According to the Supreme Court’s majority decision in Enrile vs. Sandiganbayan, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile should be granted bail—for the nonbailable charge of plunder—because, well, he has much to lose if his plea was denied. “With his solid reputation in both his public and his private lives, his long years of public service, and history’s judgment of him being at stake, he should be granted bail,” wrote Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin.
What on earth is a reasonable public to make of that statement?
Enrile has a “solid reputation in both his public and private lives”? Let’s see. The state of his marriage has been discussed and made public by no less than his former wife, Cristina Castañer Enrile, who revealed on television the serial infidelities she had suffered in her years with Enrile—some 38 instances spread over 56 years. Not only that; she confirmed the widespread rumor that her husband and his erstwhile chief of staff, Gigi Reyes—now Enrile’s coaccused in the plunder case—did have an affair, that “it lasted too long” compared to the others, and that it was what pushed her to leave for the United States so she could seek divorce.
Enrile’s private life, of course, even for a politician as powerful and enduring as he is, should ordinarily be of no concern to the public—but for the fact that, in this case, his long-time confidant Reyes would emerge, from accounts of whistle-blowers in the pork barrel scam, as the alleged principal conduit for at least P172 million in kickbacks from Enrile’s Priority Development Assistance Fund allocation from 2004 to 2010. That reported affair became imbued with public interest the moment public funds were involved. As this newspaper reported last Monday: “Documents from the Commission on Audit that formed part of the evidence submitted by the NBI against Enrile showed that he admitted that it was his signature that appeared in the documents, which authorized Reyes to conduct transactions involving his PDAF allocations on his behalf.”
Enrile’s public life is even more problematic: the architect of martial law, a principal accused in coup attempts against the government of then-president Corazon Aquino, the alleged beneficiary of documented dagdag-bawas operations in the 1995 elections that sent him to the Senate at the expense of Aquilino Pimentel Jr., and now the most high-profile of the raft of government officials accused of plunder, graft and related cases in the pork barrel scam.
This is not the kind of record any man would claim as immaculate and unblemished, and Enrile himself has never done so. Not in the campaign advertisements he has done over the years, in which he never raised his virtuousness or his clean public record as his qualification for office, instead confining his appeal to gut issues and cheery bromides (“Gusto ko, happy kayo!”). Neither did he use a “solid reputation in both his public and private lives” as an argument in his plea for bail. But, as with the humanitarian argument of old age that Enrile himself did not raise, but which Bersamin plucked out of thin air to employ as a fuzzy justification for the petitioner’s release, the matter of Enrile’s “reputation” suddenly became central to his case—apparently all at the sole instigation of the author of the ponencia.
This is the heart of the public scorn that has met the Supreme Court’s decision allowing Enrile to post bail—that, as we said in this space last Monday, the eight-person majority who voted in favor of Enrile “had to twist this way and that to rationalize its decision.” The apparent partiality of the ruling, its nature as a “special accommodation”—as Associate Justice Marvic Leonen described it in a blistering dissent—does the Supreme Court’s reputation no favors.
Just when the high court has made strides in recovering public standing with its widely hailed decisions striking down the Disbursement Acceleration Program and PDAF and upholding the Reproductive Health Bill, its ruling on Enrile is an unfortunate throwback to its muddled period of contorted, questionable decisions in the Arroyo years, when the Constitution’s express prohibition on midnight appointments, for instance, could be set aside by the justices—or read in the most creative manner—to favor the irregular appointment of one of their own.
One step forward, two steps back. And since it is the Supreme Court’s own solid reputation at stake, we feel the disappointment all the more keenly.
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