Another ‘legal abomination’?
In expressing his dissent to the majority opinion of the Supreme Court ousting Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno through an unprecedented quo warranto petition, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen did not just decry the ruling as a “legal abomination.” He also warned about what would result from the circumvention of the constitutionally mandated impeachment process: the emergence of an all-powerful Solicitor General.
Granting Solicitor General Jose Calida’s quo warranto petition against Sereno is tantamount to giving him “awesome powers,” according to Leonen. “We render this court subservient to an aggressive Solicitor General. We render those who present dissenting opinions unnecessarily vulnerable to powerful interests,” he said.
Not surprisingly, Calida hailed the Court’s 8-6 decision as “the epitome of its exercise of judicial independence.” But countless peers of his in the legal profession took to social media, television and other forums to express, in shocked and outraged words, exactly the opposite sentiment. Earlier, practically the cream of the Philippines’ legal practitioners—more than 130 law deans and professors from all over the country, along with eminent constitutionalists such as two of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, former chief justice Hilario Davide and former Commission on Elections chair Christian Monsod—had also warned in a collective statement that impeachment was the only way to oust Sereno, and that “any other means would be unconstitutional.”
And yet Calida prevailed, setting what Leonen would call in his dissent a “dangerous precedent.”
The sudden glorification of the position of solicitor general—a presidential appointee who is not even vetted by the Judicial and Bar Council, unlike Supreme Court justices, the ombudsman and other members of the judiciary—was apparently no fluke. Barely had the ink dried, as it were, on the Supreme Court’s ruling on Sereno than the House of Representatives passed on third reading a bill ostensibly seeking to strengthen the Office of the Solicitor General, but whose most controversial feature is the abolition of the Presidential Commission on Good Government.
The PCGG was established by President Corazon Aquino in the immediate wake of the 1986 Edsa Revolution to recover the estimated $10 billion plundered by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, his family and cronies. Now, under House Bill No. 7376, or the “Office of the Solicitor General Charter,” the functions of the PCGG would be placed under the Office of the Solicitor General. It would seem an innocuous-sounding bureaucratic adjustment, but for a twist: The incumbent Solicitor General is a professed Marcos loyalist. He headed a group that campaigned for defeated vice-presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in 2016; he also defended at the Supreme Court the Duterte administration’s decision to bury the dictator Marcos’ remains in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
By all that is fair and reasonable then, how can someone like him be trusted in any way to take over the PCGG and carry out its bounden duty?
The commission, for all its seeming glacial pace and persistent reports of corruption, has managed to recover around P60 billion of the Marcos loot. The dictator’s heirs, on the other hand, not only have refused to apologize for the family’s depredations; they have also consistently fought attempts by successive Philippine administrations to recover their stolen assets.
Putting the PCGG under the supervision of a Marcos admirer such as Calida would be a “betrayal,” said Etta Rosales, a former chair of the Commission on Human Rights and a martial law victim. She added: “Are we crazy? He’s tricking us; he will never go after the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses.”
Fortunately for now, without a counterpart measure from the Senate, House Bill No. 7376 is an inert measure. The senators must be reminded in no uncertain terms: Gutting the PCGG to expand Calida’s powers would be tantamount to another legal abomination.
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