De Lima’s sound and fury
CANBERRA—Justice Secretary Leila de Lima waded into controversy over the hasty release of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile from detention, with guns blazing. Shortly after Enrile walked out of the police hospital at Camp Crame last week, the combative Cabinet member did not waste time to blast the Supreme Court for granting Enrile bail—a move that set the administration on a collision course with the Court.
At a meeting of people’s organizations in Cebu City, De Lima denounced the Court’s 8-4 vote while he faces trial on charges of plunder and graft. She said the ruling should not have been implemented immediately since it was still subject to appeal within a 15-day period. She served notice the Office of the Ombudsman, which had lodged plunder, graft and bribery charges against Enrile and 30 other former and incumbent lawmakers over the alleged fraudulent disbursements of their pork barrel allotments, to ask the high court to reconsider the Aug. 18 decision.
The justice secretary’s remark was not triggered by an issue of fundamental importance to judicial doctrine but by her observation that there was rush in freeing Enrile on bail. According to her, she was wondering why Enrile was immediately released, since the dispositive portion did not say that this decision was immediately executory. Without that statement, ordinarily, the decision of all courts, including the Supreme Court, is not immediately final and executory but subject to a 15-day period prescription within which to file a motion for reconsideration.
While speaking about a procedural issue, De Lima at the same time also raised another important issue. She questioned the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in approving Enrile’s remedy (bail), pointing out that the high court was not a trial court. “So what’s the basis of the assumption of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court? The petition for certiorari goes through the usual process, including the finality of the decision. That’s why I’m puzzled,” De Lima said.
Why is De Lima so fretful or alarmed over the swiftness in the release of Enrile from detention in the PNP hospital in Camp Crame? From her speech at the Daang Matuwid (Straight Path) People’s Dialogue at Cebu Normal University in Cebu City, we get a clue for her apprehensions. In other words, De Lima’s speech was a giveaway as to the source of the government ’s concerns. It appears that the Supreme Court rulings on the cases involving Enrile are creating political and legal issues that could put in jeopardy the government’s case against the senator.
She cited the successes of the administration in pursuing corruption cases against influential politicians and putting them in jail. He pointed to the ouster of Renato Corona, who was found guilty by an impeachment court (ironically presided by then Senate President Enrile) for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust: “The Straight Path is all about the rule of law, truth and accountability… It’s only now that we were able to show political will,” implying that with the return of Enrile to the Senate, even if on a provisional basis, the Straight Path doctrine, promulgated by the secular pontificate seated in Malacañang Palace as a creed of good governance, might meet reversals if the test cases on plunder would collapse.
It is important to note that Enrile is expected by his colleagues to return to his post as minority leader, a strategic platform unwittingly handed to him by his provisional release, from which he can defend himself from criminal prosecution and harassment in the plunder case. As the minority leader, he is in a position to influence the passage of key legislation, including the draft charter of the Bangsamoro substate in Mindanao—President Aquino’s legacy for lasting peace in the southern region.
Even during his hospital detention, Enrile had been delivering setbacks to the government’s effort to prosecute him on the plunder and graft cases.
In his dissenting opinion to the majority decision penned by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, Justice Marvic Leonen slammed the majority decision allowing Enrile to post bail and secure temporary release from detention while the plunder charge was being tried. Leonen said that the ruling cast doubt on the Supreme Court’s impartiality and set a dangerous precedent. The majority voted to grant bail despite the forceful arguments of the dissenting opinion that the bail grant by the majority “is a special accommodation … especially tailored for the Senate minority leader… (and) is based on a ground—humanitarian—never before raised before the Sandiganbayan.”
The majority ruling was a setback to the government. It overturned resolutions of the Sandiganbayan issued in July and August last year denying Enrile’s bail plea.
Two weeks ago, the high court also granted Enrile’s plea for the Office of the Ombudsman to file a bill of particulars detailing its charges against him. Enrile had petitioned the Supreme Court for such a bill to allow him to prepare his defense, saying the allegations against him were vague.
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