"I want to pay back the Filipino taxpayers for financing my education."
As a new columnist, it is my honor to share this newspaper’s dream of a country run by people of integrity, nationalism, competence and industry. Through the printed page and its online counterpart, I will endeavor to make that dream a reality.
Constitutionalism, or the supremacy of the Constitution, and the rule of law, or equal justice under the existing legal system, have been the focus of my attention and concern since I was a law student in the University of the Philippines (UP) in the late 1980s.
Back in 1984, I sued the administration of then UP President Edgardo Angara for arbitrarily increasing tuition and other school fees by some 350 percent, to make them at par with the leading private universities.
The court case involved principle. I felt that being a public university, the fees in UP should be affordable, and that hikes in school fees should be gradual in order to be affordable.
Anyway, the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City stopped the fee hikes for one semester but eventually ruled in favor of UP. We brought the case to the Supreme Court (SC) but politics got in the way and the case became moot and academic.
The case did not turn out in my favor as I had hoped, but victory came in the knowledge that I was able to utilize the law in the pursuit of the public interest.
In December 1985, I went to the SC to question the constitutionality of the special presidential and vice presidential election called by then President Ferdinand Marcos.
A divided SC eventually allowed the special election to push through and this led to the February 1986 EDSA Revolt.
By 1986, I knew that I wanted to, and perhaps needed to be a public interest advocate. That way, I can defend the public interest and, I get to somehow “pay back” the Filipino taxpayers who financed my education at UP.
Thus, upon leaving UP and after establishing for myself a sustainable business enterprise, I decided to use my free time and spend some of my earnings for my public interest advocacy work.
That, of course, meant dedicating myself to questioning in court serious anomalies in both government and private enterprise, with a view toward upholding the public interest at all times, regardless of who is involved, and even if hell itself should bar the way.
In the years that followed, I pursued public interest cases either in court, in the Office of the Ombudsman, or in the many quasi-judicial agencies. Allow me to discuss briefly three of those cases.
Right after President Benigno Aquino III assumed office in 2010, he issued Executive Order No. 1 (drafted by his loyal follower ex-Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr.) creating a truth commission to investigate anomalies allegedly committed during the tenure of his predecessor, President Gloria Arroyo.
I questioned the constitutionality of EO No. 1 in the SC on the ground that, among others, it duplicated the functions of the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice. After due proceedings, the SC declared EO No. 1 unconstitutional.
When I discovered that the Anti-Cyber Crime Act of 2012 enacted by Congress contained provisions which violated privacy rights and the right against unreasonable searches and seizures, I challenged the validity of those provisions in the SC. After due proceedings anew, the SC declared those objectionable provisions of the law unconstitutional.
In September 2020, Ombudsman Samuel Martires issued Memorandum Circular (MC) No. 1 which provides that anybody who wishes to secure a copy of any SALN on file in his office must get the prior permission of the public officer whose SALN is sought. That permission must be embodied in a notarized document.
MC No. 1 amended the provisions governing public access to SALNs recited in the Constitution and in Republic Act No. 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. As an ex-Justice of the SC, Martires ought to know that MC No. 1 is unconstitutional because the Ombudsman obviously has no power to amend both the Constitution and any law enacted by Congress.
In December 2020, I filed a petition in the SC and asked the tribunal to declare MC No. 1 unconstitutional. As of this time, I have not yet received any reply from either the SC or Martires.
Meanwhile, I am inviting my readers to report to me any anomaly in government or in private business which may need to be brought to court for appropriate action. That way, my advocacy can benefit as many people as possible. I may be reached at [email protected]
Remember, when you need my help, and as a line of an old song goes, just call my name and I’ll be there.