POSTSCRIPT / May 18, 2003 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Ping’s inhibition bid invites judicial chaos

WHAT WAVE?: Checking records of the Philippine National Police yesterday, we confirmed our impression that there has not been any “wave of kidnapping” lately — contrary to the alarm raised by a group identified with a ranking police officer-turned-politician.

If there is any reason to be alarmed about kidnapping trends, it is the likelihood that some politicians with experience along that line may resort again to kidnapping for ransom to raise campaign funds for the 2004 election.

Considering the soaring cost of elections, money contributed by the illicit drugs trade may not be enough for some persons aiming for a national office. Hence the likelihood of kidnapping for ransom becoming an additional source of campaign funds.

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FEWER KIDNAPPINGS: Statistics obtained from Director General Hermogenes E. Ebdane Jr., PNP chief, showed that there was actually a 3-percent drop in kidnappings for ransom during the Jan. 1 – May 15 period this year compared to the same period last year.

Against the same period the other year (2001), the decline in the number of kidnap for ransom cases was even lower by 22 percent.

Of the 29 cases reported this year, 23 were in Luzon, five in Mindanao, and one was in the Visayas. Eleven cases were solved by the police while 25 suspects were arrested and prosecuted. Seven of 42 kidnap victims were rescued, 28 released, two escaped, and one was killed.

Teresita Ang-See of the Citizens’ Action Against Crime said yesterday that negotiations and rescue attempts could go awry, sometimes resulting in the killing of some kidnap victims, when there is premature disclosure of sensitive details.

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JUDICIAL CHAOS: At the Supreme Court, there would be judicial chaos if five of the 15 justices would inhibit themselves en masse from hearing a petition of Sen. Panfilo Lacson just because they were appointed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The senator insults the public with his line that the justices — Renato Corona, Ma. Alicia Austria Martinez, Conchita Morales, Adolfo Azcuna, and Romeo Callejo Sr. — cannot and will not be fair to him solely on the basis of who appointed them.

Lacson has to submit empirical basis for his unusual theory that a magistrate cannot be just and upright because he was appointed by President Arroyo, otherwise his motion will have to be dismissed outright.

If we pursue the Lacson theory to its absurd ramifications, we have to conclude that other justices cannot be fair either (they could be pro-Lacson) because they were appointed by former President Erap Estrada.

We can go on tracing the presidents who named the rest of the justices, until we depopulate the high court with a rash of inhibitions and disable it.

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CONTINUING RETAINER: But we have a different situation when a motion to inhibit a justice is based on the fact that he used to do some lawyering for a company that now has a case brought before the Supreme Court.

There have been such situations. In one big case, sad to say, the justice did not have the delicadeza to inhibit himself. On the contrary, he made a strained explanation that he was not the lawyer of the company itself but of one of the major partners in the business.

The same justice was the presidential legal counsel when the papers of the company were processed and approved by the Office of the President. But he toughed it out and insisted on casting a vote on the case.

We can’t blame some people for thinking that the justice must have been paid handsomely to remain that loyal to the company he once helped — at the expense of the Supreme Court’s integrity.

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CRACK THE WHIP: With due respect, we suggest that Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. address this problem of having a justice influence the outcome of a case involving a former client or a business associate of a former client.

A lawyer appointed to the high court casts aside, suddenly and forever, all past professional relations. Imagine the stinking anomaly of a judge, more so a justice, continuing to serve the interests of actual and potential litigants.

This is not a gray moral area. It is a black-and-white, a good-or-evil ethical question.

Davide is not just “one of the boys.” He is the chief justice. Whether or not it says so in his job description, he must exercise firm control and supervision over the conduct of all justices and personnel of the high court.

It is not enough that Chief Justice Davide is clean. The entire Davide Court must be, too. And the entire court must not only be clean, but smell, feel and look it.

We’re sure Davide has tried talking to some of the justices about this problem. He must persist. He must assert his moral ascendancy over the entire bench.

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INCONSISTENT RULINGS: We hope the Chief Justice will clear up before (if ever) he decides to run for president in 2004 the cases arising from similar circumstances that had been decided by the tribunal in two contrasting ways.

If the court does not review and correct the inconsistencies, the suspicion will linger that there were times when decisions depended not on the law and the facts but on who followed up the cases.

Some disputes are such that they can be decided either way, with the rulings neatly justified within the letter of the law. Pero naman, the court should at least be consistent, even when it is incorrect or influenced by extralegal considerations.

Some justices seem to think that the inconsistencies would not be noticed, or that the losing party would have no recourse to correct the injustice anyway. It’s not so, your honor.

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U.S. AS BROKER: Sen. Nene Pimentel pressed yesterday at the Sulo hotel kapihan his suggestion that the United States be asked to broker peace negotiations between the government and the rampaging Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The senator from Mindanao cited instances when the US stepped into major conflicts and brokered peace settlements that have been holding to this day. He mentioned the conflicts between India and Pakistan, and Egypt and Israel, among other disputes.

The moment we abandon all attempts to talk peace and decide to pick up the gun, he said, the prospects for peace grow dimmer.

“Instead of bringing American troops into trouble areas in Mindanao,” Pimentel said, “let’s bring in their diplomats and give peace a chance.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 18, 2003)

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