Here’s how the banana court is controlled by Gloria appointees.
March 27, 2008
SC ruling on Neri shows a Palace-controlled court: sources
By ARIES RUFO
The High Court’s ruling on the executive privilege case of Commission on Higher Education chair Romulo Neri shows a Supreme Court that is controlled by Malacanang, according to several abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak sources.
Supreme Court and legal sources predicted that the 9-6 ruling issued Tuesday, favoring secrecy over public disclosure in the Neri petition, will be the prevailing pattern of vote by the justices for other major political issues that will be raised before the Tribunal, at least for the entire year.
“It is a pattern of concealment,” said Senate private counsel Carlos Medina.
More pro-Arroyo justices to come?
Next year, the number could tilt even more heavily in favor of the Palace with the retirement of nine justices.
Two of those who dissented on the Neri decision—Justices Consuelo Ynares-Santiago and Adolfo Azcuna—are among those retiring.
The retirement of Ynares-Santiago also gives President Arroyo a chance to pack the entire High Court, with the exception of Chief Justice Reynato Puno, with handpicked appointees.
Malacañang lobbied hard to win
Tackling its first major political case under Puno’s stewardship, the SC sustained Neri’s contention that his conversations with the President on the scandal-plagued National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with China’s ZTE Corp. were covered by executive privilege.
It castigated the Senate for “committing grave abuse of discretion” in ordering his arrest for his refusal to appeal at the Senate inquiry. Puno was with the minority side.
It was a case where Malacañang worked overtime lobbying with justices who could provide the swing vote, abs-cbnNEws.com/Newsbreak gathered from court insiders and observers who requested no attribution for fear of reprisal or jeopardizing their pending cases in the Tribunal.
We learned that just before the oral argument last March 4, the justices were evenly divided on the issue, a situation that did not favor Neri since he had to get an absolute majority for his petition to be granted.
Loyalty check applied
It was in the two-week gap that followed that the Palace applied pressure on some justices. One justice reportedly was promised something in exchange for voting for Neri, while the loyalty check was applied on the others.
A justice known to be close to Arroyo was reportedly instrumental in the appointment of newly-named associate justice Arturo Brion, a move that assured the President that Brion would vote for Neri.
Brion, who was appointed only last week, participated in the voting.
Lesson learned from ‘Hello Garci’
One of the sources said the Palace learned its lesson from the Feb. 12 “Hello Garci” decision where a majority of nine justices, against six, ruled that the warning of the National Telecommunications Commission and the Department of Justice against the playing of the controversial tape is illegal.
In that case, the Palace apparently did not exert pressure on its appointees in the SC.
One of the sources said Puno was aware that the initial stalemate would not hold, and that the numbers will tilt in favor of Neri. This was why he proposed the compromise solution that would have allowed Neri to testify in the Senate but without being confronted with the three contentious questions where he invoked executive privilege.
The Senate, however, rejected the compromise solution, took the risk, but paid a heavy price.
SC now controlled by Palace?
Simply put, the Neri ruling implies that “the SC is under the control of the President and that Puno does not seem to have the majority of the justices,” the sources said. “9-6 will be the configuration for the rest of the year.”
It is one clear sign, they said, that the SC will be Malacanang’s rubber-stamp in the last two-and-a-half-years of her term. Arroyo is supposed to step down in June 2010.
One source, who has intensive background in the SC, said that from a short-term standpoint, Malacanang may control the Tribunal, but her hold could loosen in the long-term.
The justices, who are her appointees, might see the need to finally exert independence as the end of Arroyo’ term nears. “There will be a change of feelings shortly before she steps down.”
But for now, it is an SC that is belligerent against the Senate.
The majority decision, penned by Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro, brimmed with lectures and unsolicited advice against the Senate, citing its grave abuse of discretion and lack of restraint in issuing the warrant of arrest against Neri.
For instance, the majority opinion said the case should not have reached the SC had the Senate exercised the power of contempt judiciously and sparingly.
“Many of the incidents of judicial review could have been avoided if powers are discharged with circumspection and deference. Concomitant with the doctrine of separation of powers is the mandate to observe respect to a co-equal branch of the government,” the ruling stressed.
The majority of the justices also lectured senators “to cautiously tread into the investigation of matters which may present a conflict of interest that may provide a ground to inhibit the senators participating in the inquiry if later on an impeachment proceeding is initiated on the same subject matter of the present Senate inquiry.”
The senators are zeroing on the criminal culpability of the President for the approval of the anomalous NBN-ZTE project.