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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.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Corona property listing and WB aide-memoire on JRSP exhibiting similar patterns of manipulation. Did Abad use son-in-law connection at WB? Integrity of SC Justice Teresita de Castro, who monitors WB project at SC unassailable. Prosecution limping its way in Senate trial



Two days into the Senate trial hearings on the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona, the excitement for many trial watchers is NOT in the Senate trial court but outside---specifically in the media, where a lot of manipulation and twisting of facts seems to be passed off as facts and given prominent news coverage especially by the yellow media, both broadsheets and online.   
Inside the Senate session hall the news that’s not news (as this was anticipated way before) was how inept the prosecution team is. I’m not surprised, for just before the old year ended a prominent House member expressed to me his fear that the prosecution team would be quite weak, as most of its members are so “baguito” in the practice of law. The past two days at the Senate only served to confirm this House member’s fear, as the bungling of the prosecution sent the gallery into fits of laughter yesterday.

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Allow me to quote a citizen’s email reaction on Day 2:
 “I listened in its entirety and watched portions of the trial since Day 1. Yesterday the Prosecution fell hard on their faces with their arrogant maneuverings. They surprised the Court when they wanted to present evidence for the 2nd Article on  Impeachment instead of the 1st. When asked why by (Senate Presiding Judge) JPE, they reasoned that it is because the past days' papers were filled with news and commentaries about the CJ's alleged ill-gotten properties (obviously pandering to their perceived backlash from the evidence they maliciously announced through media days earlier). 
“After opposition from the Defense, they were still allowed to proceed, but when it turned out that their evidence was in the form of a computer-generated document with no witness to attest to its authenticity, they were told that this would be inadmissible. Realizing their blunder they asked for the termination of the trial for the day as they promised to present their witness today. The prosecution is aided by their panel of private prosecutors and other "legal beagles" who are experienced in Court litigation, although the latter are not allowed to speak as prosecutors.”

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The ineptness of the prosecution team was anticipated, but the manipulation of so much news nowadays to damage the reputation of the Supreme Court and its embattled Chief is really quite disturbing. The battle in the media has become so dirty.
First came the banner news about the so-called “45 properties” of CJ Corona’s, the list of which supposedly was issued by Administrator Eulalio Diaz III of the Land Registration Authority (LRA). Doubtless much against his will, but realizing that this ill-gotten wealth issue would continue to be distorted by biased media if he did not tackle it himself, CJ decided at last Monday’s send-off ceremony for his defense team to frontally take on the “45 properties” title by title. He asserted that he and his wife only owned five of those pieces of property, and that the others wrongfully attributed to them belong to his children, several to his balae, to Mel Mathay and even to the developer to whom he had either sold property or from whom he had acquired one. The CJ noted that there were two or three entries in that list whose owners he didn’t even know and that it included even three parking lots of a condo he had invested in---“lahat para pampahaba ng listahan!”  
The narration left his supporters, which included judges who had journeyed from far and all garbed in black, disgusted and angry with the brazen distortion of what was being passed off as facts. But what was interesting was that Administrator  Diaz who had furnished that allegedly erroneous list was President Aquino’s classmate at the Ateneo, and that he was apparently only obeying orders from Malacanang. Corona noted that LRA is an agency of the DOJ, and at that point the SC crowd turned to boo the DOJ next door. I think  Diaz ought to resign.

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The latest news manipulation involves an international financial agency, the World Bank.  Three days ago the leading yellow paper bannered that WB has issued an aide-memoire containing findings of its review made from Oct. 24 to Nov. 12 last year, where it supposedly criticized the inefficiency of the SC in running the Judicial Reform Support Project (JRSP). This is a program established and partly funded by the WB in 2003, during CJ Hilario Davide’s time, with nearly a billion-peso fund, with the aim of improving the efficiency of the Court (it’s supposed to come to a close this June 30). The aide-memoire dated Dec. 28, 2011 was supposed to have been sent by WB acting country director Matthew Stephens to SC Associate Justice Teresita de Castro, who runs the JSRP Program Management Office (PMO).  
Interestingly, alleged copies also found their way to ten offices of the Executive department---and to the media.

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As such sensitive memos go, public disclosure is completely irregular. Now we know why. As excerpted by the leading yellow newspaper, some of its criticisms were quite harsh, such as the claim about the SC’s ineptitude in handling the project and certain disbursements by justices being “ineligible"  and triggering demand for refund. Moreover, as CJ’s defense lawyer Ramon Esguerra noted, the timing of the adverse news release two days before the Senate trial opened was suspicious. Court Administrator Midas Marquez, who was criticized in the supposed aide-memoire as functioning as a three-way one-man agency within the SC, opined that it merely wanted to put the Corona Court “in disrespect.”
In my earlier blog I said we must assume that the criticisms leveled by the WB aide memoire at the SC are properly quoted in media. But now we must REVISE that assumption as there’s the HUGE possibility that its contents were doctored (following a familiar pattern?). In fact it could be SPURIOUS.  

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Why so? One, the aide-memoire came from an unofficial email account and not the WB’s, and  released by Rappler.com, a social media network highly critical of the past Arroyo regime and which has taken a strong adversarial stand toward the CJ in the current trial.  Two, the WB’s External Relations Office’s official, Ms. Leonora Aquino-Gonzalez, DENIED that the WB had released it, stressing, in fact, that it will not be disclosed to the public.
As the yellow paper noted, WB officials “have so far refused to confirm whether the aide memoire they gave Philippine government representatives is the same as the one being circulated to members of the media.”  Interestingly, it was Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda who took it upon himself in a press conference after the yellow media's release, to affirm that the WB report was genuine---despite the official pronouncement by Ms. Gonzalez.  He arrived at this conclusion, he said, after comparing copies circulating in media with those furnished the executive offices and found them “identical.” Of course they would be identical as they obviously came from only one source!  I’d take Gonzalez’s denial any time.

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Other pertinent facts: SC Justice Teresita de Castro, who was a former Chief of the Sandiganbayan, has an unassailable reputation in court circles and among lawyers. “She’s straight as an arrow,” said one IBP official reverently. De Castro, who holds very courageous views in the SC, cannot be perceived to allow any monkeying of this WB program under her care.  Two, British national Andrew Parker, husband of Julia Abad-Parker, Chief of the Presidential Management Staff, and son-in-law of Budget Secretary Butch Abad, now the most influential and powerful official in the Cabinet, has been connected with the WB’s Manila office as senior economist, though he is said to have been on leave from it since 2010. Isn't it just handy that it's Secretary   Abad who's now making noise about this supposed WB aide-memoire?
One indication that this WB document stands on shaky ground is that P-Noy’s allies in the Senate decided not to go ahead with their investigation into this issue, in deference kuno to the on-going trial. 

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1 comment:

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