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Editorial

Deafening silence

/ 04:48 AM December 12, 2015

As of this writing it’s been three days since this paper ran an exclusive report that two justices of the Supreme Court allegedly tried to persuade presidential aspirant Roy Señeres to withdraw from the race in favor of his fraternity brother, Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. But it’s silent as a mouse on the justices’ front.

The basic details of the report are undisputable at this point. A luncheon meeting of certain members of the San Beda College fraternity Lex Talionis was held, in which Señeres and Duterte were joined by their fellow “brods,” Justice Jose Catral Mendoza and Justice Bienvenido Reyes, as well as lawyers Vitaliano Aguirre and Fred Lim (not the former Manila mayor). Also present at the meeting held in a Makati restaurant was one of their professors, former Commission on Elections chair Sixto Brillantes.

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It was reportedly Aguirre who called the meeting to discuss with his frat mates the possibility of Señeres giving way to Duterte, because the former was “finding it very hard to campaign” and was therefore willing to slide to a senatorial post in Duterte’s ticket provided his antilabor contractualization platform would be officially adopted. The meeting was apparently of the highest echelons of the fraternity:

According to the Inquirer report, Señeres cofounded Lex Talionis while studying law at San Beda in 1969; Mendoza, also a founding leader, is at present a member of the Troika, the fraternity’s highest governing body. Duterte founded the Lex Talionis chapter at Ateneo de Davao in 1974, along with frat mates Joel Babista and Albert Sipaco.

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A number of commentators have sought to dismiss the meeting as an ordinary social gathering of “brods” who just happened to have prominent, consequential positions in the Philippines’ political firmament. Señeres and Aguirre, in a subsequent interview, said the justices present weren’t even aware that the presidential race would be discussed. As Señeres described it: In the course of the conversations a “brod” commented on Duterte’s good survey ratings and wondered whether the two presidential candidates could join forces to make only one candidate. “Si Atty. Vitaliano Aguirre yun, and he was so polite in bringing that up… That was about it,” Señeres said.

In other words, by their reckoning, it was not a political meeting.

It wasn’t? But Aguirre himself said he called the meeting precisely to discuss the fate of Señeres’ presidential run, based on three telephone calls Señeres allegedly made to him disclosing Señeres’ purported interest in giving up his candidacy if he could be included in Duterte’s senatorial slate. That, for all intents and purposes, is political. Also, Aguirre is hardly a disinterested observer intent only on heading off a potential squabble among frat mates; he is Duterte’s lead legal counsel and the head of a multisectoral group called “Brotherhood for Duterte” that claims two million supporters. Thus, the outcome of this exclusive, hush-hush parley would have direct bearing on his client’s candidacy.

As for inviting the two Supreme Court justices to the meeting, Aguirre said Mendoza and Reyes didn’t know what was to be talked about and thought it was only a “simple luncheon meeting.”

Really. Is it surprising that many are rolling their eyes? It’s difficult enough to believe that Mendoza and Reyes had no idea of the agenda of the meeting they were about to attend with lifelong “brods” who just happened to be protagonists in a looming political contest; what’s way harder to swallow is the notion that their presence there, whether they spoke or not or actively engaged in coaxing Señeres to give way to his more “winnable” frat mate, would not in any way affect the impartiality and neutrality that are the bedrock of their authority as two magistrates of the high court.

If he is elected, Duterte has said, he will execute criminals weekly, close Congress, and basically do away with the Constitution to form a revolutionary government. All these radical moves will conceivably be challenged all the way to the Supreme Court—if by then it hasn’t also been sidelined by Duterte. Had this disturbing, highly inappropriate meeting not been made public, would Mendoza and Reyes even inhibit themselves from any such deliberations?

Don’t they owe the public an explanation at this point?

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TAGS: Lex Talionis, Rodrigo Duterte, Roy Señeres, Supreme Court
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