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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, April 19, 2018

Human rights in limelight again. US Supreme Court nixes deportation of Pinoy immigrant accused of burglary, as it asserts that “vague provisions” risk “arbitrary enforcement,” in violation of US Constitution. Pinoy lawyers appeal to UN prosecutor to take notice of Duterte's human rights “violations” vs.judiciary and threat to lawyers' safety. 71-year old Aussie nun, 27 years in PH, ordered investigated and detained by President Duterte for “disorderly conduct” at rights rallies.



Two recent episodes involving Filipino personalities illustrate the critical essence of the law---one demonstrating its majesty, as interpreted by the US Supreme Court, and the other protesting what appears to be the deficiency in reverence by the Duterte administration for the supremacy of the law and the Filipino lawyers' appeal to recognize this truism.

The treatment of the law in these two separate cases presents most interesting human contradictions as well as keenly opposing legal angles.

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A Filipino long-timer legal immigrant in the US,  James Garcia Dimaya, was protected by the US Supreme Court from deportation to the Philippines, after he was convicted of two burglaries in California.  The US High Court, through ponente Justice Elena Kagan, had termed Dimaya’s impending deportation after his conviction under the Immigration and Nationality Act as “unconstitutionally vague.” Kagan feared that the ambiguity  of Dimaya’s supposed crime of violence could create confusion in lower courts---and she decided to hold the deportation and four of her colleagues upheld her ponencia.

Thus, rather than give rise to “uncertainty over which crimes may be considered violent, RISKING ARBITRARY ENFORCEMENT IN VIOLATION OF THE US CONSTITUTION" (emphasis this blogger's),  the US lady justice ruled that the Filipino burglar be freed from deportation.  His lawyer, Joshua Rosendranz, ecstatically said that “The (US) Supreme Court delivered a resounding message today. You can’t banish a person from his home and family without clear lines announced up front.”

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Interestingly, US President Donald Trump’s “conservative” appointee to the US Supreme Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined this 5-4 majority ruling that termed the legal definition of violence too vague.  Trump was reported to be disappointed in this ruling as well as in Gorsuch, as he has been pushing for deportation of what he considers dangerous foreign criminals. 

Obviously, in the US, legal moves are not allowed to be undertaken for as long as there are ambiguities in the laws invoked, as lives of people are involved in such moves.  It was THE MAJESTY OF THE LAW AS AFFECTING ORDINARY CITIZENS, RATHER THAN THE EGO OF A PRESIDENT, that was upheld in this instance.

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Across the seas, several Filipino lawyers yesterday filed a motion with the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego Garcia-Sayan, to investigate the Duterte administration’s alleged actions that, in the lawyers’ opinion, undermine the judiciary and threaten the lives of legal practitioners. The lawyer-complainants, led by Integrated Bar of the Philippines’ national president Abdiel Dan Fajardo, included former opposition Rep. Neri Colmenares, Ateneo Prof. Tony La Viña,  Arpee Santiago and Ryan Jay Roset. 

Their 16-page report complained that the Duterte administration’s “infringing” on judicial independence “jeopardizes the very essence of democracy in the Philippines.” The complainant-lawyers noted particularly the President's pronouncements relating to the immediate ouster of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and against the legal profession that, the lawyers argued, is only performing its duties under the Code of Professional Responsibility.

Mr. Duterte has publicly goaded the House of Representatives to get on with the impeachment of the CJ so that the Senate trial could commence. The House Committee on Justice voted affirmatively on the impeachment complaint, but the entire House still has to vote on it when session resumes next month. . 
  

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Political pundits like former diplomat Ado Paglinawan assert that while only 90 votes are needed for the House to impeach CJ Sereno, the likelihood is that there would be over 200 votes against her in that chamber---given the PDP-Laban super-majority there. But it is in the Senate where the CJ would face trial that the math becomes more complicated. 

As Paglinawan pointed out in our dzRH public affairs program last Sunday, of the 23 senators, 15 votes are needed to convict Sereno. Ado also acknowledged that impeachment being a political process, at the end of the day factors other than her guilt or innocence would come in---e.g., coercion,  vote-buying and party loyalty would figure in the Senate, as in the trial of the late much-loved and much-lamented Chief Justice Renato Corona. 

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If the ouster move vs. Sereno gets only 14 votes, or if only six senators would vote to convict her or this number would absent from the trial, feigning illness, then Sereno walks away a free CJ. 

Doubtless it's the uncertainty of the Senate vote that has prompted those against Sereno in the High Court to push the quo warranto resolution filed by Solicitor-General Jose Calida against her---as a means to invalidate her appointment by former President Aquino. As the name implies, this resolution would allow the 13 other SC justices to vote on Sereno's qualifications from the very start---"ab initio"---thus ignoring the vetting done by the Judicial and Bar Council prior to her appointment. If majority of the SC justices vote against her, then she is ousted. 

This quo warranto vote, however, is held as unconstitutional by some legal luminaries who maintain that the only way to remove a SC justice is through IMPEACHMENT, as the Constitution provides. Fear was also expressed by SC Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa that the quo warranto petition could weaken the SC as it could be used against any justice. EXPECT MORE LEGAL UPROARS IF THE QUO WARRANTO PROSPECTS IN THE SC 

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Interestingly, the deportation of Filipino immigrant James Dimaya was aborted by a US Supreme Court justice's argument that this move was vague. Here in PH, however, an incident that staunch advocates of justice protested as an infraction was the President’s recent admission that he had ordered immigration authorities to pick up, investigate and detain Australian nun Patricia Fox for “disorderly conduct.” Mr. Dutertet was publicly quoted as assuming full responsibility for his order.

Sr. Patricia Fox of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, 71, has been in the Philippines for 27 years now and though her visa is valid until Sept. 9, she incurred the ire of Mr. Duterte after she participated in various human rights rallies. He said that the nun exhibited “disorderly conduct” and insulted this country, which he won't tolerate. Sr. Patricia asserted, however, she just joined rallies advocating human rights and protecting the farmers.  

These are familiar refrains from a past regime, but they are focusing WORRIED ATTENTION ON MR. DUTERTE'S BRAND OF JUSTICE.   

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