Supreme Court split on Enrile bail
CANBERRA—The immediate return of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile to the Senate on Monday following the Supreme Court decision ordering his temporary release from detention has sparked consternation in the Administration and opened sharp controversy in the Court over the grounds for the grant of bail.
A few days after the Court voted 8-4 on Aug. 18 to free Enrile on bail, he walked into his Senate office to resume work, apparently unscathed by detention since July 4 last year at the Philippine National Police General Hospital while awaiting trial on charges of plunder and corruption in connection with the pork barrel fund kickback scandal.
The release order drew scathing fire from Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, one of four justices who dissented from the majority opinion penned by Justice Lucas Bersamin. In his dissenting opinion, Leonen assailed the majority decision, which allowed Enrile to post bail and secure temporary release while the plunder charges are being tried, saying that it cast doubt on the Court’s impartiality and set a dangerous precedent. The bail grant by the majority “is a special accommodation,” Leonen said, that was “based on a ground [humanitarian considerations] never before raised before the Sandiganbayan [the antigraft court].” Leonen said the decision was “especially tailored” for the 91-year-old Senate Minority Leader who surrendered in July last year to face charges for allegedly pocketing nearly P173 million in kickbacks, allowing the diversion of his pork barrel allocation to ghost projects and fake foundations.
Leonen warned that the decision “will usher in an era of truly selective justice not based on clear legal provisions but one that is unpredictable, partial and solely grounded on the presence or absence of human compassion.” Insisting that Enrile should have remained in detention, Leonen pointed out how other detainees, old and ill, still languished in cramped jails. “For them there are no special privileges. The law to them is often brute, banal and canonical,” Leonen argued, sounding like a populist champion of the down-trodden and of social justice. He pointed out that humanitarian considerations, which do not exist in the law, were not even among Enrile’s arguments in his petition for bail.
“Bail for humanitarian considerations is neither presently provided in our Rules of Court nor found in any statute or provision of the Constitution,” he argued. Defending the Sandiganbayan’s decision denying an earlier Enrile petition for bail, Leonen in his dissenting opinion said it was only right for the Sandiganbayan to deny Enrile bail.
Associate Justice Bersamin, who wrote the majority decision, did not take Leonen’s criticism lying down. In a letter to Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, Bersamin accused Leonen of “gross distortions” of how the majority ruling was reached. He sought “rectification” of the gross distortions contained in Leonen’s dissenting opinion which Bersamin said “not only put me in a bad light but worse also impugned the integrity of the seven members of the court who joined my ponencia, by claiming that they signed the ponencia without knowing the version they were joining.” Bersamin asked that the two issues be discussed in Tuesday’s en banc session. He also said he would circulate a rejoinder to Leonen.
The controversy in the Court over the bail grant stemmed from Leonen’s account of how the majority opinion on the bail grant came about. Leonen claimed that a draft decision circulated by Bersamin early this year adopted mainly the legal arguments raised by Enrile, which was centered on the Supreme Court taking judicial notice of the evidence to establish two generic mitigating circumstances.
Leonen claimed that when the case was deliberated on during the en banc session last week, Bersamin proposed the dropping of all legal points pertaining to whether the bail was right and focusing instead on the grant of bail on “humanitarian” grounds. Bersamin then committed to circulate a revised draft, which he did on Aug. 14. The new draft sought to grant bail to Enrile based on his medical condition, prompting Leonen to express concerns that the grant of bail would give rise to new issues that needed to be further discussed.
In the Aug. 18 en banc, Leonen said Bersamin insisted on a vote and said he would agree to wait for extensive reflection on the issues raised by Leonen.
Later in the afternoon, Bersamin passed around the final copy of the majority opinion. However, Leonen said this was not the version voted upon in the morning deliberations but the same as the Aug. 14 version that granted bail on humanitarian grounds. Leonen later issued his dissent which was joined by Chief Justice Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe.
(To be concluded on Friday)
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