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‘Unmitigated hypocrisy’

11:17 PM October 29, 2013

This refers to the Inquirer’s banner story in its Oct. 20 issue about the start of people power versus the pork barrel, to be led by retired chief justice Reynato Puno.

Puno said that the pork barrel is the worst “violation of human rights” that has led to the “failure of democratic institutions and to a large degree destroyed our democracy, principle of separation of powers and the doctrine of checks and balances.”

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As a lawyer, I am all for the abolition of the pork barrel because it is one of the major sources of corruption.  But I cannot understand why the movement for the abolition of the pork barrel is to be led by Puno who, when he was a Supreme Court justice, strongly voted to uphold the constitutionality of the pork barrel system: first, in the case of Philconsa v Enriquez (G.R. No. 113105, Aug. 19, 1994) and second, in Sarmiento et al. v Treasurer of the Philippines (G.R. Nos. 125680 and 126313, Sept. 4, 2001).

Puno’s tirade against the evil of the pork barrel system, which he strongly upheld and defended when he was in the high court, smacks of unmitigated hypocrisy.

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The crusade against the pork barrel system should be led by a man whose character should be beyond reproach and whose public career has not been tainted with opportunism and breach of judicial ethics.

Puno’s meeting with then House representative Matias Defensor, a close ally of Gloria Arroyo, in December 2009 regarding the nomination of applicants to the possible vacancy of the seat of the chief justice led to the anomalous appointment of Renato Corona in gross violation of the Constitution.  (“Hour Before Dawn” by Marites D. Vitug, pp. 19-21, 2012 edition).

In the consolidated cases of Lambino et al. v Comelec, G.R. No. 174153, Oct. 25, 2006), Justice Puno  wrote a strongly worded 70-page dissenting opinion in support of the constitutionality of the People’s Initiative  which could have perpetuated Arroyo in power as prime minister.

It was a close 8-7 vote against the People’s Initiative. In December 2006, Mr. Puno was appointed chief justice by Arroyo.

Puno’s close professional and personal association with lawyer Estelito Mendoza, his former boss in the solicitor general’s office during martial law, will always haunt him and forever taint his claim as a “crusader” for reforms.

Judicial ethics should have impelled Puno, during his watch, to inhibit himself from the many high-profile cases handled by Estelito Mendoza before the Supreme Court. But he did not, despite criticisms from the bench and the bar (“Shadow of Doubt” by Marites Vitug, pp. 164-165, 2010 ed).

Does former chief justice Puno have the moral authority to lead the crusade against the evils of the pork barrel system?

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—DEMOCRITO C. BARCENAS, regional chairman, Region VII, Free Legal Assistance Group, past president, IBP Cebu City Chapter

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