How SC decision on Enrile bail came about
I got to see Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile up close and personal yesterday morning at his residence. For only a short while, mind you, but it helps that he lives right across the street from our house, and so one can dispense with formalities, and ask to be called when he had time for a chat.
The good news (it depends on where you sit) is that he looked hale and hearty. Of course I know he has ailments—macular degeneration, for one, and the usual age-related “conditions” (heart, diabetes, etc.)—but he looked better than I do, and he has 18 years on me. He definitely looks much better than he did when he was presiding over the Corona impeachment trial.
And he is also raring to go. With relatively little time left (he is 92, after all), although he may surprise us yet, he is committed to serve God and country, and to hell with everything else. His position seems to be that he owes nothing to no one and is afraid of no one. So be prepared.
But this column is not really about Enrile, but about the Supreme Court decision that granted him bail, overturning a Sandiganbayan decision. What is incomprehensible about the Supreme Court decision is that the reason for granting Enrile his request was not based on the legal arguments that he offered but, rather, on humanitarian, age-related health grounds, which he didn’t even ask for (so sure was he of the strength of his legal arguments).
The high court, in an excess of solicitude, may have forgotten that the Sandiganbayan gave standing orders authorizing that Enrile be taken to any hospital immediately if he exhibits symptoms that cannot be treated at the PNP General Hospital. So there was nothing to worry about, health-wise.
Reader, go to the Supreme Court’s website (www.sc.judiciary.gov.ph), read the majority decision (16 pages), and then read the dissenting opinion of Associate Justice Marvic Leonen (29 pages). I think you will agree with me that Leonen’s dissent had much more substance in it, and was certainly better argued, than the majority opinion. That his dissent was supported by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio seems to validate my opinion. Those three have competence and integrity in spades. In fact, I got the feeling, when reading the majority opinion, that they first wanted to make sure that Enrile got bail, and then they mustered all the arguments they could, to support that decision.
Don’t misunderstand, Reader. I thought Enrile should be granted bail, because the evidence against him was not strong (I had read the case files), and his age certainly did not contribute to the risk of his fleeing. Worse, he had been in custody for over a year now. Does it take that long to determine whether the evidence against him is weak or strong? If so, why? After all, we’re not talking about a person’s guilt or innocence. For that, we need a trial, which can take years.
What is interesting about the Supreme Court decision is how it came about. This is related by Leonen in his dissent. In case you can’t spare the time to read, let me give you a condensed version:
- A draft decision was submitted by the member in charge early this year. This draft mainly adopted Enrile’s legal arguments. Leonen and Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe submitted their reflections on this issue, and refutations and arguments were exchanged in writing. Their point was that the Sandiganbayan committed no grave abuse of discretion, and Enrile’s petition should be dismissed.
- “When this case was called again for deliberation during the En Banc session on Aug. 11, 2015, the member in charge (now the ponente) proposed the idea of dropping all discussion on the legal points pertaining to whether bail was a matter of right and focusing the grant of bail on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. The member in charge committed to circulate a draft for the consideration of all justices.” And Leonen averred that he was open to listen to all arguments.
- A revised draft was circulated on Aug. 14, based on granting bail to Enrile based on his medical condition. Leonen responded with a letter to the justices, stating that this new proposal gave rise to certain new issues which had to be threshed out thoroughly.
- During the Aug. 18 en banc, the ponente would not agree to wait for more extensive written reflections on the points raised by Leonen. “Insisting on a vote, he thus declared that he was abandoning the Aug. 14, 2015 circulated draft centering on release on bail on humanitarian grounds for his earlier version premised on the idea that bail was a matter of right based on judicial notice and the judicial declaration of the existence of two mitigating circumstances.” (The vote was 8-4.)
- On the afternoon of Aug. 18, at about 3 p.m., “the ponente passed around a final copy of the majority opinion which was not the version voted upon during the morning’s deliberation. Rather, the copy offered for signature was substantially the Aug. 14, 2015 circulated version granting bail on humanitarian grounds.”
- This ponencia does away with Enrile’s entire argument thusly: “Yet, we do not now determine the question of whether or not Enrile’s averment on the presence of the two mitigating circumstances could entitle him to bail despite the crime alleged against him being punishable with reclusion perpetua, simply because the determination, being primarily factual in context, is ideally to be made by the trial court.”
I do not doubt Leonen’s version. And the way this whole issue was handled reminds me of how the Supreme Court under Renato Corona handled the GMA travel issue. Forcing through. What kind of decision-making is this?
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