Times they are a-changin

SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - January 13, 2018 - 12:00am

The Aguinaldo condonation doctrine was law of the land for 23 years. It cleared an untold number of elective officials from pending administrative accountability the moment they were re-elected. It was only in 2015 that the Court reversed itself seeing the doctrine’s continued life as anathema to the Constitution’s thrust toward public accountability.

In re-election cases that are not election protests – as in condonation situations, the Court has always given wide berth to uncontested election results. The lodestar has always been the Court’s deference to popular will. But in cases where the results are themselves the issue, the decision matrix is different.

Given how the Court has shown its willingness to embrace innovation as when it struck down the Aguinaldo doctrine, it might be opportune to revisit other landmark election related cases where once the parties own acts were afforded more weight than public interest.

Abandoning abandonment. One such case is that of Miriam Defensor Santiago in 1992 where Senator Miriam’s assumption of office as re-elected Senator was deemed an abandonment of her pending Presidential electoral protest against Fidel Ramos. Given the upcoming 2019 Senatorial elections and the outcry for Senator Ferdinand Marcos’ return service in the Senate, does this Defensor-Santiago doctrine still deserve its extended life?

Santiago vs Ramos was contentious where the Aguinaldo case was not. To the eight-vote majority, strong dissents were issued by then Associate Justice Reynato Puno and also by Justices Santiago Kapunan and Jose Vitug. Again, the public interest is better served when the protest continues so that the true winner may be known.

This is the 3rd straight vice presidential election that ended in a protest before the Electoral Tribunal. Perhaps it is time to consider single ticket voting as one of the several issues that would open up if the envisioned constitutional amendment/revisions were to ever get on track. This is highly doubtful what with House justice committee chair Reynaldo Umali targeting an April timetable for elevating the Chief Justice’s Articles of Impeachment to the Senate.

Separate but equal. There is still this martial law extension hangover – where we saw both Houses assembled under one roof and where the vote was joint. Of course, this is because the Constitution in referring to the Congressional veto on Martial Law speaks pointedly of joint voting.

There is no such explicit constitutional language in referring to Charter amendments/revisions by Constituent Assembly.  However loudly the House may insist on joint voting, the Senators have already made their position clear that the Senate votes separately from the House.

The bigger story is if they are able to secure the needed 3/4th vote. What this means is that even if the House succeeds in producing their own 3/4th vote; all it would take is for a mere 7 Senators to put their foot down and Cha-cha is dead. 

Of course, inevitably the Supreme Court will don its oracular robes to divine what we really meant when we ratified the 1987 Constitution. Come, let us ready ourselves for yet another dramatic decision where our Justices’ mental, moral and intestinal fortitudes are sure to be tested.

Innocence lost. The newest addition to Roxas’ statue boulevard is a memorial to Philippine women victimized during the second world war at the hands of occupying Japanese forces.

This is not an issue confined to the Philippines. The most insistent noise on this continues to be heard between allies but former mortal enemies, South Korea and Japan. They have largely had to set aside this wrinkle, though, in the face of the pressing North Korea-United States nuclear brinksmanship.

But at least Japan in 2015 entered into a bilateral agreement with South Korea where the Japanese Government issued a statement of regret and promised to deposit an amount of $8.3 million in an indemnity fund for these “comfort women.”

We have not been afforded the same concession, it appearing that our governments so far have been mollified by the amount of aid and other trade agreements, strategic partnerships, military cooperation and the genuine friendship we have shared with Japan.

Beware of greeks bearing gifts. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD) famously lamented how the European Union dared to tell us what to do just because of its development aid. This is in stark contrast to how his predecessors were scared not to offend and to jeopardize the welcome help. How will he react to Japan?

Some sectors have bewailed the government’s knee jerk reaction, specifically how the Department of Foreign Affairs asked concerned offices for an explanation. Teresita Ang See and Gabriella openly contest the official posture. It is the proverbial none are so blind as those who refuse to see.

Twisting in the wind. The loudest voice on this issue used to belong to Harry Roque. As then lead counsel of Malaya Lolas, he issued statement after statement arguing for Phl to be given the same 2015 bilateral agreement. Even when he was already in Congress, he continued to express his personal view that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, then on the famous state visit which included the intimate hosting at PRRD’s Davao residence, should compensate Phl comfort women. It would remove the final thorn in Phl-Japan relations.

As Presidential spokesman today, he is nowhere on the subject. To his credit, he clarified in response to the Japanese government’s expressed displeasure that he doesn’t believe it to be a diplomatic issue. Sec. Roque was confident in the strength of our relations with Japan. Note that nothing was said about whether it was a mistake to erect the statue or if the same were to be removed.

Even in South Korea, activists continue to repudiate the 2015 agreement and have defiantly insisted on putting up statues wherever they can. Harry may have turned into a statue on this issue but the same is far from being resolved.

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