JONATHAN DELA CRUZ
It started with a rumor and continues to be fueled by rumors. First, rumor had it that certain forces are out to impeach Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Reynato Puno. No less than his spokesman, lawyer Jose Midas Marquez, confirmed this at the Kapihan sa Sulo forum last Saturday. Marquez said that a reporter from a Manila broadsheet called him up the week before asking his reaction to a rumor that some people close to the Palace are bent on filing an impeachment complaint against Puno. He went along and said that they have also been hearing similar rumors but the Chief Justice just shrugged this off for what they were — rumors. These rumors were incorporated with other rumors of the same nature into one big, banner story the Monday after. And, the rest as they say, is now history in the making. Rumor on top of rumor.
The rumored impeachment was actually triggered by another rumor — that Puno's refusal to promulgate an SC decision signed by 14 justices ousting Negros Oriental Rep. Janet Limkaichong for being an alien was prompted by interests other than the ruling not having any "doctrinal value." That rumor in turn was based on internal court documents including records of the debates and reflections of the members before, during and after affixing their signatures and even soon got their way to the house of Limkaichong's critic, Louis "Barok" Biraogo, who in turn is rumored to be a fraternity brother of the solon's political opponent and predecessor, Jacinto Paras, whose wife run against her. But back to that second rumor.
The story is that Puno along with Justice Antonio Carpio "maneuvered" to have the full court conduct oral arguments — considered unprecedented by Limkaichong's detractors — to allow the other justices to change their minds and perhaps go along with Carpio's written reflections on the case. That rumor was boosted by the impression that the line of arguments proffered by Limkaichong's new lawyer, dean Pacifico Agabin, and new solicitor-on-case, Renan Ramos, who are rumored to be Puno's fraternity brothers, were eerily similar. Instead of asking his boss, SolGen Agnes Devanadera what happened, the critics put a negative spin on Ramos' change of mind.
And rumors of money changing hands, among or between who, started to surface with rumored details to spice things up. Rumored Puno run. Then, the rumor of Puno's possible presidential run caught fire after the Chief Justice himself came out swinging against the "shadowy forces" out to malign him and destroy the court. Apparently, his ruminations about the need for a moral force to change the course of our history triggered a spate of rumors, semi-rumors and actual endorsements. Sen. Ping Lacson started the ball rolling with a gratuitous advice that he was willing to forgo his presidential ambition if and only if the Chief Justice agrees to run with him playing second fiddle. That advice took a turn with a set of other rumors this time involving Lacson already.
The solon was playing it up to Puno, the rumor went, in time for the full court's hearing on the "Kuratong Baleleng" case and the rumored imminent deportation from the US of his two lieutenants, Col. Michael Ray Aquino and Cesar Mancao, to face criminal charges lodged against them for the Dacer-Corbito murders. These are mere conjectures, of course, but like Puno's rumored imminent impeachment, they have taken a life of their own. And the rumors get going buoyed no less by the Chief Justice playing coy about his plans while the court takes time to act on the earlier rumored maneuvering in the case at bar. Then, to add more rumor to the mill, last Saturday in the same Kapihan forum where Marquez guested Iglesia Filipina Independiente Bishop Nilo Tayag, a contemporary of Puno's at the University of the Philippines and former KM chairman, launched the Puno-for-President Movement vowing to put together a group to gather 2 million signatures to convince the Chief Justice to run in 2010.
Initially, Tayag was looking at church and youth groups to spearhead the effort noting that the Chief Justice has such a moral standing grounded on his Christian upbringing as a leading member of the Methodist Church in the Philippines. That triggered another round of endorsements and, yes, rumors and twists about this enveloping run. Kapatiran and their workouts.
The problem of Tayag's call is that it has triggered all kinds of rumors and workouts in its wake, all of which tend to put not only the Chief Justice but the entire court in a bind. It has unduly politicized the situation to the point that any advisory from the Chief Justice and even the Court now will be treated gingerly and with a huge dose of salt. Thus, even if the Kapatiran party which founder Nandy Pacheco called a "God-centered" grouping and that of other religious groups saying they are just civic minded citizens seeking to put "morality and good governance" at the forefront of public debate in endorsing Puno they run the risk of violating time honored precepts on the separation of church and state. They also put their very advocacies or even personal or sectoral concerns which require judicial consideration, into play and place Puno in a quandary.
On top of this, the mobilization, voluntary or otherwise, of court personnel from the justices of the Court of Appeals, the association of judges and court personnel and others associated with the judiciary including the IBP in support of the initiatives to derail the rumored imminent impeachment and then the possible presidential run of Chief Justice Puno places the SC in a course which is bound to degrade its standing as an impartial body and the court of last resort on any and all legal and constitutional questions. That will be very sad indeed and something we can ill afford to have at this time.