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, April 12, 2016

Basilan carnage raises specter of ISIS in our shores, needing heightened vigilance. Kit Tatad, through lawyer Manuelito Luna, files a suntok sa bwan new MR vs. Poe after SC issues ‘minute resolution’ upholding her candidacy and no more MRs to be entertained. Did P-Noy and Poe really meet in Bahay Pangarap days before SC’s final resolution, signaling junking of Mar? SC’s poor handling of Poe’s case contributes to lowering of her ratings.

The terrible tragedy of Mamasapano  is still very much in our collective memory as a nation, but along comes the tragic 10-hour encounter of AFP soldiers reportedly with the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan--- that resulted in the slaying of 18 army soldiers and wounding of scores others. Fighting in that far-flung area is said to continue, with 13 Abu Sayyaf men killed in a fresh encounter.

But aside from the emotional wounds wrought especially on bereaved families of the dead and wounded in thus Basilan tragedy, complicating the picture is the still-unconfirmed report from a Singapore think-tank that the Basilan attacks on our troops were carried out by the ISIS---the dreaded Muslim force that has wreaked havoc in various countries abroad. This is the first time that reference to the presence of this violence-given group has been made in our Southern borders.

What makes it tougher for our nation and people is that as in the Kidapawan massive protest, it takes some time to hear from our President. the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, which is most unsettling. If the attacks in Basilan were ISIS-related, there is enormous need to be vigilant---above all, we need prayers. Our deepest condolences to the families of all those Army soldiers slain or wounded in those condemnable encounters.


One has to hand it to former Sen. Francisco  Tatad for sheer obstinacy, along with his lawyer, Manuelito Luna. Last April 9, the Supreme Court, on a working vacation in Baguio City, issued a “minute resolution” upholding its March 8 decision ordering Comelec to honor Grace Poe’s certificate of candidacy. The SC also waste-basketed the five motions for reconsideration (MRs) from Comelec and four private respondents, including Tatad, and stressed that no further pleadings or motions would be entertained by the Court on this issue.

Yesterday, April 11, however, Kit Tatad, through his lawyer, Manny Luna, filed a second MR at the SC, that stressed that while he recognized the SC’s injunction against further pleadings or motions,  he feels it’s “absolutely necessary” to file another MR  “in light of the unconscionable trespass and transgression of the Constitution and the basic standards of decency and fairness which the Majority committed,  both procedurally and substantively in disposing of the motions for reconsideration.”


Tatad justified his new MR move by citing Sec. 3, Rule 15 of the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court, which goes: “… There is reconsideration ‘in the higher interest of justice’ when the assailed decision is not only legally erroneous, but is likewise patently unjust and potentially capable of causing unwarranted and irremediable injury or damage to the parties.”  One major injury one could cite was the resort of the Court, at the recommendation of original ponente Justice Jose Perez, to solve a major political quandary by means of a “minute resolution,” instead of a full-blown opinion.

Few cases in the Court have received as much attention---and criticism---from leading legal luminaries, august organizations such as the 56,000-strong Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Philippine Bar Association that dates from 1891, a multitude of opinion writers and Filipinos from all walks of life.  Yet the SC decision was, to say the least, left hanging without a majority vote---an unfinished business affecting the life of the nation in this heated political season.


Opining that the SC majority’s move has created an unprecedented scandal against justice, Tatad and Luna cited how Justice Arturo Brion was moved to complain in his dissenting opinion that the Court has committed “a grave abuse of discretion, violated the Rule of Law, and inflicted upon the constitutional and political system an invalid doctrine that cannot morally or legally bind anyone in conscience, but which seeks to bind the May 9, 2016 electoral process.”

Brion, a bar topnotcher, opined that “ No less than the survival of our republican and democratic state is at stake.” (emphasis BOC's).


For Tatad and Luna, filing a new MR despite the Court’s firm stand against new MRs is a suntok sa bwan---given that ten votes are needed even just to admit the new MR---which is impossible under the present alignments. But the MRs filed recently by Tatad and other respondents in the past two months---namely, the Comelec through –Commissioner Arthur Lim, lawyers Amado Valdez and Estrella Elamparo and Prof.  Antonio Contreras of De La Salle U---become more dramatic in view of Tatad’s recent allegation in media about a “secret” meeting in Bahay Pangarap between President Aquino and Grace Poe prior to the April 09 minute resolution of the SC.

Citing “unimpeachable sources” within the Palace, Tatad claimed that in return for the SC’s assurance that she would be qualified to run in the May 9 elections, Poe was supposed to guarantee “protection” for the outgoing Chief Executive against lawsuits for acts committed during his term. Grace Poe has vigorously denied Tatad’s allegation, and it’s difficult to confirm the truth, but certainly the passionate defense by some magistrates of her eligibility to run has made Tatad’s allegation easier to believe.

Rumors about a  Palace deal, plus the much-criticized partiality of some magistrates and revelations about Poe’s American family have contributed to the downward spiral of her survey ratings---from a peak of 35% last month, the latest several surveys show her in an 11 digit decline, even as Rodrigo Duterte benefitted from her fall and Jejomar Binay and Mar Roxas also steadily inched upward.


SC spokesperson Theodore Te resented the Inquirer story that the SC  is “in turmoil,” but the reality is that the average person perceives it as truly in turmoil----owing to the political play that began when no less than the Chief Justice accused Comelec of playing politics in cancelling Poe’s COC. Then she recently followed this up with a missive toward “those who want to ‘game’ judicial processes for political ends.” On the other hand, reading through anti-Poe opinions one sees seething sentiments. 

When the SC went on a working vacation in Baguio City, many citizens hoped and prayed it would decide in a more forthright and decisive way Poe’s eligibility,  based on her citizenship and residency. They waited to see how the MRs from Comelec and the private respondents would be handled by the SC.


Nothing, however, but confusion and bitter wranglings reigned.  The SC shot down Comelec’s  rejection of Poe’s certificate of candidacy and DQ of her. This was done, however, not with the usual full decision of the  majority, but only a “minute resolution”---a one-liner allowing Poe to run, on the argument that writing a full decision would have delayed the SC decision’s promulgation by one to two weeks.

Actually the minute resolution may have been just a lame excuse so that each of the seven justices in the “majority” needn’t explain what’s widely believed as un-explainable---allowing Poe to run despite very clear prohibitions in the Constitution: her failure as a foundling to establish her being natural-born and her lack of the ten-year residency requirement.


Many things left unresolved by the SC “minute resolution” caused enormous confusion among citizens.  For one thing, the vote didn’t move from the time the SC issued the order for Comelec to uphold her COC last March 8.  The Baguio resolution remained 7-5 in favor of citizenship for Poe with three magistrates opting not to take up this issue, while on residency, it was 7-6 in favor of Poe, with two justices not taking any position. Interestingly the three abstaining magistrates in the first issue were the ponente of the majority bloc, Justice Jose Perez; the ponente of the original majority opinion (which turned out later to be the dissenting opinion), Justice Mariano del Castillo, and new justice Benjamin Caguioa.  Why Justice Del Castillo didn’t speak out when he joined the dissenters is a puzzlement to many court observers.


Senior Associate Justice Carpio was right in his second assessment: with a 7-5-3 and a 7-6-2 vote in Baguio, THERE WAS NO MAJORITY VOTE AGAIN.  All five justices opposing Poe’s run----namely,  Justices Carpio, Arturo Brion and Teresita De Castro, who never wavered from their position since their vote in the Senate Electoral Tribunal, as well as Justices Bienvenido Reyes and Estela Bernabe--- defended their respective positions with clear and vigorous arguments. The most bristling perhaps was Justice Brion, who was consulting with his doctors when the March 08 voting on the Poe issue was suddenly sneaked in---against an earlier agreement to have it next day, when Brion reported back to work.

By contrast, the 7 in the “majority” had no opinion except for Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, who spent much of her piece castigating the dissenters than defending her stand. Sereno didn’t want the Court to go beyond the minute resolution and  a good reason could be that  she preferred Poe to be judged by vox populi. She also approved the position of Justice Perez that any complaint against Poe---in the event she wins the presidency---could be lodged as a quo warranto complaint by oppositionists before the SC, this time sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).  

Such a post-election move, however, could be even more futile, given that nine magistrates are already on the side of Poe, vs. five or six against her.

The SC is truly in turmoil, Teddy Te’s protest notwithstanding, and never has the public seen such confusion and dissention among the magistrates.  It’s a time for grieving, just like the Basilan carnage.

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