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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.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

After Justice De Castro’s open tiff with CJ Sereno, now it’s Sol-Gen Jardeleza’s turn to take issue with CJ. Prosecutors' plea to amend information vs. senators will make latter’s lawyers happy, as it makes them realize that cases are not that tight---more likely a rush-job. In hindsight, Ruby Tuason should not have qualified as state witness, as she was among the most guilty.



The open conflict between Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and government’s chief lawyer, Solicitor-General Francis Jardeleza, is very sad for us Filipinos---erupting as it does in the wake of the people's grim demoralization over the mind-boggling PDAF scams. But at the same time this conflict is an event one could almost predict, as we see the  degeneration of the SC now enmeshed in too much politics.  I mourn very much the progressive deterioration of this once venerable institution, and we can only hope that its July 1 decision to rule on the unconstitutionality of DAP can help redeem the High Court somewhat.

The situation involving Sol-Gen Jardeleza and the SC is unprecedented, and also very awkward. In a 10-page letter to the SC, he has asked the Court itself to inhibit its chief magistrate from participating, as ex-officio chair of the Judicial and Bar Council, in the coming JBC voting on the top three nominees to the SC vacancy left by retiring Justice Roberto Abad. Jardeleza is among 13 candidates for this vacancy.

In his letter the Sol-Gen informed the high magistrates that he only learned of Sereno’s intention to grill and oppose him in the JBC after one of its members, Aurora Lagman, called him up to say that Sereno had informed the JBC that she will raise with the Sol-Gen the issue of his alleged questionable integrity at its meeting on June 30.  Jardeleza wrote the SC that Sereno had not bothered to inform him about this integrity issue, so that the June 30 meeting would just be a one-sided affair that would deprive him of his right to due process. 

The Sol-Gen asked the SC to order the resetting of the JBC meeting not earlier than July  10---to give him time to prepare for his defense against CJ.

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Obviously Sereno is pushing the Palace’s favorite candidate, COA Chief Grace Pulido Tan, and doing everything to ensure her appointment.  Media have noted that friction between Sereno and Jardeleza dates from their days as UP College of Law professors. Recall that last week Sereno told the SC magistrates that she has acceded to the "request" of several colleagues that the traditional nomination by SC magistrates for the vacant SC post be dispensed with. To which Justice Teresita de Castro and other justices loudly objected. Now this conflict with Jardeleza.

Sereno is obviously trying to please President Aquino who went into deep selection to propel her, the most junior magistrate at the time, to the Court’s helm. But she appears to be carrying things too far and it was frightfully unfair to Jardeleza to hear of his coming inquisition from another source, without the opportunity to arm himself for his defense.

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I surmise that P-Noy is quite displeased with the Sol-Gen, for in the first SC hearing on the DAP issue, the magistrates got him to admit that the DAP is unconstitutional.  Of course most legal luminaries and various legal organizations are in solid agreement on its unconstitutionality, but in P-Noy's mind, doubtless, the government’s chief lawyer CANNOT ADMIT that in public.

Jardeleza has every right to raise his lament to the High Court, even though it’s an awkward situation for the SC whose move will be closely watched on this issue, and for himself. He'd conceivably have a hard time winning a case in the SC from hereon---if he'll be allowed to stay on in his job. But the Sol-Gen seems to have gone for broke this time, realizing that his only recourse is to bring his case to the people.

Sereno, however, is the bigger loser here, as this dispute, the second in two weeks involving her, raises anew, as media have already done, the question of her psychological fitness for the top job. This rakes up again talk about her having flunked the psychological and psychiatric tests administered on SC candidates. 

But all this mess in the Court merely reflects what’s happening to the country today---no rhyme nor rhythm, it seems, just pure whim.

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For instance, prosecutors in the Office of the Ombudsman have asked the Sandiganbayan First Division to be allowed to amend information on the plunder charges the Ombudsman has filed against Sen. Bong Revilla; similar amendments are expected to be filed on the cases vs. Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile. 

To reduce this issue to the plainest terms, what the Ombudsman’s office had earlier submitted was predicated on its belief that Janet Napoles is the central figure in the multi-billion pork barrel scamThe realization has lately dawned on that office, however, that if this argument were to be carried through, it would create a very weak case for the prosecution, inasmuch as Napoles is a private individual and cannot be subjected to the charge of plunder. 

Thus, the amendment has to focus on accused senators---and rightly so. I maintain that all those solons involved in PDAF scams are more guilty than their tempters. But equally guilty are the Palace officials who released the SAROs to fake NGOs---they cannot plead ignorance of the scheme.

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It's this realization perhaps that there must be many such loopholes in what purports to be a tight case against Napoles vis-à-vis the politicians, that makes lawyers of the three accused senators appear quite confident that their clients won’t end up in jail or stay there too long. Already, today Bong Revilla's lawyer was quick to demand the lifting of the charge against him, inasmuch as prosecution's plea for amendment still had to be approved by the Sandiganbayan. 

It does look like government prosecutors were too in a hurry to arraign the big fish, and in the process filed an amateurish case.


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But reviewing at past news accounts of the Napoles scandal, I note that Ruby Chan Tuason was able to swing state witness status so easy, even though she appears to be among the most guilty of the PDAF “agents” and that the amount of money she turned over to the government as retribution is such a pittance, compared to the gargantuan amounts she was alleged to have raked in. 

No country bumpkin like Napoles of Basilan, but a suave, sophisticated woman used to dealing in high society and with big-time politicos through three administrations, Tuason came across in the Senate hearing and in news reports as so cold-blooded in her hard bargainings with the senators' SAROs and ruthless in using her political connections ---but with so little pity for the country she was depriving of precious resources.

No wonder Janet Napoles had opined, with undisguised envy perhaps, that Tuason shouldn’t be admitted as state witness. 

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Tidbits:

@ SC Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has done a yeoman’s job in shattering traditional myths about China in relation to the Philippines, that many acknowledge the service he did for country. But interestingly, as fate would have it, his son recently married a Chinese girl whom he met in Silicon Valley, California, where they both work. Sources say the wedding ceremony took place in Beijing. The joke in local circles: did Justice Carpio have a rough time getting a visa for China?

@ Despite his lawsuit filed against former MRT general manager Al Vitangcol, former Czech Ambassador to Manila Rychtar is back in Prague. It would seem that  he just wanted to make enough noise and trouble, so that his government won’t blame him for botching the bagging of the contract for the additional MRT trains---a case of ginto na, naging bato pa.

@ Speaking of those trains, the talk among Czech sources is that second-hand trains used in that country are just spruced up and passed for new to unsuspecting clients here. Good that the MRT contract was awarded to China’s Dalian Corporation which offered brand-new trains at much-lower costs. Critics of Vitangcol, however, are not willing to concede this gain for PH.

@ I’m asked how I feel about reports that the Ombudsman will commence investigation of Vitangcol and a supposed “partner,” Cris de Vera. I think this is good because it would give Vitangcol a chance to bring out everything and clear his name. Like his colleagues in the IT profession I continue to believe Al is a good and idealistic man, though much-maligned.  But we know why that happened.

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