the Office of the Ombudsman, and the lawyer of Mayor Binay when they confront each other in the Supreme Court in Baguio City this week. 

The ex-CJ Corona bank accounts

The news media recently reported that the numerous bank accounts in the name of ex-Chief Justice Renato Corona which were subjected to a freeze-order by the Anti-Money Laundering Council all yielded balances of less than five thousand pesos each.  How is that possible when banks require depositors to maintain a balance of at least ten thousand pesos?  Investigators should take a look at the history of withdrawals made in each account.  That is the best way to ascertain if the money of a public official which should have been reported was or was not so reported during a specific period.

 MMDA’S Tolentino is campaigning already

Prior to the onset of Holy Week, the Land Transportation Office announced that vehicles without license plates will be stopped on the roads and prohibited from travelling.  Motorists in Metropolitan Manila who were preparing to go out of town for the Lenten holidays denounced the LTO directive.  Their grievance – it took a long time for the LTO to have the plates ready, and now that the plates are available, motorists were given an unreasonable deadline to get the plates. 

 Chairman Francis Tolentino of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) saw this as an opportunity to endear himself to the motorists and quickly announced that MMDA traffic enforcers will not implement the LTO directive because it will be “un-Christian” to do so in view of the Lenten season.  Obviously, Tolentino was hoping that his gesture will translate to votes when he runs for senator in May 2016.

Tolentino goofed up again.  First, the MMDA has no legal discretion to determine which laws or regulations may be enforced and which ones may not.  He may even be sued for this.  Second, the separation of church and state mandated by the Constitution forbids him from invoking a sectarian reason to evade a secular duty.  He can be sued for this as well. 

 Instead of playing politics, Tolentino should do something about those motorcycle drivers who openly disregard the motorcycle lane rule on EDSA and Commonwealth Avenue.  He should also make MMDA personnel present at nighttime when traffic regulations are often violated with impunity.

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