POSTSCRIPT / March 20, 2007 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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'Conjugal Justice' earns ire of reformist SC chief

CONJUGAL JUSTICE: The Court of Appeals, the second highest tribunal in the land, is itself on trial.

Disturbed by reports of creeping corruption at the appellate court, Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno summoned last week the CA justices to a private scolding.

Puno followed this up by an administrative order banning the employment of spouses as co-terminus personnel in the Court of Appeals — as well as in the Supreme Court itself, the Sandiganbayan and the Court of Tax Appeals. The ban is effective end of the month.

Unknown to the public, 19 CA members — including Presiding Justice Ruben Reyes — reportedly employ their spouses as their private secretaries kuno.

The employment of spouses not only smacks of nepotism, but is also perceived as a conduit to reach the justices who are expected to keep an ethical distance from litigants, lawyers and the public.

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EXEMPLARS: But the Court of Appeals is certainly not all a nest of bad eggs.

Since it was formally organized on Feb. 1, 1936, it has had 343 members. Many of them have risen to the Supreme Court, such as Chief Justices Manuel Moran, Ricardo Paras, Cesar Bengson, Roberto Concepcion, Querube Macalintal, Fred Ruiz Castro and the incumbent Puno.

Other notables are Justices JBL Reyes, Alejo Labrador, Arsenio Dizon, Cecilia Palma and Ameurfina Herrera.

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DOUBLE-BLADED: Like its prompt action in creating special courts in answer to extrajudicial killings, the Puno Court is also leading the Executive department in responding to the PERC Survey showing the Philippines as the most corrupt economy in Asia.

But such reform action could be double-bladed. In acting swiftly, the SC may just open itself to similar scrutiny. Like it or not, the activities of its own members are now likely to be subjected to the same micro examination.

We trust that the SC will emerge strengthened in its moral ascendancy as the court of last resort. This will fortify the tribunal in its battle against corruption in and outside the judicial system.

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NOW OR LATER: The three oil giants are racing against time and public opinion, as well as the long arm of the law, in their uphill bid to keep a little longer their oil depot in Pandacan, Manila, right next door to Malacañang across the Pasig River.

The Supreme Court has just jolted them with a ruling that Ordinance 8027 of Manila for the dismantling of the oil depot is valid and immediately enforceable.

Mayor Lito Atienza is duty-bound to order the operators — Petron, Shell and Chevron (Caltex) — to vacate Pandacan right away. Caught in the middle of a campaign to get his son elected as his replacement, Atienza is in a spot.

The ordinance was passed by the city council in November 2001 and approved by the mayor. It reclassified the terminal site in the thickly populated area from an industrial to a commercial zone.

The reclassification means that the sprawling fuel depot is suddenly out of place and must be removed without further delay.

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NOT ALL BASES�: Where will they go? Theoretically, that is the oil companies’ problem, and not of City Hall. But Mayor Atienza kind of hinted much earlier that he might just enforce the ordinance.

The oil firms knew what to do with such a hint. They, huh, talked to the councilors and hizzoner. In June 2002, they succeeded in forging a memorandum of understanding with everybody for a scaling down of depot operations instead of an outright pullout.

But the problem was that not all the bases were covered. Enter the Society for Justice (SJS), and taxpayers Vladimir Cabigao and Bonifacio S. Tumbokon. Complaining before the SC about the hazards posed by the terminal, they pressed for the enforcement of Ordinance 8027.

In April 2003, Shell tried getting the usual magic wand for waving away tricky legal problems — a Temporary Restraining Order — while applying for a more lasting restraining order against the ordinance.

The petition for TRO, still pending at the Regional Trial Court, was overtaken by the SC decision.

* * *

MAKE �LAKAD’: But hope springs eternal in the heart of the oil companies.

While the legal storm raged, they lobbied and succeeded in having the city council and the mayor approve a new ordinance (No. 8119) rewriting the earlier zoning rules.

Part of the rewriting was the insertion of a proviso granting the oil companies another seven years from 2006 to phase out the depot.

The oil firms have moved also to intervene in the complaint filed with the Supreme Court. They want the High Court to note the supervening Ordinance 8119 giving them until 2013 to move out of Pandacan.

Let us see if the SC justices can be as understanding as the mayor and the councilors of Manila.

In the meantime, the oil companies might want to also try making �lakad� with the complaining taxpayers. It is not enough that they talk only to their friends at City Hall.

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DISASTER LOOMS: The oil firms warned of a �disastrous chain of events� that could result if the Pandacan terminal were shut down.

They pointed out that the depot is Metro Manila’s �energy lifeline.� Any abrupt closure, they said, would result in the immediate shortage of fuels since the terminal they jointly operate supplies:

* 50 percent of the country’s total demand, including that of 1,800 retail stations in Metro Manila and outlying provinces.

* 70 percent of the shipping industry’s fuel needs nationwide.

* 90 percent of lubricants nationwide.

* 75 percent of aviation fuel nationwide.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 20, 2007)

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