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.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

JPE, perhaps unknowingly, caused BPs to rise in Senate session hall yesterday, in wake of rife talk of a plot to oust him; coup fizzles out after plotters get only 6 votes; move aside, Hyatt 10---here comes “Senate 10;” defense lawyers ready with small bags in case they’re cited for contempt.

Senator Juan Ponce Enrile

Today is Valentine’s Day and this blog extends Happy Valentine greetings to all my friends and relatives who continue to enjoy enduring affection and devotion with their loved ones and families.  But yesterday, the thoughts of everyone in the Senate session hall were farthest from being about love. For talk had been rife over the weekend---in fact Daily Tribune bannered it yesterday---that the Senate group allied with President Noynoy would seek to oust Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and install one of their own, as in their estimation JPE is now perceived as a stumbling block to the certain conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona. 
I had argued earlier here that ousting JPE would not sit well with the people as he's generally perceived as fair and even-handed in his rulings as presiding judge of the impeachment court. Actually reports indicate that there was a attempt yesterday by Palace allies among the senators to gather votes for JPE's ouster, but it fizzled out after they could only get six votes---namely, those of four Liberals and Senators Ping Lacson and Antonio Trillanes. 


With that background in mind, imagine the consternation JPE created when after the long Senate caucus on the SC’s TRO that began at noon yesterday, he suddenly entered the session hall from the rear portal where gallery guests enter, instead of from the side entrance clear across that's always used by the senators. Moreover JPE was in a brown suit without his judge’s crimson robe and as he walked down the hall he began shaking hands first with the prosecutors, then with the important guests in the VIP gallery and then with the defense panel, led by Justice Serafin Cuevas. The cameras feasted on him as he moved about.  

Some spectators who witnessed this mini-drama were terrified and frantic questions popped up all around:  has the rumored ouster of JPE materialized? Is he saying goodbye to everyone? Who’s going to take his place? How can the trial go on without JPE?  A lady guest thought JPE looked sad and formal.  Walking toward the dais he then disappeared through the side door and for a long while we spectators sat in the gallery, not knowing what was happening behind the scenes.


After half an hour JPE emerged again, this time garbed in his crimson robe, followed by the rest of the senators, including the voluble Miriam Defensor Santiago. Audible sighs of relief arose and blood pressures began going down. JPE then announced the decision of the Senate body that would go down in its annals as one of its landmark moves: 13 senators voted to uphold the TRO issued by the Supreme Court last Thursday against unauthorized disclosures of foreign currency deposits (FCDs) in Philippine banks, as provided by the Foreign Currency Deposits Law, while 10 senators voted to defy it.   
There was great rejoicing in certain quarters yesterday after the 13 senators voted to uphold the majesty of the law---thus averting a constitutional crisis.   Actually, had the voting been the reverse and 13 senators voted to defy the TRO, the coup plotters would have been emboldened to push their oust-JPE scheme. Who knows, perhaps JPE would be celebrating his 88th birthday sorrowing, instead of in full glory of his fans this noon at the senators' lounge. 

Some wits were quick on the draw to play up the fortuitous results:  as one texter put it, "move aside Hyatt 10, now comes the SENATE 10." The next day, an email depicting the ten anti-TRO senators festooned with party hats and balloons was viralled under the label, “100 million reasons to party.”  The reference to the "P100 million," for those who are lost in translation, came from the assertion of CJ Corona’s defense lawyers in a rainy night press conference last Sunday at Club Filipino that they received “authoritative” information that the Palace was offering each senator P100 million to defy the SC’s TRO on FCDs.


In the course of discussion on this issue of FCDs, some senators argued that the FCD Law, RA 6426, was being used by the corrupt and grafters in our society as refuge because dollar deposits are untouchable under this law. I can see that point, and if Congress wishes to amend this law to make it more open to scrutiny, they should do so. But the question is, would Congress amend this Marcos-era law that has remained untouched since 1974, considering that perhaps there's hardly a senator or representative who doesn’t have an FCD here?

 But just to carry that argument through, as a senator pointed out, relaxing the law on FCDs here would only mean that dollar depositors would move to Singapore which has even more stringent law on FCDs (it’s now termed the “New Switzerland” as the old European haven  has considerably relaxed its once-formidable secrecy law in recent years, under pressure from the international banking community).  


Last Sunday night the defense panel of CJ Corona came out in blazing red shirts (the signature color of rallyistas for Corona at the SC), without the two most senior lawyers, namely, Justice Cuevas and former Ateneo Dean Dindo de los Angeles, to state their main reason for summoning that “hastily-called” but well-attended (for a Sunday night!) press conference. Led by defense lawyer Mon Esguerra, they claimed that an infallible source had told them that the Palace had offered P100 million to each senator to vote against the SC TRO on foreign deposits. But they stopped short of divulging their source, nor did they offer any clue as to who among the senators might have accepted the bribe.

Atty. Jose Roy and Atty. Serafin Cuevas
from http://www.balita.ph/
At yesterday's Senate hearing, senators one after the other angrily rose to denounce the Corona lawyers’ spin and Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano sought to force defense lawyer Jose “Judd” Roy III, the group’s spokesperson for yesterday’s show-down with the senators, to disclose their alleged source of the report.  Judd  Roy, grandson of the late Sen. Jose Roy and an Ateneo ’89 graduate and former dean and president of the Pamantasan ng Lungson ng Maynila, is normally the hard-hitting one among the defense lawyers. But yesterday, before the senators, Judd was uncharacteristically courteous, humble and deferential as he explained why they were forced to take their case to the media.

Atty. Roy deftly invoked Paragraph E, Sec. 20, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court on "admission to the bar and duties of attorney," especially regarding confidentiality between lawyer and client. This court ruling is akin to that governing journalists’ invocation of secrecy of their source. The senators, probably realizing the futility of forcing the contempt issue, did not go beyond verbal castigation and protest.

Atty. Mon Esguerra quipped to media last Monday afternoon that they all began praying for Judd Roy's defense before the Senate as early as the midnight before. While he spoke several of them were seen opening their pocket bibles.


A member of the House prosecution whom I had a chance to chat with after yesterday’s session lamented that all the defense got from the senators for that “absolutely wrong move” last Sunday night was "just a slap on the wrist.”  I riposted that the Senate President, upon a move from a senator, ordered the defense to explain in writing why they shouldn’t be cited for contempt for their action and the defense asked for three days to do so. But the prosecution member countered that that didn’t mean anything---after all, “nakasingaw na ang lahat.” 

I ventured that from what I gathered from the defense lawyers, they were all ready to be cited for contempt for what they did and in fact, last Sunday night, they each had small bags packed with essentials for possible forced dormitory stay in the Senate. But the prosecution member opined that that was probably the reason the senators gave the defense a mere slap on the wrist---they sensed that the defense lawyers were aching to be booked for contempt, but the senators did not want to make martyrs out of them. 

Actually, what the defense lawyers' startling press con achieved, among others, was to frighten some senators from voting against the SC TRO. If only for that, packing those small bags was well worth it. 

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  1. Well, after that revelation, in today's hearing (February 14)the prosecution and the senators acting on behalf of the prosecution were almost meek, especially after Miriam lambasted the prosecutors for asking a subpoena with a spurious bank document attached to it. The senators didn't look bored; many of them were nakayuko and Franklin Drilon wasn't his usual arrogant self.

  2. Hi Araceli, glad to know you're on board here. The prosecution's mistake was to rush things once again (a la the list of 45 properties) and not take pains to check out the veracity of documents or claims. Instead, they attached the unverified document supposedly from PSBank to their request for subpoena of bank accounts. What's even more scary here is that there's a serious breach of security that should rightly worry depositors. Kind regards.