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Contract Killings


Monday, 21 July 2008

Philippines corruption and extrajudicial killings

The image of an “activist” Supreme Court, nurtured by Chief Justice Reynato Puno and cultivated by his predecessors, was demolished in just 18 pages.
The two dissenting opinions, penned by Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio-Morales, criticized the majority of cop-out when they dismissed for being moot the petition filed by Iloilo Vice Governor Rolex Suplico on the botched $329 million National Broadband Network (NBN) project.
Without holding their punches, Carpio and Morales said the Supreme Court (SC) shirked from its constitutional duty of exercising its check and balance function against abuses, whether these are potential or imminent.
Chief Justice Puno, picking up from what his predecessors had left behind, has been reinforcing the activist image of the court by exercising its rule-making power under the Constitution. The High Court only recently held a summit to improve access to justice by the poor, a follow-up to the extrajudicial killings summit held last year. Two of the outputs from that summit were the writ of habeas data and writ of amparo.The Suplico ruling, however, could further reinforce perceptions that the Court is actually beholden to the President.
In a majority decision written by Associate Justice Ruben Reyes, the High Court junked Suplico’s petition for being moot and academic since the government had already cancelled the controversial contract with ZTE Corp.. Suplico had asked the Court to declare the contract null and void for constitutional violations and bidding violations.The project triggered fresh resignation calls on President Arroyo after it was revealed that First Gentleman Miguel “Mike” Arroyo and resigned Commission on Elections chair Benjamin Abalos allegedly acted in behalf of ZTE in exchange for huge commissions. Jose “Joey” de Venecia, son and namesake of former House Speaker Jose de Venecia, disclosed at a Senate hearing that Mr. Arroyo and Abalos pressured him to back out from the project. The younger De Venecia was president of Amsterdam Holdings Inc, which lost out to ZTE in bagging the NBN contract.The controversy prompted Abalos to resign from Commission on Elections (Comelec) and caused the transfer of then National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) chair Romulo Neri to the Commission on Higher Education.
It also spawned judicial questions on the nature and extent of executive privilege.Apparently recognizing the political storm generated by the project, the Court said that part of its judicial role is to strengthen political stability. “Pontificating on issues which no longer legitimately constitute an actual case or controversy will do more harm that good to the nation. Wise exercise of judicial discretion militates against resolving the academic issues,” the Court said.“Where there is no more live subject of controversy, the Court ceases to have a reason to render any ruling or make any pronouncements,” it added. Ten other justices concurred with Reyes’s ponencia while three—Carpio, Carpio-Morales and Ma. Austria-Martinez dissented. Justice Minita Chico-Nazario was on official leave.
Outvoted, the minority questioned the new-found judicial prudence of the majority.
In their separate dissents, Carpio and Morales argued that the petition warranted a decision based on the merits and not on technicality. They argued the Court should have made a categorical declaration that the contract was null and void from the beginning.In arguing against the dismissal, Carpio pointed out that the case “puts to the test the efficacy of constitutional and statutory proscriptions designed precisely to prevent such contracts.”He added: “The Court has the duty to resolve the important issues…to prevent a recurrence of government contracts that violate the Constitution and existing statutes.”In his 31-page dissent, Carpio argued that there is no question that the contract was null and void since it was awarded and signed without an appropriation from Congress and without the benefit of public bidding.He reminded his colleagues of their constitutional duty to uphold check and balance, pointing out that such anomalous contracts can be repeated.
“If our democratic institutions are to be strengthened, this Court must not shirk from its primordial duty to preserve and uphold the Constitution,” Carpio said. “It is time to put an end to government procurement contracts, amounting to tens of billions of pesos, exceeding even the annual budget of the judiciary, that are awarded and signed without an appropriation from Congress and the required public bidding.”In her separate dissent, Carpio-Morales reminded the majority that such anomalous contracts are bound to be repeated and that the cancellation of the contract was “not an excuse for the Court to decide the petitions on the merits.”
She also reminded that the Court of three cases, Province of Batangas v. Romulo and Manalo v. Calderon, and most recently, David v. Arroyo, where the Court did not hesitate to resolve the issues despite supervening events that made the cases moot.
In the David v. Arroyo, which was incidentally penned by Reyes, Carpio-Morales pointed out that the “Court decided the case on the merits notwithstanding the recall by the National Police on the restrictive custody orders against the petitioners.”Although the petition was declared moot, the SC ruled on it based on the merits “as the matter is capable of repetition or susceptible of recurrence.”

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