Calling a spade
Business World, 20 June 2012


There are so many news reports that invite comment, or at least more than just passing notice, that I beg the reader’s indulgence for not resisting the impulse to put in my P1,000 worth (or whatever I am being paid for writing a column) of reaction to such diverse topics as (1) the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) (2) the Bajo de Masinloc situation, (3) the mining horror story in Zambales, and (4)the current status of the search for Chief Justice. Here goes.

1) The news reports have the AFP spokesperson in effect praising the Aquino administration because the latter had given the former P16.8 billion in the past two years, compared to the P34 billion the AFP had received for modernization over the previous 15-year period from three previous presidents. Well, at least something good has come out of our country’s internal security problems and the dispute with China over Bajo de Masinloc. But given the juxtaposition of this report with the one about how an AFP colonel’s car was stolen right in front of his house inside the AFP’s Camp Aguinaldo (its headquarters) — one has to wonder: If the AFP cannot even secure its own backyard how can we expect it to secure the country? Is the reason it cannot secure Camp Aguinaldo that it is so severely underfunded and therefore needs even more than what Aquino has given it? Or is this going to be a case of the Filipino people throwing good money after bad? Food for thought.

2) And speaking of Bajo de Masinloc, our ships leaving the area to the Chinese is truly disturbing, and more so because of the painful/ridiculous attempts to give it a good face. There’s the excuse that the Philippine ships/boats had to get out of an incoming storm’s way: jeez, I thought one of the attractions of Bajo de Masinloc is that it offers safe haven for vessels in a storm? Then there is the report, apparently from our side, that China, too, was withdrawing its ships as part of an agreement — only for the Chinese Ambassador to belie the report, leaving us with egg on our face.

Finally, there is the assurance that our leaving the area is not going to affect the country’s case in the eyes of the international community. Now that is truly grabbing at straws. The saying is that possession is nine-tenths of the law, and our leaving the area voluntarily for fear of a storm isn’t going to impress the international community in our favor as much as, for example, the footage showing Chinese helicopter gunships buzzing very low over our ships — the big bully against the brave little guy who DOES NOT RUN AWAY, no matter the odds. Of course there is also the saying that he who fights and runs away may live to fight another day. Except we never even fought.

3) A picture is worth a thousand words, goes another saying. And the pictures of what has happened to that mountain in Santa Cruz, Zambales as a result of mining operations in the area is a case in point. The pictures show how it has been leveled, cutting down “centuries-old trees” in the process. I don’t know whether clearing a mountain of its trees and leveling can come under illegal logging, but it should. Again, the juxtaposition of the story, with that of President Aquino talking about how he wants illegal loggers jailed, makes commenting irresistible — especially since Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, who was present when PNoy spoke, was singled out as one of those responsible for the situation.

The Zambales story has heroes and villains, with the Supreme Court taking pride of place among the heroes, as well as party-list Congressman Angelo Palmones, who filed for a writ of kalikasan, and House Ecology Chairman Danilo Fernandez of Laguna, who went to Zambales to personally inspect the site. Among the villains have to be the mining company itself (one LAMI) who raped the mountain, Zambales and national officials who allowed that kind of rape of the environment to take place, or looked the other way (governor, congressperson, mayor, the Environment department, police). A particularly galling behavior was that of a provincial police official who wrote a report denying that the mountain had been leveled (of course the pictures told the opposite story).

4) As of this writing, 45 recommendations/nominations and two applications (for all intents and purposes, nuisance), for a total of 47, have been received by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) for the post of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Which leads one to wonder why the JBC saw fit on June 18 to extend the period for filing recommendations/applications for another 10 working days to July 2.

Surely there are enough candidates to choose from? There were already 40 names with the JBC as of the end of June 18, the original deadline. Five other names were submitted on June 19: Francisco Villaruz, Andres Reyes, Magdangal de Leon (all recommended by one Arturo de Castro), Amelia Tria Infante, and Rene Saguisag (who is almost 73, while SC justice retirement age is 70. Tsk.) I cannot resist asking Atty. De Castro why it took him so long to make his three recommendations, and whether he indicated which one of the three is his top choice.

Did the JBC think that the 40 names did not comprise a sufficiently large set from which to choose a final subset of three to five? Or was there a request/order from someone to extend the filing period? If so, who made the request, and for what reason? The JBC cannot use the excuse that there was lack of time — ex Chief Justice Corona was convicted on May 29 — so effectively there was about a three week period for recommending candidates. Nor can it use the excuse that 29 of the recommendees (including de Lima, Henares and four of the five automatic nominees from the SC)had not as yet indicated their conformity — because then all that would be needed would be an extension of the time period for indicating conformity — and that shouldn’t take 10 working days. And frankly, with regard to the sitting senior justices, the default situation should be that they conform — unless they write a non-conforme letter.

Nevertheless, one has to congratulate Popo Lotilla for his principled rejection of his nomination, as well as four others who did the same thing (including SC AJ Perlas-Bernabe). And one has to take note of the breathtaking, if baseless, confidence of some of those who accepted their nomination.

Rene Saguisag has the distinction of being both a nominator (he nominated AJ Roberto Abad and former Congressman Ronaldo Zamora — both on the original deadline day) and a nominee. Katrina Legarda has the distinction of having the most number of recommendations.

I agree with Popo that the Chief Justice should come from the “inside,” and everything else remaining the same, should be the most senior sitting justice. In any case, if the choice were made on the quality of decisions, legal scholarship, and administrative capability, Antonio Carpio would still top the list.