POSTSCRIPT / November 28, 2006 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Interview of CJ bets: Newest show in town

PUBLIC INTERVIEWS: Since the Judicial and Bar Council was constituted in 1988 after ratification of the Constitution, five Chief Justices — Pedro Yap, Marcelo Fernan, Andres Narvasa, Hilario Davide Jr. and Artemio Panganiban — have been appointed.

Not one of them was subjected to such a public spectacle by the JBC before their nominations were sent to the President, the appointing power.

The public interview tomorrow of the nominees — Senior Associate Justice Reynato Puno, Justices Leonardo Quisumbing, Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Angelina Gutierrez and Antonio Carpio, and Sen. Miriam Defensor — is unprecedented.

The rigmarole of forcing nominees to expose their guts and gray matter was inserted into the process after President Gloria Arroyo was repudiated by her own appointees on high-profile cases involving constitutional questions.

Is it proper to pin down and force the candidates to spell out prematurely and publicly their theoretical positions on issues that might just be submitted to them in the Court in an entirely differet light?

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OPPOSING VIEWS: One view is that the interviews are uncalled for and unnecessary, given the high positions held by the six nominees and their known stand on legal and vital public issues.

The opposite view is that if all other nominees for the judiciary are being interviewed, the same policy should be applied for nominees for Chief Justice.

It also has been stressed that the Chief Justice as head of one of three branches of government should give the public an insight into his thinking and attitude.

Those supporting the public interview cite the case of Justice Abe Fortas, one of the most brilliant members of the US Supreme Court who was nominated for Chief Justice by President Lyndon Johnson, his long-time close friend.

They argue that the proceedings in the US Senate saved the Court from a Johnson crony with a skeleton in the closet sitting as Chief Justice.

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PRECEDENT: Fortas broke precedent when he appeared before the Senate judiciary committee. He could have refused, but he appeared, saying “I am very happy to be here.” He thought his presence would hasten his confirmation.

The “cronyism” issue between Fortas and Johnson was raised. The senators drew from his admission that he was at the White House when Johnson decided to send Federal troops to quell a race riot in Detroit in 1966 and that in 1967 he had called a businessman about the latter’s criticism of Johnson’s Vietnam war budget.

Fortas’ testimony left the impression that his old relationship with Johnson had not changed much in the years he had been an Associate Justice. He was not convincing when he insisted that his association with the President had no effect on his work at the Court.

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FORTAS QUITS: When the nominations moved to the Senate floor, a conservative coalition of Republicans and Democrats began a filibuster, the first in the Senate’s history, to prevent a confirmation of a nominee to the Supreme Court.

Because of the acrimonious proceedings, President Johnson — at Fortas’ request — withdrew the nomination.

“I hope,” Fortas said in his letter to Johnson, “that my withdrawal will help put in motion a process by which there will be an end to destructive and extraneous assaults upon the Court.”

Not long after Fortas failed to gain confirmation, he was forced to resign as SC member on the issue of impropriety after it was reported in Life magazine that after he became an SC member, he was paid $20,000 by a charitable foundation set up by a controversial financier, Louis Wolfson, to lecture at a university.

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TOUGH QUESTIONS: But if the JBC members will not do their homework by scrutinizing the track record of the interviewees and, worse, will be deferential by fielding harmless questions — it would be better to just scrap the Q&A.

Being the ardent sponsor of the JBC interview, Sen. Kiko Pangilinan should lead the asking of the hard questions, like, maybe:

  1. For Justice Puno:Is it true that, as reported by a daily (not theSTAR), he was brought by Speaker Jose de Venecia to President Arroyo, who reportedly promised to appoint him Chief Justice provided he leads in backing the People’s Initiative? Is it true as reported by media that he sought the help of INC Supremo Eraño Manalo? Is it true that sometime ago, he was accompanied by businessman Danding Cojuangco and/or Ramon Ang to the President? How many times has he reversed his own ponencias or votes on reconsideration?
  2. For Justice Quisumbing:Is it true that he voted in favor of People’s Initiative at the prodding of former President Fidel V. Ramos? Is it true that his wife, chair of the Commission on Human Rights, influences his decisions?
  3. For Justice Santiago:Is it true that his brother, Gov. Ito Yñares, influences her vote? Is it true that litigants approach her though her lawyer-daughter? Is it true that she visited President Joseph “Erap” Estrada sometime ago? If so, why?
  4. For Justice Gutierrez:Is it true that Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile and lawyer Estelito Mendoza are responsible for her appointment? Is it true that they influence her vote in many cases?
  5. For Justice Carpio:Is it true that he wrote the adverse People’s Initiative decision in retaliation for President Arroyo’s failure to redeem her promise to “The Firm” to appoint Victor Fernandez as Ombudsman? Why did he use “scathing” language against the People’s Initiative and Sigaw ng Bayan?
  6. For Senator Santiago:Is it true that she merely want to be nominated, but not appointed Chief Justice? Is it true that she would move for the abolition of the JBC or its budget reduction if not nominated? Is she healthy enough to tackle the CJ’s Herculean administrative work? Is it true she accompanied President Arroyo in her foreign trips ( Vatican, Spain, China, Belgium, etc.) to lobby for her appointment?

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ANGARA BIO: I just received a copy of the book “Seer of Sea and Sierra” on the life and times of Sen. Edgardo Angara. It was the last major work of the late National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin before he died.

It chronicles the life journey of Angara, Ed or Edong to family and friends, from his childhood in Baler to his rise to national prominence. Like Joaquin’s other books on public figures, this one is well written and extensively researched.

I can imagine Nick Joaquin with his trademark bottle of beer and plate of peanuts throwing probing questions at Angara, a teetotaler.

In his usual elegant style, Joaquin traces the metamorphosis of Angara from a once shy boy, to a legal luminary (who founded ACCRA, one of the biggest law firms in the country), and his later forays into public service, first as UP president, then as senator, Cabinet secretary, and senator once again.

Angara was quite candid in the book as he talked about his struggles in life, his failures and successes. It also reveals a facet of his personality not known to many, that of a visionary whose endeavors in health, education and agriculture have improved the lives of many ordinary Filipinos.

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NO VALEDICTORY: While keeping his usual calm demeanor, Angara did not mince words recounting certain episodes. One was his refusal to abandon President Estrada in the weeks leading to EDSA Dos although he was being wooed aggressively by the opposition at that time.

Another was the negotiation between the Arroyo and the Estrada camps before the latter’s ouster. Angara was angry at the bad faith of some of the players as he realized that both sides had already made up their minds while they still pretended to negotiate.

Is this Angara’s valedictory? Not quite. While he admitted having considered retiring from politics and public service while hibernating in his Batangas farm for two weeks after Mr. Estrada’s’s ouster, he still could not turn his back on his own vision of public service and so ran again for the Senate in 2001.

For the moment, Angara’s journey as a person and as a public servant continues.

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PAGING PLDT: The Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. should revise its bad policy of forcing customers to pay for obviously non-existent services.

My landline has been out of order (no dial tone) for something like three months. Though reported a number of times, the trouble has remained uncorrected. Naturally I have refused to pay for not only bad but non-existent service.

Then days ago I got a final notice of disconnection. It is absurd disconnecting a line that is actually not connected and not working — and then charging the non-user for services obviously not rendered.

Complaining to #171, I was told by a woman named Cher to pay the bill first for the unserved period and then wait for adjustments (credits or refunds) after the line is fixed. I told her that was wrong. She insisted that that was PLDT’s policy. Hello?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 28, 2006)

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