POSTSCRIPT / October 30, 2003 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Davide must defend independence of SC

CIRCUS: For your mental exercise today, imagine the Chief Justice standing before the Senate, being grilled for final judgment by the likes of Ramon Revilla, Tessie Oreta, Robert Jaworski, Gringo Honasan, Loi Estrada, Ping Lacson, Noli de Castro, Sonny Osmena and the rest of the circus.

We hope you don’t get a headache.

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BAD PRECEDENT: There is a sly line that goes this way: If Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. is really innocent, he should agree to face an impeachment trial so he could prove his innocence. (He is not biting the line.)

If you were falsely accused of murder and the prosecutor filed the charges in court without conducting a preliminary investigation — with the excuse that if you were innocent anyway you could prove your innocence during the trial — would you agree?

That is the predicament of the Chief Justice, who is being derided for objecting to being railroaded to an impeachment trial in the Senate without a House committee hearing first finding probable cause.

If the Chief Justice agreed to this violation of his rights and proper procedure, and if he surrendered the independence of the Supreme Court to a lynching posse posing as lawmakers, he would be relinquishing a right guaranteed by the Constitution and setting a dangerous precedent.

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NO NEPOTISM: As in the Jose Pidal case, where the opposition’s demolition crew turned to First Gentleman Mike Arroyo since they could not pin any scandal to President Arroyo, the anti-Davide camp is now trying to demolish the Chief Justice by starting a wrecking job on his son working in the high court.

Joseph Bryan Hilary, 37, is co-chairman of the SC bid and award committee that handled some court purchases being questioned.

Playing on the widespread misimpression that the law on nepotism totally forbids the appointment by officials of their close relatives, the demolition team is accusing Davide in the media with nepotism.

There is no attempt to clarify that the law actually allows the appointment of close relatives to positions that are considered strictly confidential or as a member of the official’s personal staff whose terms are coterminous with his.

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INITIATE: Then, there is the big debate over the meaning of “initiate” as used in Article XI, Section 3 (5) of the charter that says: “No impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year.”

An earlier impeachment complaint was filed against Davide in the House last June, or just four months ago, but it failed to move on to the plenary body and then on to the Senate for the trial.

Davide’s defenders said the current impeachment attempt should not be allowed because it comes within one year of the initiation of the first. His tormentors contended, however, that the first case was never initiated.

Former Sen. Raul S. Roco explained the meaning of “initiate,” very clearly we think, in his recent radio program on DZBB. But our report on that got snipped off from our column last Tuesday.

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FISCAL AUTONOMY: But reader Mario E Valderrama of said that we may be missing the point in concentrating on the interpretation of the word “initiated.” He said this is only a preliminary issue.

He added: “The present situation resulted from lack of communication between the parties to the controversy. What is happening now is exacerbating the problem.

“There is no issue as to the congressmen-proponents’ position that money specially appropriated for certain purposes should be spent for those purposes. Hence, Congress has oversight powers to see to it that the purposes of a special appropriations law were upheld.

“The issue is how PD 1949 (creating the Judiciary Development Fund, now the subject of the controversy — fpj) should be classified. Is it just another special appropriations law that needs congressional approval, or simply something that prescribes court fees and their application?

“It is the domain of the Supreme Court to prescribe court fees and their application. A reading of PD 1949 will show that it is more in the nature of court fees rather than a law that appropriates public funds for special purposes.

“Ergo, Congress cannot legally insist on its oversight powers vis-a-vis the disposition of the money generated under PD 1949. The Supreme Court has fiscal autonomy on the matter and I agree with the Chief Justice that the Supreme Court cannot surrender this power to Congress without compromising judicial independence.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 30, 2003)

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