This post is also emailed to many Manila-based reporters.
THE CHIEF JUSTICE PUNO CONTROVERSY:
AGAIN, SO THE PUBLIC MAY KNOW
CHIEF JUSTICE REYNATO PUNO COMMITTED AN IRREGULARITY
IN A CASE PENDING BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT BUT DENIES IT.
AS REQUESTED BY THE PUBLIC, HERE ARE THE PERTINENT DETAILS.
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In February 2008, Louis "Barok" Biraogo filed a petition in the Supreme Court en banc questioning the use of public funds to pay the salary of Negros Oriental Representative Jocelyn Sy Limkaichong on the ground that she has been declared an alien by final judgment of the Commission on Elections (Comelec). His petition (G.R. No. 179120) was consolidated with other similar petitions against Limkaichong (G.R. Nos. 179132-33 and G.R. Nos. 179240-41). By June 2008, Biraogo filed his last pleading and consequently, pursuant to Section 15 (2), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution –
"A case or matter shall be deemed submitted for decision or resolution upon the filing of the last pleading, brief, or memorandum required by the Rules of Court or by the court itself."
the consolidated cases were deemed submitted for decision.
The Supreme Court en banc eventually arrived at the conclusion that Limkaichong is, indeed, an alien disqualified from membership in the House of Representatives, and Associate Justice Ruben T. Reyes was assigned to write the Decision of the Court. In its session held on July 15, 2008, the Court en banc unanimously approved the Decision or ponencia written by Justice Reyes. All 14 Associate Justices of the Court affixed their respective signatures on the Decision written by Justice Reyes. Seven (7) Justices concurred in (agreed with) the conclusion of the Court that Limkaichong is an alien and the reasons for arriving at that conclusion, while seven (7) concurred in the result, i.e., agreed with the conclusion of the Court that Limkaichong is an alien, without necessarily agreeing with the reasons therefor. Nobody, not even Chief Justice Puno himself, dissented or disagreed. All this is admitted by the Court in its Resolution dated December 10, 2008 –
"During its session on 15 July 2008, the En Banc continued its deliberations on the ponencia of Justice Ruben T. Reyes in these consolidated cases. Since no one raised any further objections to Justice Reyes' ponencia, the En Banc approved the ponencia with a number of Justices saying that they were concurring 'in the result.' Justice Reyes then circulated immediately his ponencia for signature by the Justices during the same session. … "
On August 26, 2008, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Biraogo and related petitions. Former U.P. law school Dean Pacifico Agabin (a good friend and fraternity brother of Chief Justice Puno) joined the case for the first time and argued for Limkaichong. Assistant Solicitor General Renan Ramos (also a fraternity brother of the Chief Justice) also joined the case for the first time and represented the Comelec. Ramos sided with the Limkaichong, prompting Justice Reyes to ask Ramos why he was defending Limkaichong instead of his client, the Comelec. Strangely, the oral arguments were held more than a month after the petitions were deemed submitted for decision. After the oral arguments, the petitions were deemed submitted for decision a second time around, in circumvention of Section 15 (2), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution quoted above.
In October 2008, an unidentified "concerned employee" of the Supreme Court sent Biraogo a brown envelope containing a letter together with a copy of the Decision written by Justice Reyes bearing the signatures of all 14 Associate Justices and a document captioned Reflections prepared by Justice Antonio T. Carpio. In the letter, the "concerned employee" told Biraogo that the Supreme Court had already ruled against Limkaichong, but Chief Justice Puno was delaying the promulgation or public release of the Decision to allow him and Justice Carpio enough time to convince his colleagues to change their minds and rule this time in favor of Limkaichong.
On December 9, 2008, Biraogo held a press conference decrying the suspicious role of Chief Justice Puno in the undue and unwarranted delay in the promulgation of the Decision written by Justice Reyes. The next day, the Supreme Court issued a Resolution admitting the authenticity of the copy of the Decision in the custody of Biraogo but claiming that it is an "unpromulgated ponencia." Promulgation was not possible in the meantime, the Court said, because the Decision did not have "doctrinal value" or the vote of at least eight (8) Justices and a decision ousting a sitting Member of the House of Representatives must have doctrinal value. The Court also ordered Biraogo to explain why he should not be punished for contempt for calling a press conference and inviting public attention to the "unpromulgated ponencia" of Justice Reyes.
In his explanation to the Court, Biraogo said that what he did was in the exercise of his constitutional right to free speech, and that there was nothing wrong with inviting the attention of both the Supreme Court and the public to an irregularity in the administration of justice.
The Supreme Court has not yet made a ruling on its threat against Biraogo but its spokesman, Atty. Midas Marquez, has been making the rounds of the media denouncing the Biraogo exposé as a lie and an attempt to distract the public from charter change overtures from Malacañang. Chief Justice Puno, too, has joined the affray saying there was nothing irregular in the handling of the cases against Limkaichong.
LET THE TRUTH SET US FREE !
CHIEF JUSTICE PUNO TALL TALE NO. 1
The Decision written by Justice Reyes and signed by all 14 Associate Justices of the Supreme Court is a mere draft, and before it is promulgated, the Justices may still change their votes and rule in favor of Limkaichong. As of the first working Tuesday of January 2009, the Court was still deliberating on the Limkaichong cases
Section 13, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution provides –
"SEC. 13. The conclusions of the Supreme Court in any case submitted to it for decision en banc or in division shall be reached in consultation before the case is assigned to a Member for the writing of the opinion of the Court. A certification to this effect signed by the Chief Justice shall be issued and a copy thereof attached to the record of the case and served upon the parties. Any Member who took no part, or dissented, or abstained from a decision or resolution must state the reason therefor. …"
This provision of the Constitution clearly states that once a Justice is assigned by the Supreme Court to write the Decision in a case (the ponente), it means that –
ONE. The Court had already arrived at its conclusions in that particular
TWO. Its conclusions were arrived at in consultation with each other.
Simply put, the designation of the writer or ponente of a case means that a final decision has been arrived at by the Supreme Court. The final character of the decision is confirmed by the use of the term conclusions in Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution. Thus, the Decision written by Justice Reyes is the final Decision of the Supreme Court en banc in the Limkaichong case and being the final Decision of the Court, it may no longer be altered or modified as if it were a mere draft. Besides, draft decisions of the Court bear the word "draft." The Decision signed by the 14 Associate Justices does not bear the word "draft." By its nature, a final decision cannot be subjected to further deliberations. It may be deliberated upon once more only after and not before a motion for reconsideration is filed with the Court within the period allowed for it.
CHIEF JUSTICE PUNO TALL TALE NO. 2
The Decision written by Justice Reyes does not meet the requirements of Section 14, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution.
Section 14, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution provides –
"SEC. 14. No decision shall be rendered by any court without expressing therein clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based."
The Decision written by Justice Reyes consists of 36 pages. It recites the pertinent facts of the case and cites the numerous constitutional provisions and laws upon which its ruling is based. There are 37 footnotes supporting its citations. Clearly, the Decision satisfies the requirements of Section 14, Article VIII of the Constitution. Whether or not some Justices agree with the Decision does not change the nature of the Decision.
CHIEF JUSTICE PUNO TALL TALE NO. 3
The Decision written by Justice Puno cannot be promulgated because it has no doctrinal value. Also, a decision unseating a Member of the House of Representatives must have doctrinal value.
There is nothing in the Constitution and in the law which states that a decision of the Supreme Court cannot be promulgated if it has no doctrinal value. Philippine jurisprudence is rich with instances where the Supreme Court promulgated its decision even if the same has no doctrinal value. These cases include Morales, Jr. v. Ponce Enrile (121 SCRA 538 ), Gonzales v. Kalaw Katigbak (137 SCRA 717 ), Co v. Electoral Tribunal (199 SCRA 692 [1991) and League of Cities v. Commission on Elections (G.R. No. 176951, November 19, 2008). To say that Limkaichong cannot be unseated from Congress by way of the Decision written by Justice Reyes unless it has doctrinal value is to give Limkaichong special treatment she does not deserve. To do so also suggests that the standard of justice for a Member of Congress is different from that for an ordinary citizen. The special treatment in favor of Limkaichong is a brazen violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution which mandates that people similarly situated should be treated similarly. Besides, the ruling of the Court in Co v. Electoral Tribunal cited earlier involved a Member of Congress but it got promulgated even if it did not have doctrinal value.
CHIEF JUSTICE PUNO TALL TALE NO. 4
In its Resolution dated December 10, 2008, the Supreme Court en banc said
"During its session on 15 July 2008, the En Banc continued its deliberations on the ponencia of Justice Ruben T. Reyes in these consolidated cases. Since no one raised any further objections to Justice Reyes' ponencia, the En Banc approved the ponencia with a number of Justices saying that they were concurring 'in the result.' Justice Reyes then circulated immediately his ponencia for signature by the Justices during the same session. After the session and during lunch, Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno noted that seven (7) Justices concurred 'in the result' of the ponencia of Justice Reyes. Justices Minita Chico-Nazario and Teresita Leonardo De Castro then informed the Chief Justice that they too would concur only 'in the result.' Since nine (9) Justices, not counting the Chief Justice would concur only 'in the result,' the Justices unanimously decided to withhold the promulgation of the ponencia of Justice Reyes. It was noted that if a majority concurs only 'in the result,' the ponencia has no doctrinal value. More importantly, any decision ousting a sitting member of the House of Representatives should spell out clearly the legal basis relied upon by the majority for such extreme measure. Justice Antonio T. Carpio then volunteered to write his Reflections on Justice Reyes' ponencia for discussion in the next En Banc session. During its session on 22 July 2008, the En Banc deliberated on Justice Carpio's Reflections. As a result, the En Banc unanimously decided to hold oral arguments on these consolidated cases on 21 August 2008."
Like all sessions of the Supreme Court en banc, the session held on July 15, 2008 started at 10:00 o'clock in the morning. According to the Resolution, it ended at lunchtime. That meant that the Justices had only two (2) hours to resolve its agenda for that morning, including the Limkaichong case which was Item No. 52. From all indications, the Court did not have sufficient time to deliberate on the Limkaichong cases judiciously within that limited time. Moreover, Justices of the Supreme Court do not sign decisions simultaneously in one sitting. According to Marquez in one of his public comments, a decision is sent to the offices of each of the Justices one by one, from the most junior Justice up to the Chief. How the signatures of 14 Associate Justices were obtained between 10 o'clock in the morning to lunchtime in a case that was designated Item No. 52 in the agenda is virtually impossible. All this means that there is no truth to the scenario mentioned by the Court in its Resolution dated December 10, 2008.
Mmes. Justices Nazario and De Castro did not simply "concur in the result" as the Resolution claims. They both concurred. The Decision written by Justice Reyes which recites how the 14 Associate Justices voted confirms this.
Contrary to what is stated in the Resolution of the Supreme Court dated December 10, 2008, it is not true that the Court en banc "unanimously decided to hold oral arguments on these consolidated cases on August 21, 2008" as a consequence of its having deliberated on the Reflections written by Justice Carpio during its session held on July 22, 2008. The decision of the Court to hold oral arguments was arrived at not on July 22, 2008 but on July 29, 2008. This is also confirmed by newspaper stories published on July 30, 2008. Also, if its having deliberated on the Reflections of Justice Carpio is the sole reason why the Court decided to hold oral arguments, then the Court conveniently forgot about the motion filed by Limkaichong asking the Court to hold oral arguments, as well as the ruling of the Court granting the Limkaichong motion. In addition, how come the press releases of Limkaichong relating to her motion to hold oral arguments got printed in several newspapers around that time the Court was supposedly deliberating on the matter? Also, why did Limkaichong ask for oral arguments only months after the case was submitted for decision the first time around? Did Limkaichong get advance information from someone in the Court? These are the serious questions left unanswered by the Resolution dated December 10, 2008.
Finally, the oral arguments were held not on August 21, 2008 as stated in the Resolution but on August 26, 2008.
CHIEF JUSTICE PUNO TALL TALE NO. 5
Chief Justice Puno can validly refrain from signing the Decision written by Justice Reyes even after all 14 Associate Justices had already signed it.
There is no provision of law which allows the Chief Justice to refrain from signing the Decision written by Justice Reyes. The Decision already embodies a pronouncement of the Supreme Court en banc duly deliberated upon in consultation between and among the Justices, and there is no valid reason for the Chief Justice not to sign the same. The promulgation of a Decision of the Court should not be left to the whim of the Chief Justice. After all, the Chief Justice is only one (1) of 15 Justices who make up the Supreme Court en banc. The Chief Justice is not the Supreme Court en banc. He is not the Supreme Court.
In its Resolution dated December 10, 2008, the Supreme Court en banc admitted that there were no objections to the ponencia written by Justice Reyes, not even from Chief Justice Puno. This means that the Decision written by Justice Reyes was unanimously approved by all 15 Justices of the Court. Being so, the Chief Justice has no valid and lawful basis not to sign the same.
Since the conclusions of the Supreme Court embodied in the Decision written by Justice Reyes were already arrived at by the Court after due consultation among the Justices, then it is the duty of the Chief Justice to issue a certification to that effect as mandated by the second sentence of Section 13, Article VIII of the 1987 CONSTITUTION (which uses the modal shall thus denoting a compulsory duty) –
" … A certification to this effect signed by the Chief Justice shall be issued and a copy thereof attached to the record of the case and served upon the parties. …"
If the Chief Justice has the legal obligation to issue such a certification, then it logically follows that the Chief Justice has the duty to sign the Decision written by Justice Reyes.
Considering that all 14 Associate Justices have already signed the Decision written by Justice Reyes, the refusal of Chief Justice Puno to sign the Decision means that he is unilaterally repudiating the legal basis of the signatures of the 14 Associate Justices. Chief Justice Puno has no constitutional or statutory power to make such unilateral repudiation.
As stated earlier, once the Supreme Court en banc has already arrived at its conclusions in a decision, no Justice is allowed to change his or her vote, especially where practically every other Justice had already signed the same. This is the underlying spirit of Section 13, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution cited earlier. Since Chief Justice Puno is not constitutionally permitted to change his vote, then it is his legal obligation to sign the Decision written by Justice Reyes. If Chief Justice Puno wants to change his vote, he may only do so upon a motion for reconsideration timely filed with the Court en banc.
At any rate, the Resolution itself admits that the Decision of Justice Reyes was due for promulgation but aborted the promulgation when it stated that –
"… the Justices unanimously decided to withhold the promulgation of the ponencia of Justice Reyes."