February 8, 2023 marked the 63rd birth anniversary of the late President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.
To mark the occasion, a newspaper (not this newspaper) published an article praising Aquino, and stating that fidelity to the Constitution was the hallmark of his presidency.
I disagree. During Aquino’s presidency (2010-2016), the supremacy of the Constitution was repeatedly put in jeopardy just to suit his personal whims.
Aquino’s Executive Order 1, his first executive issuance, created the so-called Presidential Truth Commission and vested it with the power to investigate crimes allegedly committed during the term of his predecessor, ex-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The late Senator Ernesto Maceda revealed that EO 1 was drafted by Liberal Party loyalist, Aquino minion, and ex-Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr.
After issuing EO 1, Aquino appointed Davide chairman of the commission.
I challenged the constitutionality of EO 1 by way of a petition I filed in the Supreme Court.
In my petition, I pointed out the President cannot, through the exercise of executive power, create a public office like the PTC.
I argued the power to create public office is legislative in character, and belongs exclusively to Congress.
After due proceedings, the Supreme Court en banc granted my petition and declared EO 1 unconstitutional (Biraogo vs. Philippine Truth Commission, G.R. 192935, December 7, 2010).
Thus, the first EO issued by Aquino, prepared by an ex-chief justice at that, was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
I remember in a public ceremony attended by Aquino and then Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, Aquino publicly berated Corona for the court’s adverse ruling on the Aquino family’s vast Hacienda Luisita estate in Tarlac.
That ruling made the hacienda subject to the agrarian reform law.
Fidelity to the Constitution means the President should respect decisions of the Supreme Court. Aquino did not.
In August 2010, Aquino appointed his good friend Maria Lourdes Sereno as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.
After Corona was impeached and removed by Congress in May 2012, Aquino appointed Sereno Chief Justice.
It turned out that Sereno was not qualified for the post, as seen in her ouster therefrom by no less than the Supreme Court itself (Republic vs. Sereno, G.R. 237428, May 11, 2018).
Thus, Aquino appointed a non-qualified individual to the highest judicial post in the land.
Pursuant to constitutional tradition, the judiciary should be immune from politics. Under Aquino, the judiciary, the Supreme Court in particular, got politicized.
This is readily seen in Aquino’s insistence that Supreme Court Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, and not Chief Justice Corona, be the one to administer his presidential oath of office.
After Morales retired from the Supreme Court, Aquino appointed Morales Ombudsman.
Fresh into his term, Aquino attempted to create a Moro substate in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Many legal luminaries including the eminent constitutionalist himself, retired Supreme Court Justice Vicente V. Mendoza, publicly revealed the Aquino plan was unconstitutional.
Aquino’s attempt to violate the Constitution through his planned Moro substate eventually lost steam, thanks to the valiant efforts of then Senator, now President, Ferdinand Marcos r.
The Aquino administration was also marred by public outrage at the congressional abuse of pork barrel funds.
An attempt by Aquino allies in Congress, particularly those from his Liberal Party, to circumvent constitutional restraints against misuse of the national budget was stopped by the Supreme Court.
In 2012, Aquino’s allies in Congress enacted Republic Act 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act.
This law would have allowed Aquino’s Justice Secretary, Leila de Lima, to violate the privacy of the online and mobile phone activities of ordinary citizens.
Fortunately, the Supreme Court declared that part of the law unconstitutional in a case where I was one of the petitioners.
Under the Constitution, the President is expected to protect the territorial integrity of the Philippines.
It was under Aquino when the Philippines lost its strategic hold on key islets and shoals in the West Philippine Sea.
We lost those territories on account of Aquino’s improvident directive for the Philippine Navy to withdraw from the islets and shoals, on his mistaken impression the Red Chinese navy will do the same.
Although Aquino pressed the Philippine claim to the disputed maritime territory before the international arbitration tribunal of the United Nations, and we eventually won the case, that victory, however, is an empty one, and one too late.
Beijing remained, and continues to stay, in the disputed area, and has even expanded its presence there, albeit in violation of International Law.
The Red Chinese government refuses to recognize the international arbitration tribunal’s ruling, and there seems nothing that Manila can do about that.
Fidelity to the Constitution was the hallmark of Aquino’s presidency? That’s overpraising the guy.