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By J. Art D. Brion (ret.)

J. Art D. Brion

A couple of columns ago, I wrote about impeachment, at that time a gleam in the eye of petitioner Atty. Larry Gadon. Now, the proceeding is a reality upon us, the second time an impeachment would take place against a chief justice within five years.

The chief justice has been all over the media in an apparent multi-media blitz. I saw her twice on TV last week and the news media are writing about her. (That an active campaign is underway is obvious from the similarly written articles in several newspapers.) “Legal experts” openly theorize in their columns that the impeachment complaint should be dismissed.

Gadon is not to be left behind; off and on, he has also been visible, mostly in the print media. But he apparently does not have the organized media support group that the chief justice enjoys; he acts as his own spokesman, unlike the chief justice who can be heard through several spokespersons.

The media war heats up this week with “live” action now taking place at the House of Representatives. Interestingly, a media man – Jomar Canlas of the Manila Times – has taken the lead role in the opening action after Gadon testified that he based his allegations on the “insider” articles of Canlas.

Canlas, in turn, had cited “sources from within the court” but has refused to name these sources, based on Rep. Act No. 53, the law that shields an accredited newspaper reporter from being compelled to reveal the source of news accounts whose underlying information had been related in confidence to the reporter. The shield though is not absolute; a court or a House or a committee of Congress can compel disclosure if so demanded by the interest of the state.

Whether the House will reach the point of requiring Canlas to reveal his source or sources may become academic, now that the justices and officials of the court themselves have been called and have promised to appear at the House, unless prevented by the court from appearing or from disclosing details relevant to Gadon’s allegations.

Meanwhile, an advocacy group – the Filipino Alliance for Transparency and Empowerment (FATE) – has opened another “front” for action within the Court through the filing of an ethics complaint against Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro for leaking internal documents that Gadon used in his complaint.

Given the thrust of the FATE complaint, its obvious objective is to prevent the disclosure of court information and documents that Justice De Castro is expected to disclose or produce before the House. It is the action that the Sereno camp itself does not want to frontally bring before the court.

One thing sure that even the initial court action on the FATE complaint will show, is the lay of the land within the court itself – where lie the justices’ sympathies and sentiments; even the silence of the court on the complaint will speak loudly and eloquently. The complaint itself should become academic once the court decides to allow its justices to appear before the House and to produce material information and documents relevant to the present impeachment proceedings.

As the Corona impeachment did, the present action against the chief justice will carry repercussions beyond mere removal from office or acquittal. Its repercussions will be far and wide, some of them unforeseen or unintended.

People will remember that soon after the Corona impeachment, the court unanimously decided against the constitutionality of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the lump-sum discretionary fund granted to each member of Congress to be spent on priority government development projects.

The loss of some P10-billion PDAF funds and of around R900 million in Malampaya gas field royalties provoked public outrage, the demand for the abolition of the PDAF, and eventually the court petitions that led to the ruling on the PDAF’s unconstitutionality.

Among the first lawmakers charged for the PDAF scam were Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, and Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla, whose votes for impeachment had turned the tide against Chief justice Corona. Karmic effects, some said of the PDAF fate of the three. Their cases though remain pending.

After he was implicated in the PDAF scam, Senator Jinggoy Estrada revealed in a privilege speech that 20 senators had each received at least R50 million in additional lump sum allocations after the conviction of Chief justice Corona, thereby implying a cause and effect between the additional allocations and the Corona conviction.

Then Secretary Butch Abad responded to the Estrada allegation by clarifying that the additional disbursements to the senators were not bribes but funds to “help accelerate economic expansion” under the government’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). Through this explanation, the government identified the DAP for the first time to the public.

The court also eventually ruled that the DAP was unconstitutional. So far, no one can claim that the Corona impeachment wrought karmic effects, via the DAP, in the way that the PDAF did. But the process of retribution appears to have begun with the investigative initiatives now being taken by the Department of Justice.

To be sure, the unconstitutionality of the DAP is clear from the court’s final decision. The court’s supporting factual findings have also been clear: funds allotted for the executive department have been transferred and spent by authority of the president and his budget secretary to projects outside the executive department. Any recent Bar examinee will say without hesitation that these facts constitute violation of our criminal laws.

Will the karmic effects of the Supreme Court developments of five years ago (where the present chief justice was an active side participant in favor of impeachment) still assert themselves and be felt in the present impeachment proceedings?

The author can be reached at jadb.legalfront.mb@gmail.com

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