envelopmental journalism

Reverse CJ ruling, NP bets ask SC

Reverse CJ ruling, NP bets ask SC
By Dona Pazzibugan
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Six senatorial candidates of the Nacionalista Party (NP) Monday asked the Supreme Court to reverse its “absurd” conclusion that the constitutional ban on presidential appointments during an election period did not apply to the judiciary.

The six NP candidates—lawyers Adel Tamano and Gwen Pimentel, former Cavite Rep. Gilbert Remulla, party-list representatives Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza, and former Labor Undersecretary Susan Ople—filed a motion for intervention and reconsideration of the high court’s 9-1 decision that would allow President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to appoint a new Chief Justice a few weeks before she steps down from office.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno will retire on May 17, which falls within the election period that began two months before election day and will end with the outgoing president’s term on June 30.

Section 15, Article VII, of the Constitution says appointments are prohibited during the election period save for “temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety.”

A related provision, Section 4, gives the president 90 days to fill vacancies in the Supreme Court.

According to the candidates, the Supreme Court “failed to consider the clear intent of the framers of the Constitution and instead adopted a narrow interpretation of the two provisions resulting in an apparently absurd conclusion.”

“Hence, it is not surprising that a lot of people, especially from the legal profession, consider the decision to have been tailor-fitted to suit the interests of incumbent President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is widely suspected of plotting to extend her term or at the very least to perpetuate herself in power,” they said.

Defies common sense

They said that the high court erred in saying that the Constitutional ban does not apply to the Supreme Court because Article VII was titled “Executive Department.”

This interpretation, they said, was “not only too restrictive but defies the basic tenets of common sense.”

Aside from being “overly simplistic,” the interpretation “undermines the foundation of separation of powers,” they said.

They said it was “obvious” that the provision against “midnight” appointments was placed under Article VII “not to limit its coverage to the executive branch but to “curb the president’s immense power to appoint not only members of the executive department but also the judiciary, so it would not be abused to serve political or partisan interests.”

“This is the reason why midnight appointments are not allowed. This provision was clearly meant to check the power of the president. To hold that the provision does not cover the judiciary effectively allows the incumbent president to undermine the independence of the judiciary at such a critical period,” the NP senatorial candidates said.

They also argued that the constitutional provision giving the President 90 days to appoint members of the Supreme Court meant that the high court could survive as an institution without a permanent chief justice for a given period.

“There is no question and it is a verifiable fact that the functions of the Supreme Court which is a collegial body will not be affected by the absence of a permanent chief justice. If the Constitution recognizes the possibility of having an acting president, intervenor(s) finds no reason why there cannot be an acting chief justice,” they said.

Protect from power lust

Lastly, they reminded the Supreme Court to “protect the people from the incumbent president’s lust for power and other subsequent presidents who will have the same intention.”

In a separate statement Ople, youngest daughter of former Sen. Blas Ople, said the Supreme Court in effect amended the Constitution.

Meanwhile, the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) will start the selection process for another associate justice to fill the seat of the magistrate who will replace Puno.

“We have not yet started the (selection) process but given the Supreme Court decision, that process could start now,” acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra told reporters Monday.

“There’s no vacancy at the moment but we can start the nomination process,” he added.

He said this would be included on the agenda when the eight-man JBC meets on April 5.

Agra said they would also resume their discussion on the shortlist of nominees for Chief Justice.

He said they would decide whether they would still interview the candidates and how they would tackle the complaints filed against certain candidates.

He said the JBC would also ask Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio-Morales to “clarify whether they are still willing to be nominated by the JBC.” The two earlier said they would accept the nomination on the condition that it would be the next president who would make the final choice.

Institutionalized corruption next president’s big challenge

Institutionalized corruption next president’s big challenge
By Philip Tubeza, DJ Yap
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Old habits die hard.

The incoming President will face a tremendous challenge in stamping out corruption with corrupt practices having been institutionalized in the Philippines, an official of Transparency International (TI) said Tuesday.

Speaking before the Second Integrity and Human Rights Forum in Makati City, Samantha Grant, program coordinator for TI-Southeast Asia, also warned that “envelopmental journalism,” or payoffs, had become “prevalent in the run-up to elections.”

“Any new government has a tremendous challenge to win back the respect of the people. To do this, they must tackle the institutionalization of practices currently accepted that are, in a word, corrupt,” Grant said.

The forum was organized by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in partnership with Bisyon 2020, TI-Philippines, Civil Service Commission and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Three presidential candidates—Senators Benigno Aquino III and Jamby Madrigal and Olongapo Councilor JC de los Reyes—attended the forum and committed themselves to fight corruption and uphold human rights.

Extremely corrupt officials

“The main issue in this election is human rights and corruption,” said Loida Nicolas Lewis, chair of Bisyon 2020.

“At least the three candidates who came here today can look anyone in the eye and say they will fight for human rights. As to those who did not come, I will not say anything,” she said.

Grant said that 2009 TI Global Corruption Barometer surveyed Filipinos and the reply was that they “strongly believe” that corruption affected Filipino public officials and civil servants.

“The Barometer asked 1,000 people in the Philippines to grade civil servants and the average score was 4 out of 5, with 5 being extremely corrupt. Seventy-seven percent said government actions to counter corruption were ineffectual,” Grant said.

She said TI also conducted a National Integrity Study of the Philippines in 2006 but, four years later, the recommendations it made remained relevant.

“In any country with institutionalized corruption, integrity pillars (the judiciary, the executive, the police, and the press) themselves are continually compromised,” Grant said.

“According to the report, collusion, state capture, and leadership incapable of crushing vested interests are all areas that still need to be addressed,” she said.

“There should be no nepotism in appointments and there should be a clear will to prosecute those found guilty of corruption including the powerful. Too often it is the small fry targeted for obvious reasons,” Grant added.

Follow through needed

“To hear the candidates this morning, it would appear that they understand this message. But words and commitments are only a first step. Whoever is elected President will have to follow through. They will have to act on their words,” she said.

Referring to journalists, Grant said that the media survived on advertising.

“Criticizing the hand that feeds requires courage and conviction, particularly when jobs and livelihoods are at stake. No one expects this to be easy, particularly in a system that has tried for decades to coopt journalists, often successfully,” she said.
However, Grant also noted that 31 of the 57 people massacred in Maguindanao in November were press people and that this is “a horrifying example of what it means to support the ideals of democracy.”

European Union Ambassador Alistair Macdonald told the forum that the massacre “tarnished” the Philippines’ reputation abroad and that this could be repaired only if the perpetrators were punished.

Don’t trivialize human rights

CHR Chair Leila de Lima reminded the presidential candidates about the importance of human rights issues in the election and challenged them not to trivialize human rights with empty rhetoric.

CHR Commissioner Jose Manuel S. Mamuag said that extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances continued despite a declaration from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo adhering to the recommendations of a UN special rapporteur.

He said that the CHR had recorded 777 cases of extrajudicial killings since 2001. Last year, there were 47 political killings reported while there were 251 cases of enforced disappearances.

P1.92B lost to corruption

The Philippines loses P1.92 billion to corruption a year, said UNDP country director Renaud Meyer. “Over a 20-year period, that’s close to P2 trillion.”

“In 2000, the cost of corruption was at 10 percent of the (gross national product). A more recent estimate put it at close to 20 percent of the national budget,” Meyer said.

“As a comparison, 16 percent goes to education and 4 percent goes to health. With this 20-percent figure in mind, let’s think how many schools, hospitals, barangay clinics could have been built, how many kilometers of road could have been built,” he said.