What friends are for

They used to say that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo packed the Supreme Court with justices who would protect her after she stepped down. But how do you explain President Noynoy Aquino’s justice secretary, who hasn’t even been accepted to the highest court in the land yet but is already engaged in a strident defense of his boss?

You have to give Justice Secretary Benjamin Caguioa some credit, though. Even if he’s applying for a position in the Supreme Court, which requires him to be an impartial judge, he’s still defending his old Ateneo classmate, the President.

In his interview before the Judicial and Bar Council, which is screening the 16 applicants for the soon-to-be-vacated post of Associate Justice Martin Villarama, Caguioa said he does not believe that Aquino should be charged for creating the Disbursement Acceleration Program. DAP, of course, has been struck down as illegal by the court that Caguioa is seeking to join. 

“As a matter of law and [from] my appreciation of facts as I know them, I don’t believe he should be charged precisely because of [the] operative fact doctrine and good faith,” Caguioa told the JBC. “What the President did was merely [to] exercise his discretion under the Constitution to augment projects using savings, and that is completely allowable.”

Caguioa explained that while the Supreme Court, in its decision striking down DAP, suggested that some administration officials may be held liable, the President is most certainly blameless in the matter. “He does not fall under the category of author, proponent or implementor” of the illegal program, according to the justice secretary, who has served as presidential legal counsel to Aquino before being chosen to replace Leila de Lima.

I wonder if Caguioa is really serious about applying for a Supreme Court position, given how gung-ho he seems about declaring to one and all where his real loyalties lie. And I wonder, as well, if the members of the JBC weren’t snickering as they listened to Caguioa absolve Aquino even before he is charged when he steps down and sheds his immunity from suit.

Caguioa didn’t even pretend to be impartial about his position that Aquino should not be charged for DAP, even if he accepted that his boss will most likely be haled to court for the controversial program. “In today’s world, he probably will,” the justice secretary said.

I think the only reason why the JBC should consider Caguioa as Villarama’s replacement is if they are looking for an unapologetic defender of Aquino after his term ends. If that is the kind of justice that the Court needs, then they might as well declare right now that the search is over and that Caguioa is their newest member.

And if Aquino knows what’s good for him, he should push hard for Caguioa’s appointment, as well. Loyalty of the kind that Caguioa is showing is hard to come by these days, when even the closest pals and highest officials of Aquino are already falling all over themselves trying to join the camps of the leading presidential candidates.

If Caguioa’s declarations before the JBC are any indication, I’m willing to bet that he will not even have the decency to inhibit himself from the tribunal’s deliberations when the cases against Aquino are brought before it. And that, as the old song says, is what friends are for.

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Having said that, I wish Aquino’s own loyalty to his people is reciprocated, especially when he is no longer in power. For instance, I certainly hope that Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya would stand by Aquino just like Aquino stands by him now.

Abaya, of course, has done nothing in his department but take over the function of bidding out all the major projects of all of his attached agencies, to the detriment of the people who get to pay for all sorts of one-sided “sweetheart” deals. And yet Aquino has never lifted a finger to stop his beloved secretary from acting like every favored contractor’s best friend.

(As a measure of Aquino’s love for Abaya, he even chose the secretary to lie down beside him on a railroad somewhere, to get run over by a train, in case the Baclaran to Bacoor extension of the LRT’s Line 1 is not completed by the end of last year. That honor, to get killed with the President if he breaks his promise, was never given to any other official in this administration, after all.)

And if Aquino gets haled to court and jailed after he steps down because of Abaya’s shenanigans at the transportation department, I’m sure the President will willingly accept his fate. Just like Aquino, whose love for his friends is legendary, will probably allow himself to be jailed with Budget Secretary Florencio Abad when the latter gets sued for DAP and the pork barrel scandal, among other eminently suable acts.

At the very least, Aquino, Abaya and Abad will be able to count on Caguioa to defend them in the Supreme Court, if the justice secretary gets appointed to the tribunal. Yes, that’s what friends are for.

Topics: Jojo Robles , What friends are for
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