Chastised, cut down to size
Hell hath no fury like a Supreme Court insulted. The high court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), has strongly rebuked Solicitor General Jose Calida for using his high office to intervene in the private election protest filed by defeated candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong’’ Marcos Jr. against Vice President Leni Robredo.
In a Nov. 17, 2020 resolution made public only last week, the PET unanimously dismissed Marcos’ second bid seeking the inhibition of Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, the member-in-charge of the electoral protest. But in a 31-page resolution rendered per curiam, or by the court as a whole, the PET also served a severe dressing down of Calida, who filed a motion on the same day Marcos did that, as the tribunal noted, echoed Marcos’ arguments and sought the same reliefs.
What particularly took the tribunal’s goat was Calida invoking the status of “People’s Tribune’’ in filing his motion supporting Marcos, when the government was not a party to the electoral case. “The [OSG] is the law office of the government. Its default client is the Republic of the Philippines, but ultimately, ‘the distinguished client of the Office of the Solicitor General is the people themselves.’ Its status as People’s Tribune is properly invoked only if the Republic of the Philippines is a party litigant to the case,” it said. “‘People’s Tribune’ is not to be hoisted wantonly in big-ticket cases involving private parties.’’
The tribunal wasn’t done. It castigated Calida for not even giving the PET the courtesy of asking leave of court, or the basic procedure requiring nonparties to first file a motion to intervene in a case not concerning them; and for accusing Leonen of bias against the Marcoses and gross ignorance of the law in decisions concerning the Marcos protest, an imputation that applied to the entire tribunal since it acts as a collegial body. “This is disrespectful and discourteous to this Tribunal,’’ said the PET.
It was not the first time Calida had used his office to boost Marcos’ protest against Robredo. In October last year, Calida supported Marcos’ move to annul election results in the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, and Basilan which Marcos wanted excluded so he could overcome Robredo’s lead and overturn her victory. In another move showing that Calida was confused over who his office should represent, he backed Marcos’ position to require a 50-percent shading threshold in the ballots, abandoning the Commission on Elections’ 25-percent shading position.
Calida said Leonen’s inhibition would allow him to focus on “his reported unresolved docket of cases’’—a breathtakingly presumptuous argument considering that his office has been reported to have a backlog of over 1 million cases as of end of 2018. The Solicitor General, together with the Presidential Commission on Good Government, also racked up a string of ignominious losses in the ill-gotten wealth cases against the Marcoses, including the P102-billion forfeiture case the Sandiganbayan dismissed for lack of evidence in August 2019.
More than cutting Calida down to size, however, the PET’s ruling is noteworthy for affirming that the Marcos dictatorship and its record of plunder and human rights abuses are settled facts recognized by and already part of the country’s jurisprudence.
Calida had complained that Leonen showed his bias, “loathsome attitude,’’ and “deeply-rooted, personal hatred’’ of the Marcoses in his dissenting opinion on the burial of the late dictator in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. The tribunal swatted that contention down, stressing that Leonen’s description of the Marcos regime was “based on law, history and jurisprudence.’’
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly described the Marcos regime as authoritarian; referred to the ‘Marcoses and their cronies’; acknowledged the illegal wealth the Marcoses stashed away which the government has been attempting to recover; and noted the suffering the Marcos regime had wrought on the Filipino people,’’ it said.
The tribunal enumerated numerous Supreme Court decisions that “lamented the nation’s pains in the aftermath of the Marcos regime,’’ the hardships in rebuilding after the dictatorship, the gargantuan task of recovering the wealth plundered from state coffers, and the laws acknowledging and giving compensation to the thousands of human rights victims during martial law.
In chastising Calida, the PET threw back to Calida the very words he used against Leonen: “We echo the Solicitor General’s arguments and counsel him to ‘conduct a careful self-examination. He should exercise his discretion in a way that the people’s faith in the courts of justice is not impaired.’” And, a withering parting shot: “All counsels including the Solicitor General are reminded to attend to their cases with the objectivity and dignity demanded by our profession and keep their passions and excitement in check.’’ Ouch.
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