A low point in anti-graft battle

Calling A Spade... -- By Solita Collas-Monsod

This has to be one of the lowest points in our nation’s battle against the cancer of graft and corruption. And this time, the Executive takes a back seat to both the Judiciary (in this case, the Supreme Court) and the Legislature (in this case the Senate).

The Supreme Court, it is reported, or at least eight of its members, voted a couple of days ago to include Agnes Devanadera in their shortlist of nominees to the Supreme Court. This is the Devanadera, who, as head of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel, signed a compromise agreement between Philippine National Construction Conpany (PNCC) and a company called Radstock. What is so bad about that? The agreement practically gave away, lock, stock, and barrel, the multi-billion-peso assets (around P18 billion) to Radstock, whose only claim to fame is that it bought out the rights of one of PNCC’s creditors for all of $2 million. The case is now with the Supreme Court, because a former president of PNCC, Louie Sison, was so appalled that the Court of Appeals (yes, the one with many bad apples), had actually approved the agreement, that he was compelled to appeal it to the Supreme Court. The case is still pending. Imagine that, dear reader. A compromise agreement that gives a company that "invested" at most P100 million, the rights to an P18-billion company. And Devanadera signed it.

This is the Devanadera who was accused by Mark Jimenez of extorting money from him at his house (presumably for her law mentor/partner Hernani Perez) and as undersecretary of justice under Simeon Datumanong, was said to be "sitting’ on Perez’ case. This is the Devanadera, who as officer-in-charge of the Justice Department (while Raul Gonzales was on sick leave), reversed the decision of her state prosecutor in the Delgado murder case with such haste (he had found no probable cause to charge Luis Q. Gonzalez with murder) that her decision was filled with glaring factual errors -- including when the murder took place, not to mention lousy reasoning. The Court of Appeals, in its decision ordering the information against Gonzalez quashed, found very serious flaws in her legal reasoning. The Supreme Court, in its decision upholding the CA, severely criticized Devanadera’s actuations as solicitor general in the same case.

And finally, this is the same Devanadera, who again as solicitor general, declared (with a straight face at that) that using Mariano Tanenglian as a state witness against his brother Lucio Tan would be disadvantageous to the government (!!) in the prosecution of its case against Lucio. Mariano, in case anyone still doesn’t know, was treasurer and director of all Lucio’s corporations, being with him from the start. Mariano and Lucio were as thick as thieves until a very bitter, and irreconcileable falling out between the brothers. Mariano offered to tell all -- and Devanadera has blocked him from doing so.

Good grief.

This is the woman that eight justices of the Supreme Court want to sit on the bench with them? Any one of the above incidents would suffice to cast a huge cloud of doubt on either her integrity, or her competence, or both. Which should automatically disqualify her, borrowing from the precautionary principle. What is more, if they all of a sudden have remembered that they need a lady justice (none of the new appointees are women) there are at least two women Court of Appeals justices that have both integrity and competence in spades -- whose names have never been bruited about practitioners of transactional justice, and whose judicial excellence has been publicly recognized and unquestioned: CA Justices Josefina G. Salonga and Portia A. Hormachuelos. Why not them? Is it because they have no political backers? Or is it because they do not lobby (shamelessly) with the SC justices for the position?

Please, Judicial and Bar Council. We need candidates whose appointments will bring honor, and not shame, to their respective positions.

As for the Legislature -- or rather, the Senate. The Senate Committee of the Whole, which means the entire Senate, had been investigating an ethics complaint against Manny Villar in connection with certain road projects. Villar himself has refused to participate in the hearings, just as he refused to participate in the Ethics Committee hearings (which is why the Ethics Committee recommended that the hearings be handled by the Committee of the Whole in the first place). Having called the Ethics Committee a kangaroo court composed of presidential hopefuls who had their knives out for him, he then called the entire Senate a bigger kangaroo court. The members of his block, called the Minority Block (Joker Arroyo, the two Cayetanos, J, Kiko Pangilinan, Nene Pimentel, and Villar himself) also refused to participate.

Questions present themselves, and the first should be asked of Villar: How come, while he was Senate president, he did not consider the Senate as a kangaroo court-type body? What happened, other than the fact that he was thrown out as Senate president, to change the character of its members? Could it have been that presidential hopefuls from among the senators, numbering seven (aside from Villar) of the 23 members -- Aquino, Escudero, Gordon, Lacson, Legarda, Madrigal, and Roxas -- had their knives out for him? But why not for each other as well?

But that would account for only seven of the senators. What does that make of the other 15 senators? Mindless automatons at the beck and call of these presidential wannabes? What an indictment of the Senate.

In any case, the Committee of the Whole finished its hearings, and its report was being drafted, when out comes Senate P.S. Res. No. 1472 "expressing the sense of the Senate to dismiss, as it hereby dismisses the complaint against Senator Manuel B. Villar and clear as it hereby clears him of alleged acts of disorderly behavor."

Just like that. Without even waiting for the draft report of the Committee of the Whole to come out.

Why not? Because, it would seem from the Proposed Senate Resolution, the signatories had already weighed the evidence and come to their conclusion, far ahead of the counsels and staff of the Committee as a Whole.

And who were these signatories? Well, of course you have the Minority Block, who did not even bother to attend the hearings -- including, you guessed it, Villar himself, who essentially judged himself and found himself innocent. That’s six. And then the other six were Loren Legarda, who is now Villar’s running mate, Ramon Revilla Jr, Lito Lapid, Gringo Honasan , Jinggoy Estrada (who is running in Villar’s ticket), and Mirian Santiago.

But now another question: Does this mean that the Senate is no longer a kangaroo court, as Villar charged it to be? If the answer is yes, then a follow-up question: What changed the character of the senators this time around?

That this resolution, so premature, so defiant of basic rules of conduct, so obviously timed to try to take the sails out of the report of the Committee of the Whole (making it moot and academic) has been referred to the Senate Committee on Rules is immaterial. The picture we get is of a Senate where members can defy the body as a whole and get a way with it, where graft charges can be whitewashed by a simple resolution, where justice is a matter of transaction -- of convenience, even -- rather than a matter of law.

And these are our representatives? And these are our servants? God help us.

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