Inconvenient truths
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - July 18, 2020 - 12:00am

As if the Presidential Spokesman didn’t have enough on his plate, he has had to double time, of late, cleaning up after Secretaries Duque and Año with their sudden attacks of thinking out loud.

Thinking out loud is ok if you have something constructive to contribute. With Secretary Francisco Duque III, unfortunately, his epiphanies detract from the effort and aggravate the already crushing misery. Secretary Harry Roque and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea were forced to refute his premature statement last May 20 about us being in the second wave. And just this week, against all empirical data, his claim that we have flattened the curve.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian sees that the DOH has been reduced to just analyzing epidemiological data and giving public health advice. And, even in that, there are complaints. The Senator is right that the bulk of the work is already being done by the NTF. Plus, the President has appointed three new coronavirus “czars” for isolation, tracing and treatment, further marginalizing Sec. Duque’s role.

Freudian slip. As to Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año’s thinking aloud, it took more than just Sec. Harry to “interpret” his shocking subconscious. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, PNP Deputy Director Guillermo Eleazar and DOH Undersecretary Rosario Singh-Vergeire walked back the gaffe about the PNP conducting house to house operations to isolate COVID-19 positive patients. Apparently, the PNP will merely provide escort and assistance to local and health officials in carrying out their mandates.

Sec. Año, however, can’t move on from the mindset. He still refers to the effort as a house to house search. But Roque says there’ll be none of that – no knock knock,  just reporting. So local, health and police officials will be like the paramedics picking up the positives, once reported.

Isolate the identified. The relevant provisions of law, RA 11332 “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act” provide, as follows: Sec. 6 x x x (e) x x x authorized health personnel from the DOH and its local counterparts have the statutory and regulatory authority to enforce the following: x x x (4) Rapid containment, quarantine and isolation, disease prevention and control measures, and product recall. In Sec. 9, Prohibited Acts are: (e) Non-cooperation of the person or entities identified as having the notifiable disease, or affected by the health event of public concern.

The operative word here would be identified. If the identification of positive individuals is by scientific or medical method, the grim reaper isolation would be a non-issue. Even the IBP has conceded to this public health necessity police power exercise and its legal basis.

It’s the identification by chismis or nguso that is problematic. Not all positives are prepared to out themselves. Many, rich or poor, prefer to get well at home. Even their loved ones would risk infection than to be separate, even if reporting is mandatory. Clearer guidelines are needed on how local health officials come up with their lists. Otherwise, every cough or sneeze inside an urban poor community becomes a sentence.

Serene Warrior. Iconic US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been discharged from hospital. The tiny Jewish grandmother that arouses our protective instincts, whose intellect and passion resonated with generations, is also RBG the rockstar. The legacy of this Columbia Law School stalwart in the landscape of American civil liberty could fill volumes. Biographies, movies and documentaries have already reintroduced her to the millennial headspace, creating a pop culture phenomenon. Bane of gender discrimination and champion of minorities, she may be a diminutive five feet but she is a giant of the court and pillar of its liberal wing.

RBG is 87. A survivor of procedures for colon, lung and pancreatic cancer who has earned the right to retire several times over. Her “UnLi” service on the bench, her steely focus and legendary work ethic will not allow a surrender. She remains sharp as ever and intends to stay on for as long as she can “full steam”.

Life tenure is one of the US Supreme Court’s signature protections to judicial independence. It has also been scored by critics as one the framers’ worst blunders. RBG is not about to yield her seat (strategic retirement) and present President Donald Trump with the golden ticket to appoint another arch conservative to the court, after Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Blue Ribbon. President William Howard Taft, in rejecting the idea of promoting Senior Associate Justice John Marshall Harlan to Chief, groused: “I won’t make the position of Chief Justice a blue ribbon for the final years of any member of the Court.” Arguably, our own JBC has institutionalized this philosophy in its latest rule disqualifying applicants to the Supreme Court if they would only end up serving 2.5 years (if applicant is a high public official). For lesser public officials or applicants from private practice, they have to be at most 65 years. The purpose is ostensibly the learning curve. But it also rightly limits entitlement to the Court’s golden parachute retirement packages. Our compulsory retirement age is 70.

Questions of constitutionality and propriety will hound this controversial rule. JBC member Justice Jose Catral Mendoza, Ret. interprets this rule to exempt sitting Supreme Court Justices that are aspirants for Chief Justice. Fellow JBC member Secretary of Justice Menardo Guevarra admits, however, that the scenario was not discussed. Former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, with due respect, asks to amend the rule to clarify how it applies to applicants for Chief Justice.

High Court Cinderella. The newest Supreme Court Associate Justice is newcomer to the short list, Hon. Priscilla Baltazar Padilla. Well known in academic circles, she was Civil Law Examiner at the 2019 Bar exams, a professorial lecturer at the PHILJA and at Metro Manila law schools. Alumnus of the Lyceum of the Philippines University College of Law and 5th place at the 1984 Bar Exams, she will serve eight years at the High Court. Congratulations Madame Justice.

SECRETARY FRANCISCO DUQUE III
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