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10:17 PM September 24th, 2011

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By: Artemio V. Panganiban, September 24th, 2011 10:17 PM

Two career jurists were recently promoted by President Aquino to the Supreme Court (SC). Court of Appeals (CA) Justice Bienvenido L. Reyes replaced Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura. Another CA justice, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, took the seat of Conchita Carpio Morales, who retired June 19 and later named ombudsman. They balance and compliment the first SC appointee of President Aquino – Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno, who had a distinguished record in the non-career sector, in the academe and private practice.

P-Noy friend. Basically low profile, Justice Reyes has over 20 years of judicial experience, starting in 1990 as a judge in the Regional Trial Court of Malabon and from Aug. 8, 2000 as a member of the Court of Appeals. He will serve the high court till July 6, 2017 when he turns 70.

His critics say that he was promoted because of his friendship with President Aquino dating back to the mid-1980s when he was an officer or lawyer of some companies owned or controlled by the Aquino family.

In fairness, may I say that I have known Justice Reyes for 30 years, because I was once a counsel of the late Doña Aurora Aquino (mother of martyred Sen. Ninoy Aquino) and former Sen. Tessie Aquino-Oreta. I can say without any reservation that, as a sitting jurist, Justice Reyes has not given any undue favor to (or has been asked any by) the Aquino family. Equally important, he possesses the four traits required of jurists by our Constitution: “proven competence, integrity, probity and independence.”

Unblemished track record. Justice Bernabe enjoys an unblemished track record. She began her judicial career from the lowest judicial rung as Metropolitan Trial Court judge in Makati from 1996, to Regional Trial Court judge also in Makati from 2000, to Court of Appeals justice from 2004.

Born 59 years ago on May 14, 1952, she will serve the Supreme Court for 11 years. Academically outstanding, she finished her law degree as salutatorian of the Ateneo de Manila law class of 1976, and got her Bachelor of Science in Commerce, magna cum laude, from the St. Paul’s College of Manila.

Having known her and her husband, Ricardo, for many years, I am confident she will serve the highest court of the land faithfully, competently, honestly and independently. Though amiable and friendly, she surely knows how to distinguish amiability from duty and friendship from ethics.

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Canard of a leak. While I was abroad during the last three weeks, a broadsheet (not the Inquirer) tried to sensationalize on its front page, a five-column, boxed item, titled “Former chief justice rates a leak in WikiLeaks.” To attract attention, it even displayed my colored photo. Authored by Ellen Tordesillas, the item enticingly began, “I love WikiLeaks. It unmasks the two-faced. It reveals the double-life of many of the officials that we respect.”

Then, citing a cable allegedly sent in September 2006 to Washington D.C. by Paul Jones, deputy chief of mission of the US Embassy in Manila and released publicly by WikiLeaks, the article accused me of being “the protector of Filipino-Chinese businessman Mariano Nocom, whose malls were said to have been selling pirated goods” in violation of intellectual property (IP) laws.

Apparently, Jones was following up the prosecution of intellectual property cases filed by the Optical Media Board (OMB) headed by Edu Manzano. He noted that OMB “filed all almost all of its (search) warrant applications with Judge (Antonio) Eugenio… (who) approved most of OMB’s requests and quickly.”

In his leaked cable, Jones—quoting Manzano—told his American superiors in Washington, D.C. that Nocom, who was supposedly “well-connected to” me as then chief justice, asked and got the Court to yank out Eugenio from his job to stop him from further issuing search warrants on Nocom’s malls.

When I was informed about this ludicrous article, I called Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez long distance from Morocco saying I have never met Nocom, never spoken with him directly or indirectly. I know him only by name and face because I had seen him attend the retirement ceremonies of two justices.

After our conversation, Marquez promptly sent a letter to the broadsheet explicitly denying that I was the “protector” of Nocom, stressing that I hardly knew him and that he did “not exert any influence” at all on me. He added that Eugenio was “never replaced as a commercial court judge, and as such, remains to date a judge of a commercial court where he continues to hear IP cases.”

Three days later, the broadsheet in an innocuous back-page article, also bylined by Ellen Tordesillas, backtracked a bit saying “a friend in the Supreme Court told me (Tordesillas) that true, Nocom has protectors in the High Court, but as far as he knows it is not former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban.” A week later, Marquez’s letter was printed in an inside page of the broadsheet.

I am amazed and saddened that an otherwise credible journalist like Tordesillas could write a canard of a leak that is completely false and baseless. And without checking, could unabashedly “love WikiLeaks” and instantly conclude that the unverified leak “reveals the double life of many officials that we respect.”

But I am perturbed that the US Embassy (which did not deny the leak) would report as gospel truth a brazen lie that I was the “protector” of Nocom. The US Embassy could have easily called the Office of the Court Administrator to verify that Eugenio was never replaced. As Sherlock Holmes would say, “Elementary my dear Watson.”

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