It’s not seemly for anyone to apply to be ‘Chief Justice’ like an eager job-applicant

BY THE WAY - Max V. Soliven -
Sorry, Miriam – you may cuss me out if you will – but I don’t believe it’s dignified for anybody, even one who spent years in the judiciary and is now a Senator, to publicly "apply" to become the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Sure, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago is being nominated by some people, even being "backed" by Solicitor General Antonio Nachura (a former Congressman himself). But it seems there are too many politicians pushing for her being jumped into the Supreme Court – and starting at the top, by golly. Is the tart-tongued lady legislator really applying for the post? Anyhow, she didn’t even bother to act surprised when she was "nominated" for the Chief Justiceship, soon to be vacated by Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban (on December 6th). Ma’am Miriam dimpled and coyly speculated that she would not only be the first "outsider" to be pole-vaulted into that exalted position, but would, if blessed by La Presidenta, be the first woman Chief Justice. Playing the feminist card could be calculated, perhaps, to appeal to a woman Chief Executive.

La Miriam, of course, would have to subject herself to the formality of going through vetting by the Judicial and Bar Council, but the JBC – judging from its past record – is not impervious to a little persuasion. However, any group hoping to stampede GMA into designating a candidate "Chief Justice" owing, partly to a barrage of publicity and media hype goes against the grain.

It would be better, and more in tune with delicadeza (that forgotten virtue) for the good Senator to first become an Associate Justice, then be moved upstairs after a period of serving on the Bench like a faithful foot-soldier. To leap-frog into the chair of the Chief Justice from a political seat simply smacks of too much political hokum.

I won’t say that this was in Senator Defensor-Santiago’s grand strategy when she began accompanying the President on her official journeys abroad as a member of her official party, but La Senadora was frequently one step behind La Gloria at every photo opportunity. Maybe she just enjoyed La Presidenta’s company.
* * *
And now to the still on-going Jejomar Binay "drama."

Just as politicians and public officials criminally or administratively charged immediately claim that the charges against them are politically-motivated, complainants whose complaints are dismissed often allege that the prosecutors or judges who ruled against them were "bribed."

The allegation made publicly at a press conference by former Makati Vice-Mayor Roberto Brillante, in the aftermath of the dismissal of a graft case he filed against Makati Mayor Binay, by the Sandiganbayan’s 3rd Division that the three justices concerned had been bribed P10 million each is a very serious indictment.

Brillante not only insisted that Justices Godofredo Legaspi, Efren de la Cruz, and Norberto Geraldez had gotten P30 million out of a purported P100 million Binay lobby fund, but he insultingly called them "scoundrels in robes."

Remember, the worst accusation that can be levelled against a member of the judiciary is bribery – a ground for dismissal by the Supreme Court and a criminal offense both under the Revised Penal Code and the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

Bobby Brillante asserts that he will file charges against the Justices he named – in that case, he must prove with credible evidence his allegation. If he cannot, he must be made accountable by the three magistrates he described as "scoundrels." Members of the judiciary are not, by law, helpless targets of irresponsible vilifiers. They have ample powers to punish those who malign them with "unfounded" statements.

For that matter, the court that Brillante assailed is not an ordinary court of law. It is the nation’s anti-graft tribunal. Justices Legaspi, de la Cruz and Geraldez, if they committed no wrong, should fight for their honor and that of the institution they serve.

Of course, there are those who believe Binay and his dynasty guilty of a wide variety of sins. Yet his culpability must still be judiciously weighed and proven. I don’t doubt Brillante’s sincerity in pursuing instances of Jojo B.’s alleged wrongdoing. And I certainly don’t mean to imply that this pursuit is the offshoot of a grudge fight. A few years ago, Brillante was ambushed in his car by a bunch of motorcycle-riding hoodlums, and he narrowly escaped death (he was wounded), but his driver was killed. At that time, he had accused Binay of having sent those goons to assassinate him.

Politics, even during the days of the late Mayor Nemesio Yabut, who first made his two-fisted fortune on the waterfront, has always been a rough and tumble game in Makati. Don’t be fooled by the snazzy and ritzy high-rises and chrome-and-glass palaces that gussy up the financial district. Makati, in its mean streets and barangays, remains a classic asphalt jungle – with the emphasis on jungle.
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We must put a stop to all the recrimination and name-calling over the Supreme Court decision, by 8-7, junking the so-called "People’s Initiative."

What then Associate Justice Artemio Panganiban said in 1997, or nine years ago in the wake of the PIRMA and Santiago vs. Comelec decisions which sank an earlier move to amend the Constitution, is happening again. Panganiban had stated in 1997 that no case in the Supreme Court had elicited more controversy and more critical outbursts from media and the public than the two "Cha-Cha" cases decided then by the High Tribunal. History is repeating itself today.

Up to now, angry comments pro and con are being aired over the Court’s narrow 8-7 ruling which threw into the trash can the "People’s Initiative" of Sigaw ng Bayan and the ULAP of Bohol Gov. Aumentado. I notice that many of those analyzing the 8-7 decision are not lawyers, yet have instantly become constitutional law experts. Some of these "experts" are even expressing high hopes that a reversal of the 8-7 decision is possible if only one of the eight crosses over to the other side.

I don’t know if any of the 8 nailed by the anti-People’s Initiative groups as "the Magnificent Eight" will be willing to become a "deserter" risking public indictment. Even if Chief Justice Panganiban, who was the most prominent anti-People’s Initiative Justice retires on December, this probably won’t affect any motion for reconsideration. Those who tried to push through Cha-Cha in the above manner have simply run out of time.

Former President Fidel V. Ramos, who had favored the 1997 Cha-Cha, is shrugging and saying "it’s time to move on," adding that "a good general does not waste his resources in an old battlefield, but seeks new openings so he can advance." I don’t often agree with FVR, but the battlefield allegory is appropriate.

If I had my druthers, we’d stop scraping over instant salvation through Cha-Cha and concentrate instead on happy reality – such as the Moody’s outlook upgrade, the stock market upswing, the strength of the peso, and the surprising forward momentum of our economy. There used to be a song which went: "Accentuate the Positive . . ." What we’re still deplorably doing is harping on the Negative.

At this juncture I recall the wonderful injunction of the now defunct "Christopher Movement."

The movement which had rapidly been gaining ground and inspiring a lot of converts had to be abandoned, alas, because the Vatican had suddenly and amazingly announced that there had never been any "Saint Christopher," whom everybody adored as "the Christ-bearer." By gosh, the great Cristobal Colon – Christopher Columbus – the intrepid admiral who had "discovered" the New World for Spain and a host of other great men had been named after him!

Anyway, that terrific slogan went: "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness."

What we’re hearing are too many curses. What we’re seeing is too little light.
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Sanamagan. All of a sudden, it’s crunch time in the United States of America. The voters are going to the polls there next Tuesday (November 7) to decide who’ll dominate the House of Representatives and the Senate – thus upholding or crippling the Presidency of George W. Bush.

The Democrats’ fortunes are running high (despite the stumble of their former Presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who put his foot in his mouth and slammed the US servicemen who are fighting and dying in Iraq. Kerry lamely "apologized" and explained that in his botched remarks he had meant to insult Bush, not the soldiers and marines in Iraq, but that explanation fell with a clunk, and Kerry slunk away from the campaign).

That being said, the Democrats’ prospect are in disarray, with the surveys not affording them any good cheer. Yet, will the Democrats manage to pick up the 15 extra House seats and the additional six Senate seats they need to wrest Congressional dominance from the Republicans? We’ll know pretty soon.

In the meantime, the down-to-the-wire campaign is turning really dirty – with mudslinging as vicious as anything we’ve witnessed in our dear Philippines. The latest scandal dredged up involves a prominent preacher, the president no less of the Evangelical backers of President Dubya himself. Pastor Ted Haggard has been looking more haggard (ouch!) and less pastoral, no thanks to the accusation of a gay man who announced that the good preacher had had sex with him and even bought methamphetamines (shabu-stuff) from him.

The preacher confessed he, indeed, had bought drugs from that Brokeback fella, but denied he had ever had sex with him. As for the drugs, he declared, he had never used them! Reminds me of Bill Clinton who had admitted that as a young man he had put a marijuana cigarette in his mouth – but he didn’t inhale! (Ha, you thought I was going to mention Monica who delivered pizza to the Oval Office).

I guess the Democrats are trying to imply that Bush and his group had for years been taking religious advice from the wrong Pastor.

Finally, there’s the central question of Iraq. October proved the deadliest month for American servicemen there, with 104 soldiers and marines killed, the highest total of fatalities in a single month. Worse, in the first two days of November, another 11 Americans were slain. It would seem that the mujahideen and the anti-American guerrillas and militias in war-wrecked Iraq are attempting to influence how Americans vote next Tuesday.

And why not? The bombing of those trains entering Al Atocha central station in Madrid toppled the Aznar government party in a surprising switch in the last two days of the campaign, and brought the Socialists under Zapatero to power. Those Islamic fanatics may be dubbed crazy, but in political warfare they’re crazy like a fox.

Poor Bush. Bushwhacked, as I’ve said, by the Iraq issue. And yet who knows? Like the Spanish vote, the American vote could be subject to change without previous warning – and in the last two minutes.

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