Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Archbishop Cruz is right: P-Noy should get “able” advisers

gloria macapagal arroyo state of the nation addressWe citizens are witnessing an unprecedented adversarial relationship between the President and the Supreme Court and the problem is that some officials are exacerbating the situation. Solicitor General Anselmo Cadiz, obviously buttering up to the appointing power, remarked that the High Court’s 10-5 vote against EO 1 setting up the Philippine Truth Commission is “payment of gratitude” by appointees of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the Court.

That remark may be expected of politicians, and we have seen both the majority and the minority in Congress taking partisan snipes at this recent SC vote--- either praising it to high heavens or damning it. But we don’t expect the above remark about a “payment of gratitude” from the Solicitor General, who is part of the President’s official family in the justice department. Cadiz could have confined his criticism of the SC decision to its legal merits or the lack of them, but he chose a low-level, thoroughly unprofessional remark that was not even accurate. 

Balance of power

Cadiz is correct in that the ten justices who voted the Truth Commission unconstitutional were GMA appointees; but what about the four justices out of the five who voted it constitutional? Justices Antonio Carpio, Conchita Carpio Morales, Antonio Eduardo Nachura and Roberto Abad were GMA appointees as well, the only P-Noy appointee in the minority group being  new Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno.

In fact, Justice Nachura was a former congressman from Samar who, I remember very well, was a stout GMA defender during the congressional canvassing of returns of the 2004 presidential elections, where she ran against FPJ.  Yet Nachura, who retires next year together with consistent GMA oppositionist jurist Conchita Carpio Morales, voted in favor of the  Truth Commission that would investigate and prosecute GMA.

If this GMA appointee’s vote was not payback, it stands to reason too that the vote of the ten justices striking down the Truth Commission couldn’t have been “payback” to GMA, as SolGen Cadiz alleges. They must have seen some legal infirmities that caused them to thumb it down.

Judges' protest pay cut

Citizens are mulling what’s going on between the President and the SC---the way the Court had struck down EO 1 setting up the Truth Commission, and earlier, EO 2 that sought to remove all so-called “midnight appointees” of the former President. Before these, the SC had ruled for a status quo ante on the House impeachment case against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

Nowadays too, the judiciary is upset about the alleged slash in its budget, which Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., chair of an Appropriations subcommittee that handles the judiciary’s budget, has denied. Andaya was quoted as saying that, in fact, last year’s budget of P13.3 billion was increased by one billion pesos this year, but the judges are not mollified.

Wearing black arm bands the other day, four big judges’ associations are mulling a march on Malacanang to protest what they insist is the alleged cut in their pay, or at the very least, they plan to go on mass leave.

Budget cuts in the face of massive CCT allocations

Frankly I cannot recall such a spirited dispute over the judicial budget in past decades. In fact, the Constitution guarantees immediate transfer of the judicial funds from the Treasury to the judiciary as a way of ensuring the latter’s independence. But in the light of such developments as the gargantuan (P21 billion) budget of this government’s Conditional Cash Transfer even without the needed infrastructure to support it, it’s easy to see that the alleged judiciary budget slash would demoralize members of the bench across the nation.

 Strong pressure to bear down on Comelec

Another predictable area of conflict could be the Comelec.  There’s strong public pressure for the SC to finally crack the whip on the Comelec for its continued defiance of the SC’s order to disclose to citizens’ poll-watch agencies the 21 documents, beginning with the source codes, that had a direct bearing on last May’s automated elections. Although the Comelec is a constitutional body independent of the executive branch, an SC crack down on it could again be read as part of the confrontation between P-Noy, the principal beneficiary of the recent elections, and the High Court.

Corona's influence

Is the head-on clash between the Palace and the SC due to the earlier declaration by candidate Noynoy that he would not recognize then Associate Justice Renato Corona if he were appointed SC Chief by outgoing President Arroyo? President-elect Noynoy was subsequently prevailed upon by cooler legal heads to tone down his attacks on Corona, but it was evident from his  snub of the SC Chief at his inaugural ceremony that P-Noy was far from warming up to this magistrate not his choice.

So, is it all stemming from petty snub and lack of chemistry?  Doubtless, there’s that element, as jurists are only human. But I doubt if Corona could have influenced the nine other magistrates in the Truth Commission case and EO 2, to just get personal on P-Noy. They’re not robots there.

 Rather, I agree with the diagnosis of Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, a non-GMA admirer, that the malaise ailing the adversarial P-Noy-SC relationship stems from the incompetence of P-Noy’s people. Cruz advised him to get “able” advisers, not the lightweight group that constantly presents him with constitutionally infirm EOs.  

Fewer avenues for accountability

That the President’s allies continue to be spooked by the lady  representative from Pampanga is amusing. After the Truth Commission was shot down by the SC, his allies were all wringing their hands and lamenting that, to quote a leftist leader, there are now “fewer avenues to make Arroyo accountable.

Fewer avenues? But the government has the DOJ which is headed by the independent and no-nonsense Leila de Lima, the office of the Ombudsman, the NBI, the PNP and a host of other agencies that could build up really strong evidence against any corruption. Under the weight of such evidence, even a pussy-footing Ombudsman cannot but be provoked to move.

But the problem is that the agencies of this government were encouraged by presidential advisers to merely depend on poor former CJ Hilario Davide and his three commissioners to get to the bottom of corruption allegations against GMA.

Full of media sound and fury
A former ranking judiciary official known for his anti-GMA sentiment, disclosed to this writer many months ago, while the grand Senate hearings on the Arroyo issues were going on two years ago, that the problem with those cases was that they were all full of media sound and fury, but legally signifying nothing much that can stand in court. 

Clearly, with the Truth Commission failing to get off the ground, the P-Noy government has to depend on the diligent work of its prosecution agencies if it’s to render credible its campaign promise to combat corruption in the past ---and when it rears its ugly head in this administration.

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