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.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

P-Noy’s second appointment to the SC a clear case of KKK

Today is the 28th anniversary of the death on the tarmac of Ninoy Aquino. As a reporter of Mr. and Ms. Magazine at that time who covered the weeks, months and years from that fateful event that’s forever be etched in our nation’s history, I am proud to have been a part of the reportage then---as the political opposition to Marcos galvanized, fired up by the indomitable courage of Ninoy. But the remembrance of that day of 28 years ago seems like a sad event for many of us as the nation faces a number of crises, owing to the resurgence of the much-derided cronyism akin to that of the Marcos era all over again.


For instance, Star columnist Dick Pascual pointed out today that he couldn’t see “any awe-inspiring qualifications” in President Noynoy’s most recent appointment to the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals Justice Bienvenido Reyes. As Dick noted, there seems to be nothing outstanding about the nominee, who is said to be at the bottom of the Judicial and Bar Council’s list of candidates for the two vacancies in the SC, except that he is a close friend of the President. 

Reyes had served as VP for legal and corporate affairs of the R.C. Silverio Group of Companies. In September 2008, according to a recent news write-up,  Reyes was reprimanded twice by the SC---the very court to which he is now being appointed---in connection with a case involving the Meralco and GSIS and the other a civil case. He was said to have been found "guilty of simple misconduct with mitigating circumstance,” but the SC issued a stern warning to him and other magistrates similarly cited for improprieties in that case, that a repetition of the same or similar acts will warrant a more severe penalty.” 


Dick Pascual ended his comment on Reyes with the query: “That’s his qualification?” But there’s another point he overlooked, which is just as serious. According to reports revived by the Manila Standard Today, Reyes is a genuine KKK ("kaibigan, Kaklase, Kabarilan"), having also served from 1987-1990 as vice-president and finance manager of the Best Security Agency (BSA), Inc. that had belonged to the family of Noynoy Aquino, in the time of President Cory Aquino. In fact, the BSA was established by Noynoy (its acronym corresponding to his own initials) and his uncle-in-law, Antolin Oreta, reportedly as a business as well as to provide employment to the people who had provided security and worked during the campaign and candidacy of Cory Aquino. At one time BSA maintained over 1,000 security guards.

Despite his being a co-founder of BSA, however, said reports, Noynoy, then 27 years old, served only as one of the directors, perhaps in view of the fact that his mother was President of the Republic at that time. During the 2010 presidential campaign one of the issues raised against candidate Noynoy was that he listed as his business address in the incorporation papers of BSA the official Arlegui address of his President-mother. When queried about it by media, he was quoted as saying, “What’s wrong with it? I lived there.”


But the issue was also raised in various columns as well as in the Standard front-page during the 2010 campaign. They alleged that BSA in the Cory years succeeded in bagging security contracts from both government facilities and assets owned by Marcos associates that were sequestered by PCGG at that time, as well as with private companies such as those owned by Lucio Tan, another close Marcos associate (Standard columnist Emil Jurado now estimates that BSA got contracts with around 30 sequestered firms). After some years, said the reports, BSA was hounded by disputes among the officers over alleged non-payment of dividends and Noynoy left it in 1993, after his mother stepped down.

The question raised during the 2010 campaign by various commentators was the undeniable conflict of BSA with RA 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, considering that Noynoy was the son of the President and his company was doing business with government firms and those sequestered by the PCGG---the very agency set up by Cory Aquino's Executive Order No. 1  to run after firms owned by Marcos and his cronies. 

A provision of that Act provides that: “It is unlawful for any person having family or close personal relation with any public official to capitalize or exploit or take advantage of such family or close personal relation by directly or indirectly requesting or receiving any present, gift or material or pecuniary advantage from any other person having some business, transaction, application, request or contract with the government, in which such public official has to intervene.”


Given this provision of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (which was passed on Aug. 17, 1960 during the tenure of President Carlos P. Garcia and amended during the tenure of Ferdinand Marcos by Batas Pambansa No. 195 on March 16, 1982), the question to ask in connection with the recent appointment of Justice Bienvenido Reyes to the SC by President Noynoy is, did Reyes advise Noynoy while they both served in the BSA in the Cory years about the ethics and the violations their company was committing against the Anti Graft and Corrupt Practices Act?  If Reyes failed to properly advise Noynoy on BSA transactions, was he not derelict in his duty as officer of the court? What right, then, does he have now to occupy a seat in the highest court of the land?


In the May 2010 presidential campaign, this issue of Noynoy’s involvement in the BSA and its  violation of the anti-graft law were raised by a couple of media members; but in the avalanche of tribute to the two heroic Aquinos, Ninoy and Cory, from the Inquirer, ABS-CBN and other media promoting candidate Noynoy, the failings and inadequacies of the son were not played up and the public blissfully overlooked them. He handily won the elections, although I believe that given the fraud-tainted 2010 automated elections, his margin of victory was nowhere in the magnitude  his publicists have asserted since.

So Noynoy's role in the BSA that was bagging contracts from sequestered and government firms was glossed over in the campaign.  But now that he is President of all the people, it’s extremely sad--- and shocking--- that he would now choose to appoint to the High Court someone so closely linked with him in that firm whose activities were obviously violative of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. This is not to mention the two reprimands from the SC that Reyes received in 2008. 


But perhaps blame for this controversy in SC appointments ought to be laid first on the Cory Aquino administration, which appointed Reyes as judge in the Malabon Regional Trial Court in 1990, after he left BSA (doubtless a handiwork of the Kamag-Anak, Inc.), and subsequently on the Estrada administration for promoting him on Aug. 8, 2000 as Justice of the Court of Appeals. With the record of BSA and two reprimands from the SC itself, how could such a candidate be now appointed to this highest court and interact with dignity and a sense of equality with his peers there? 

Definitely the JBC, a constitutional body with no less than the Chief Justice as its ex officio chair, ought to share in this responsibility of a botched job as far as the appointment of Justice Bienvenido Reyes to the SC is concerned. For its mandated task is to thoroughly scrutinize the background of candidates to the judiciary that it nominates to the President and present only worthy nominations. That Justice Reyes got appointed to the Malabon RTC in President Cory's time was not surprising, but for his promotion to the CA in 2000, was he even questioned about BSA and the SC reprimands when he was interviewed by the JBC? 

 Indeed, in many cases the JBC  has abdicated its mandated watchdog role in the judiciary.


In the US one cannot imagine this sort of thing happening. I had followed the more recent appointments by the US President to the US Supreme Court, such as the historic first Latina appointment in Justice Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 and other former US Solicitor-General Elena Kagan last year.  I noted how American jurists pass through the proverbial eye of the needle in the US Congress, where all their decisions and pronouncements since the beginning of their judicial careers are studiously combed and they are mercilessly grilled by the Commission on Appointments in the US Congress.

By contrast, the justices in our Supreme Court, unlike those in the American Judiciary, are not subject to confirmation by the Philippine Congress, as the thinking of our constitutional delegates through various charter enactments has been that the justices should be insulated from politics. There is sound logic behind this, given how our politicians afflict everything with their politics. 


It’s appointments like that of Justice Reyes, however, that encourage many people to advocate amendments to the Constitution, so that judges and justices of the Court of Appeals and the SC would be subject to Congressional confirmation, despite the danger of political interference. Congressional scrutiny would open all the records of the judicial appointees and  details such as Reyes' role in the BSA and the Meralco/GSIS, for instance, would see the light of day. 

To my mind, the JBC has not been doing its job well and appears to be very susceptible to various pressures from outside and the palakasan system. Which is why people feel the JBC should be abolished and judicial nominations should just be subject to confirmation by the Commission on Appointments, like the heads of line departments in the executive branch.

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