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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.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Panot, garbed in loose outdated suits and with slow gait and wan smile, lead Corona defense counsel Serafin Cuevas was Senate trial’s undisputed rock-star, edging out younger, more dapper and handsomer lawyers. “Ka Apin” seemed happiest not in displaying awesome legal prowess, but in reaping kisses and hugs from female admirers of all ages and shapes and posing for photos with them. Selective justice by “Three Furies” causing political instability---which could ultimately trigger a revolution.


Late SC Justice and Corona
chief defense lawyer Serafin Cuevas
Former SC Assciate Justice Serafin Cuevas, lead counsel of Chief Justice Renato Corona at his Senate impeachment trial from January 16 to May 29, 2012, then 82 years old, was panot at the top, wore loose outdated suits and walked with a slow gait and wan smile. Yet women of all ages who religiously attended the more than four months of trial flocked to him and would kiss and hug him and have their photos taken with him---ignoring the younger, more dapper and handsomer lawyers on the defense panel.


That was probably what Cuevas enjoyed most during those months of trial---the ladies’ adulation (one of those ‘crazed’ ladies was my good friend, Sally Zaldivar-Perez). Yet he remained humble and approachable to everyone, patiently explaining the complexities of the issues confronting CJ Corona.


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In a sea of super-stars at that celebrated trial, Serafin Cuevas was definitely the rock star, with the entire nation glued to the TV sets daily all those months, lapping up his fireworks’ display of legal brilliance and erudition. Law students marveled at how he seemed to have legal principles at his fingertips and knew exactly when to detonate them for best effect. So effective was Cuevas that the bumbling House prosecutors had to hire private lawyers to counter him, but ineffectively so that the Aquino administration had to resort to bribery in the end. 


For his legal prowess Cuevas won the supreme accolade of the UP Alumni Association at its grand reunion that Senate trial year. Cuevas, UP College of Law 1952, was chosen "The Most Distinguished Alumnus for Law," besting Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile (UP Law 1953) who was also a nominee. 


Two other brilliant lawyers in that UP Law class of 1953 were Sen. Joker Arroyo, one of three senators who did not vote for Corona’s conviction (the other two being Miriam Defensor Santiago and Ferdinand Marcos Jr.) and Estelito Mendoza who retired from active practice a few years ago.


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Cuevas tangled with Senate Chief Enrile countless times in the four-month trial. Listening to their exchange one could almost imagine the jousts of brave knights in the middle Ages, aboard horses and with long spears---except that in this case they were jousting with their minds and wits.


As brods in Sigma Rho Fraternity the two men were friends. When toward the end of the trial Cuevas disappeared for a couple of days owing to a bad case of vertigo, JPE looked concerned and offered counsel, “Madali yan. ‘Serc’ lang yan.”


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Justice Cuevas, always quick on the draw, would slice would slice a prosecution argument piece by piece in front of the entire nation---super-confident in his own homey way. The only time I saw him a bit unnerved was during the testimony of a hostile witness for the defense, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales. Not because she was anything brilliant, but because she appeared to have liberally bloated the figures on Corona’s dollar deposits (what she presented in power point, with the help of COA deputy Heidi Mendoza, was to include every dollar deposit of Corona over the years as a new account!). 

Cuevas probably didn't think his former SC colleague could resort to such faulty (and rather malicious) gimmickry and was caught unaware; but next day he recovered and it was Morales’ turn to look shaky.


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When the senators came to their decision to convict Corona by a vote of 20-3, Cuevas immediately led the defense panel in a rush to Medical City to console their client. The ousted Chief Justice recalled that moment in his hospital room in a statement he issued after Cuevas passed away. 


Stressing that “Ka Apin,” as Cuevas known to his friends, was “like a father to me” and how he “gave me the strength to fight for the truth,” Corona recalled what Cuevas told him that night of their crushing defeat in the Senate:  “In the Supreme Court in the afterlife, there is only one judge and He knows the truth as to what happened in the (Senate) sham impeachment trial.”


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Continued CJ Corona: “While I am sad that he is no longer with us, joy still reigns in my heart because I know that Justice Cuevas is now in heaven with God.”  In addition, he said that what his chief lawyer had said that night has come to pass, how the truth has surfaced about his sham impeachment.


One might add, how all the bribing of members of Congress with the people’s money had to be resorted to, in order to convict Corona, and how all the shenanigans of the Aquino henchmen ultimately came to public knowledge.


Those months of the Senate trial were epochal for journalists as well as for the Filipino people, and super-lawyer Cuevas has earned his niche in the hearts and minds of the nation.


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Just what’s ‘slam dunk evidence’ as Justice Secretary Leila de Lima termed Ruby Chan Tuason’s recently obtained affidavit linking Senators Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada’s alleged siphoning of PDAF to fake NGOs?’  If Enrile was forced to raise this query in headlines today, most of us non-basketball doctrinaires don’t have to excuse ourselves if we run to the dictionary to understand what it means.


Webster’s says that as a noun ‘slam dunk’ means “something reliable or unfailing evidence” or a “foregone conclusion or certainty.” Used as a verb ‘slam dunk’ means to thrust (the ball) down the basket, or figuratively, to defeat or dismiss decisively. De Lima asserts that Tuason’s affidavit is ‘slam dunk evidence’ that fills the gaps left by whistle-blower BenHur Luy’s statement.


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Unfortunately for De Lima, instead of sounding sophisticated with her basketball term show-off that bagged headlines, she reaped a lot of derision. In this one point I have to agree with Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte:  De Lima talks too much but acts too slow---when she wants to, or has to.

Right now, it's too premature to rule Ruby Tuason’s affidavit as gospel truth when she hasn’t even testified yet and her claims have to be verified. Yet the DOJ Chief is already dishing it out as gospel truth and announcing Tuason as state witness when, as VP Jojo Binay pointed out, such recruitment in criminal cases is subject to court processes. 


As various commentators have noted, this is the problem with the “Three Furies”---Ombudsman Morales, DOJ Chief de Lima and COA Chief Grace Pulido Tan. They are perceived as too eager to please their appointing power in pinning down his political opponents---that they often resort to trial by publicity in doing so, while dragging their feet on characters allied with the administration or being protected by the latter.


The kid-gloves and super-slow handling of alleged rice smuggler David Tan, said to be under the protection of some people close to the administration, is a case in point.


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The “Three Furies” are perceived to be sanitizing the news when it comes to admin allies, such that the list of solons involved in fake NGO scams seems to have been pinned down to the “pre-Noynoy Aquino era” as the Tribune write-up noted (2007-2009). As opposition Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz put it, they seem to refuse to move forward to 2010 up to the present---obviously in order not to destroy the much-ballyhooed “Matuwid na Daan.” In the process of filtering out names of admin allies in Congress, key prosecution officials resort to all kinds of excuses.  


The lack of balance in the treatment of justice is kindling a lot of political unrest and instability which is not healthy. Right now the axe should be made to fall on WHOEVER IS GUILTY---be they opposition senators Enrile, Estrada and Bong Revilla as implicated by BenHur Luy, or current administration officials and allies, especially since reports now coming out say that many fake SAROs are being discovered by the NBI in the P-Noy-era DBM under Secretary Butch Abad. But this is not the case---concentration is still all on the opposition and unfavorable discoveries in this administration are being edited out. 


Selective justice is injurious to the political health of the nation and could spark a REVOLUTION. 


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