‘We always do it for free’
We take exception to the Inquirer editorial of Jan. 31, albeit correctly titled “You’ve seen this before” as it relates to the role of Mabini lawyers Joker Arroyo, Rene Saguisag and Dodo Sarmiento in the Makati-Binay case before the Senate. That’s right, you’ve seen us before standing up in court for Ninoy Aquino and a host of other victims of tyrannical whimsicality.
The Inquirer said they “tried to delay Binay’s appearance at every turn.” Mayor [Junjun] Binay was there 10 o’clock, on the dot. Proceedings were delayed because the Senate would not proceed until the cameras of all the national TV networks were ready to roll. But the cameras were in Villamor recording the arrival of the coffins of the heroic SAF 44.
The Inquirer said the Mabini lawyers “were parsing every line in the summons and objecting to what they deem the littlest deviation from it.” Of course we were parsing. This is not poetry; this involves more than jingles. A man’s liberty turns on it. This had to do with the rule of law which turns on words and their effects. The summons was the offshoot of multiple violations of the Senate’s very own rules—that had to be pointed out with the vain hope of correction.
The Inquirer said “Joker Arroyo and Rene Saguisag … both objected to what they said was inquisitional direction of the Senate committee and how it has now become a form of ‘martial law.’” Finally, the Inquirer got something right: That is our position.
“Arroyo even compared Binay to—good lord—the late Ninoy Aquino.” We never compared Binay to Ninoy, who was also our client when he faced an earlier kangaroo court. What we compared was their situations: Both faced accusers who also served as judges who had already convicted them. Ninoy and Binay are not the only ones who have been in that situation.
We are not lawyers of the Binays, so why are we concerned about the Makati-Binay hearings at the blue ribbon committee?
Mayor Binay filed a motion that he be furnished in advance the questions to be asked by the subcommittee. The subcommittee peremptorily denied the motion and immediately threatened a contempt citation should they not appear.
This goes against the 2008 Supreme Court decision in Neri vs Senate Committee which states: Compliance with this requirement (on advance questions) is imperative, both under Sections 21 and 22 of Article VI of the Constitution. This must be to ensure that the rights of both persons appearing in or affected by such inquiry are respected as mandated by said Section 21 and by the express language of Section 22. Unfortunately, despite the petitioner’s demands, respondent Committee did not send him an advance list of questions.”
In short, not even the Senate is entitled to stage the sort of ambush that lured young SAF to their deaths without any attempt to rescue them, leaving 44 dead at least.
Like that ambush, the subcommittee did not require the witnesses “to file, at least three days before the scheduled hearing, written statements of their proposed testimonies,” as mandated by its own rules. No one must know who lurked in the jungle and what firepower they might bring to bear. It seems like the same mind set behind both incidents.
The Binay hearings have been ongoing for five months with no end in sight. The blue ribbon rules say that as far as practicable, “its report must be completed within  days from referral.” To date, no report has been made, not even a partial draft. Filipinos are no good in warfare, that is clear, not blitzkrieg nor attrition because clearly all the ammo expended has had no appreciable effect on the real target’s popularity.
Messrs. Arroyo, Saguisag and Sarmiento are members of Mabini, founded during the darkest years of martial law, dedicated, among others, to upholding the rule of law against violations of civil liberties and human rights. It does pro bono public service. In plain language, the members do not charge and do not accept fees. Not surprisingly, none of them was ever an editorial writer on a wage. So, it is just a tiny bit unfair for the Inquirer to say that our actuations were “to make sure that they earned their keep.” We didn’t charge Ninoy a centavo nor any of the detainees we rescued from certain torture and death.
The Mabini lawyers participated in the defense of many political detainees of disparate political persuasions—Ninoy, Salonga, Joma Sison, Satur Ocampo, NPA Commander Dante and Constabulary Colonel Saturnino Domingo, and others in the long list of the victims of martial law.
Closer to home, and by way of example, in 1985, when Eggie Apostol and Betty Go-Belmonte put up the Inquirer, Mabini provided legal assistance. It is a business, you know, and business formalities must be complied with. And when tested by existential threats from a dying dictatorship, the Inquirer asked for help and Mabini rose to the challenge. The coffee was good but not even a doughnut, yet they would hold office not much later in Madrid restaurant.
Indeed, those were the times when political differences were not occasions for bias, self-righteousness and, worse yet, unmerited self-importance.
If history teaches us anything, it is that if liberty can be threatened with extinction it will be threatened and it will succumb without lawyers to help it. Mabini is ever mindful of this. But then what makes us suspect is that we always do it for free. For some, indeed, fighting is like breathing. Oxygen for the moral fiber. Thank you. Shock us by publishing this unexpurgated. We need to wake up in the morning. The coffee has not been as good.
—JOKER P. ARROYO, RENE A.V. SAGUISAG and MARIANO P. SARMIENTO II
(The Joker et al. protest too much.—Ed.)
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