Sunday, December 27, 2009

Why Pacquiao Should Not Give In

Manny Pacquiao has proven himself on the ring many times already that a fight with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. - although it would certainly add more laurels to his cap, not to mention money to his already bulging pockets, if he were to win and there's a big chance that he just might - is not really something to crave for, especially so in the face of the harassment, denigration and character assassination he is now taking from the Mayweather camp.

Some people are wondering why Pacquiao would not want a miniscule amount of blood taken from him close to the scheduled fight on March 13 if he is not taking any steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. In fact this is the line being drumbeaten by Golden Boy Promotion's Oscar Dela Hoya in his blog. The easy answer is that Pacquiao need not give in to each and every demand by Mayweather, especially so if Pacquiao has complied with and passed with flying colors each and every testing requirement of the Nevada Athletic Commission in (NAC) determining if boxers are clean before being issued their licenses.

Nevertheless, despite his unquestioned record since turning pro - that is until Mayweather decided to blemish it with baseless accusations - Pacquiao is willing to submit to blood tests on three occasions, viz: in January when the supposed match will be announced, earlier than 30 days before the fight, and in the locker room immediately after the fight. As observed by one sports writer, what could not be detected by a blood test done immediately after the fight that a test done before it would reveal if indeed Pacquiao were using steroids? Mayweather's refusal to this condition, as a compromise to his unreasonable demand, would only show that his only intention is to harass and subject Pacquiao to humiliation.

It is true that urine tests alone cannot detect some performance enhancing drugs, such as human growth hormone (HGH) injections, but then the testing protocols of the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) being proposed by Mayweather are not the tests being administered for boxers by the NAC. Lest I be mistaken, the NAC also administers blood testing and Pacquiao has always submitted to such tests before in securing and renewing his license. If the NAC's testing protocols are being challenged as insufficient or unreliable in determining whether a boxer is clean, is the Mayweather camp then saying that a whole line of other boxers who have shone on the ring, Dela Hoya included, also have questionable successes?

There is no question that Manny Pacquiao has already achieved sterling success as a boxer. He is the reigning pound for pound boxer in the world, ranking number one in many boxing magazines, including the prestigious Ring Magazine; he has been featured several times in Time magazine, among them are when he was included among the top 100 persons of the year and when he was featured on the cover of its Asia edition. He is now considered as a boxing all-time-great by boxing's respectable commentators and analysts and is even being compared with the likes of boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, among others.

Floyd Mayweather, Jr., on the other hand, has not had such recognition. It is true that he remains undefeated, but that only speaks of the selectiveness of his bouts. Unlike Pacquiao, Mayweather has been known to pick only fighters that he can take. And unlike Pacquiao, he fights dull matches and preys only on his opponents' unguarded moments. In other words he plays it safe. Pacquiao, on the other hand, has taken on seemingly tough fighters for his built, size and weight. He has ventured into the unimaginable by competing in matches that boxing analysts thought were ridiculous and lopsided against Pacquiao, only to find themselves proven devastatingly wrong as each and every fight turned out completely the opposite with Pacquiao demolishing his opponents. Unlike Mayweather, Pacquiao charges even when his opponent is on the guard and ready for him, prevailing in the end as a true testament to his mettle and skills.

So what has Pacquiao to prove more? Nothing. He has done boxing a great service. He has revived a dying sport, when fans have moved on to the more violent mixed martial arts genre. As the recognized and reigning best pound for pound fighter and the welterweight champion, it is not up to him to give in to unreasonable and unnecessary demands. If Mayweather really wants to face Pacquiao, he should do it in accordance with the prevailing rules of professional boxing. In fact, if there is anyone who should dictate terms, it is Pacquiao and not the other way around.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Just Lynch Ampatuan, Jr.

The National Press Club (NPC) has decried lawyer Sigfried Fortun's decision to defend Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr., suspect on the Maguindanao massacre that claimed the lives of 57 people, including 30 journalists. It is even reportedly contemplating on declaring Fortun as a persona non grata and banning him from attending all media events.

While the Maguindanao massacre should be condemned in the strongest possible terms, we must not let our emotions get the better part of us. However strong the evidence may be against Ampatuan, Jr., no less than our Constitution presumes his innocence until evidence to the contrary is proven. Due process requires that he be given his day in court, accorded a fair trial and only after evidence for or against his innocence is presented that he may validly be judged either innocent or guilty.

In the midst of all these substantive and procedural safeguards, Ampatuan, Jr. is entitled to competent legal representation. Fortun is merely performing his legal duty as an officer of the court whose oath requires him to defend any person accused of a crime. Instead of being condemned, Fortun should even be lauded for helping make the judicial system work and go about its business of dispensing justice. Imagine if no one would represent Ampatuan, Jr. Given the seriousness of the charges against him, it is highly unlikely that the court will proceed without him being represented by a lawyer, especially so that he has preferred to be represented by one. This will definitely not be good as trial will be postponed indefintely and consequently delay the victims' relatives' - including the NPC's - plea for justice.

What alternatives do the NPC and those people who condemn Fortun for defending Ampatuan, Jr. have? If Fortun is taken out of the picture, most assuredly someone will take his position if the trial against Ampatuan, Jr. were to proceed. If no one will voluntarily represent Ampatuan, Jr., the court trying the case will be forced to appoint someone. Now, will the NPC also decry and declare as persona non grata the person who will be appointed as new defense counsel? How about the judge who will appoint the lawyer, will she also be condemned considering that she will be instrumental in giving Ampatuan, Jr. someone who will defend him?

Perhaps we should just lynch Ampatuan, Jr. and strike-off from our Constitution and statutes book due process protections and abolish our courts altogether. I am not saying this is what the NPC wants as well as those oppose to Fortun and lawyers defending undesirable people, but come to think of it this is precisely the implication of not wanting accused people to be given their day in court and accorded competent legal representation.

Were the court to deny Ampatuan, Jr. his right to legal representation and force him to defend himself, aside from violating his constitutional right to have a counsel of his own choice, the court would be prejudging his guilt already, for why would the court refuse to deny such representation if not dictated by the conviction that he is guilty of the crimes charged against him? This is not the kind of court we would like to dispense justice for us.

To be sure, there is someone out there crying how could Fortun, or any lawyer for that matter, defend a monster like Ampatuan, Jr? Some people may not buy it, but it is not for the lawyer to judge his or her client; that is a matter for the court to decide. Unless we want to go back to the age of trial by ordeal - where a person's guilt or innocence is decided in strange ways, such as being pronounced innocent if a person submerged in water does not drown or guilty if he does, or innocent if the accused's hands heal within certain days after suffering injuries from being dipped in boiling water or being pronounced guilty if the accused loses in a duel - we have to settle to the fact that we now have a judicial system that allocates responsibilities to different participants for the purpose of painstakingly ascertaining the facts and circumstances of a case to determine who is innocent or guilty.

A criminal defense lawyer, like Fortun, performs the essential function of ensuring that a person is not unjustly accused and that only after proof beyond reasonable doubt is established may an accused person be adjudged guilty and penalized. In essence he represents the criminal justice system, as much as the public prosecutor does.

If justice were to be dispensed, Andal Ampatuan, Jr. - like any other suspect and without regard to his guilt or innocence - deserves to be represented by a competent counsel of his own choice. To borrow the words of US President Obama, there is no incompatibility between our safety and ideals. We must not throw away the legal protections provided by the Constitution in our quest for justice, however reprehensible the charges against an accused person are.

Having said the foregoing, it is hoped that Atty. Fortun will stand only by what is just, ethical and proper in proceeding with the defense of his client. While he is expected to exercise utmost zeal and dedication in the defense of his client, his oath also dictates that he should not delay the cause of justice and defend his client using only fair, honest and legally permissible means.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Evil of GMA's Congressional Bid

Post-presidential involvement in politics is not something new. We know, for example, that the late Coazon Aquino continued to involve herself in politics long after she ceased being president, as did Fidel Ramos and Joseph "Erap" Estrada. In the US, from which we copied our presidential system of government, many former US Presidents continued to be active in politics long after they have stepped down from office.

It is also not a new phenomenon for a former president to run for or be appointed to a public office after completing his term. John Quincy Adams, after serving as the 6th president of the US, was elected as a member of the US House of Representatives. Now contrary to what the critics say, this would not necessarily cheapen or demean the presidency. John Quincy Adams's incumbency as congressman for 17 years was served well in championing civil and political rights that eventually led to the removal of the prohibition on introducing legislations against slavery.

Of course GMA's candidacy for Congress is unprecedented in the Philippines. What leaves a bad taste in the mouth about it, as described by Sen. Chiz Escudero, has something to do less with demeaning the presidency than with GMA's nine years of presidency being characterized by corruption and abuse of power, and a nagging question about the legitimacy of her ascendancy to power. During her incumbency, GMA's admininstration has been beset by scandal after scandal, such as the $329-million NBN-ZTE broadband network deal, $14-million IMPSA power plant project, P728-million feritlizer fund scam, P321-million Jose Pidal accounts, and, not least of all, the "Hello Garci" scandal - our very own version of Watergate which should have brought down GMA's presidency as it did Nixon's. To this day, however, not one has been put behind bars despite these egregious scandals of brobdingnagian proportion.

The opposition have raised fears of GMA manuevering her way into power again in running for a congressional seat. The theories range from her gaining the House Speakership, directing a charter change toward a parliamentary government that would make her prime minister, to acquiring immunity from prosecution. But the message that should be stressed is the evil of electing someone whose governance has been tainted with corruption, official wrongdoing, scandals, abuses of power and electoral fraud.

To be sure, GMA being back at the helm is a distasteful proposition. Reprehensible even. But for now this is conjectural and may not happen at all. The opposition should come out strong and emphasize the evils that lurked under GMA's tenure in decrying her return to politics, instead of harping on conjectures about her return odyssey to power. While it is true that none of the charges against GMA have yet been proven - at least in a court of law - there is no denying, however, that these scandals and official malfeasances did take place. And they took place under her watch, which speaks volumes about her competence and effectiveness as a leader. Even worse, the public have yet to see the hand of the law reaching the guilty, while GMA thwarted, under the guise of executive privilege, every effort to bring to light the facts and circumstances surrounding these scandals.

The candidacy of GMA will ultimately be a referendum on her presidency. Her election as a Pampanga representative come May 2010 will put a stamp of approval on all that she represented under her nine years of incumbency as president - something every Pampangueño should seriously ponder before doing.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pacquiao Makes History

Manny Pacquiao made history by defeating Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto on Saturday through a technical knockout (TKO) on the 12th round. Starting his professional boxing career at the flyweight level at 106 pounds, Pacquiao has defied conventional wisdom by moving up through six weight categories, victory after victory. Instead of weakening as he increased his weight (latest is 144 pounds), he proved even faster and a more skillful fighter. With his defeat of Cotto, Pacquiao now holds his seventh title.

If his critics weren't convinced of his abilities in his bouts with Diaz, Dela Hoya and Hatton, this time around Pacquiao's victory against Cotto leaves no room for equivocation. Cotto was a natural welterweight, holds height and age advantage over Pacquiao, is known for his power punches, and holds an impressive record (only one loss and ending most of his victories in knockouts). Saturday night's match proved that Pacquiao is truly a skillful, fast, powerful and strong fighter. To Cotto's amazement, Pacquiao landed punches after punches without him seeing - punches that knocked him twice, bloodied and bruised his face, and would have sent him on the canvass for a final knockout had not the referee stopped the fight on the 12th and final round.

Pacquiao also proved that he can take punches. Although Cotto landed a many good punches, jabs that jerked back Pacquiao's head several times, Pacquiao remained unperturbed and continued landing his firepower on the weary Puerto Rican, whose only move at the later rounds was to finish standing by running away from Pacquiao's fury - that is, until the disappointed Pacquiao caught up with him and delivered his final pounding.

Now that Pacquiao has shown who the true pound-for-pound king is, an ultimate match with undefeated Floyd Mayweather looms next year. It is reported that any time this week talks will be arranged between the fighters' promoters for this much-awaited fight. Assuming Mayweather doesn't become greedy and does not spoil (or perhaps avoid) the match-up by demanding an unreasonable sum, will that mean Pacquiao will have to temporarily shelve his political ambitions, considering that next year will be election year?

If this dream match unfolds, Pacquiao will definitely need all the time to concentrate on his training and preparation. The last thing Freddie Roach needs - and Pacquiao even more - is a boxer who will need to attend to his constituents' needs as he prepares for a big fight - probably the biggest fight of his career.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Legal Issues on Erap's Candidacy

Even before former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada's Wednesday announcement to claim the presidency again, his eligibility for the office have long been the subject of much debate. Legal scholars and laymen alike have given their two cents' worth on the issue. Once again, we will revisit the legal issues surrounding Estrada's second quest for the presidency or, as he calls it, the "performance of his life."

Let us start with a little background. Estrada was elected president in 1998, but his tenure was cut short when on January 2001 he was ousted from office during the so-called EDSA II revolution where the Supreme Court, in an unprecedented manner, made then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo the president by administering to her, through then Chief Justice Hilario Davide, the oath of office for the president. The Supreme Court later on legitimized GMA's assumption of office by ruling in Estrada v. Desierto that Estrada resigned the presidency under the artful doctrines of "totality test" and "constructive resignation." In 2004, after serving about three years as president, GMA run for and was elected as president.

The constitutional provision dealing with the election and term of office of the president is Article 7, Section 4, which is pertinent to the eligibility of Estrada to run. The provision reads as follows:

Section 4. The President and the Vice-President shall be elected by direct vote of the people for a term of six years which shall begin at noon on the thirtieth day of June next following the day of the election and shall end at noon of the same date, six years thereafter. The President shall not be eligible for any re-election. No person who has succeeded as President and has served as such for more than four years shall be qualified for election to the same office at any time.

Those who support the eligibility of Estrada raise the following positions: (1) The bar on second election to the presidency applies only to the incumbent president and (2) Estrada served as president for two and a half years only.

The first position argues that in prohibiting the election of a person to the presidency for the second time, the second sentence of Article 7, Section 4 refers only to the incumbent president as evidenced by the use of the definite article "the." Thus, in saying that "[t]he president" is not eligible for re-election the phrase simply means the sitting president, which at present is GMA. This position is further reinforced by the use of the word "re-election." The proponents claim that re-election refers to one who has been elected to an office and is seeking to be elected to the same office immediately upon the expiration of his or her term.

Since Estrada is not the incumbent president he is not covered by the prohibition on re-election to the presidency. As former Supreme Court justice and DOJ secretary Serafin Cuevas said, Estrada is not seeking re-election but a new election.

This interpretation would, of course, mean that not only will Estrada be eligible to run for president again, but also Fidel V. Ramos and others who will become president later on - after they are no longer in office. It advances the view that the prohibition on second election to the presidency is not absolute.

The opposing view, on the other hand, states that the use of the definite article "the," before the word president, and the word "re-election" in Section 4 are not conclusive grounds in saying that the prohibition on second election to the presidency applies only to the incumbent president. It is argued that the adjective "any" before the word re-election dispels this. Thus, when Section 4 states that the president shall not be eligible for any re-election, it means that the president cannot be elected president again either immediately upon the expiration of his or her term or on any presidential election thereafter.

If the intention were that the ban applies only to the election upon expiration of the holder's tenure of office, the adjective "any" would clearly be out of place and useless. But the insertion of this adjective suggests that the ban on re-election is not limited to the election to be held at the end of the incumbent president's term but on any other presidential election. The phraseology of Section 4 looks forward which thus makes the ban on second election to the presidency apply now and in the future to the sitting president.

The adjective "any" clearly modifies the word "re-election" by giving it a non-restrictive meaning. In addition the dictionary defines re-election as to elect again. Thus, one can be considered re-elected to the same office even after the interval of one or more terms.

Proponents of Estrada's re-election also explain that the rationale of Section 4 in prohibiting re-election is to prevent an incumbent president from using the power and influence of his or her office to ensure electoral victory. Obviously this rationale would have no application to one who is no longer president, which argues for the non-application of the prohibition to a former president like Estrada. The contrary view, however, is that if indeed this is the rationale, then why is the same not true in the case of one who succeeded as president and has served as such for four years or less. The third sentence of Section 4 states that such person will be eligible for election to the presidency. Such person will be enjoying the same power and influence as president - as in the case of GMA after succeeding to the presidency in 2001 - and yet the Constitution does not prohibit him or her from running in the next presidential election. The incumbent's advantage, therefore, is not a very strong argument.

As regards the second point of those favoring Estrada's candidacy, they argue that Estrada did not finish his term as president since he only served two and a half years. This is, however, a long shot. The ban on re-election under Section 4 does not require that the president must complete his or her term before the prohibition is triggered.

A variant of this position is that since on the third sentence of Section 4 it prohibits second election only when one who became president has served the presidency for more than four years, Estrada would be qualified to run since he only served two and a half years as president. But the contrary view holds that said provision of Section 4 applies only to one who became president by virtue of succession, such as when the vice president becomes president because the president dies, resigns or becomes permanently incapacitated.

This claim is supported by the phraseology of Section 4's third sentence when it says that no person who has succeeded as president and has served under that capacity for more than four years shall be qualified for election to the presidency at any time. The provision uses the word "succeeded as president" instead of "elected as president" or "became president," which means that it refers to the rule of succession. Also, this interpretation is supported by the use of the word "election" on the third sentence of Section 4, to wit:

No person who has succeeded as President and has served as such for more than four years shall be qualified for election to the same office at any time.
Obviously, one who became president by the rule of succession is not elected to the office he or she succeeded. In contrast, the second sentence uses the word "re-elected" because it speaks of one who has already been elected to the presidency.

There is view to the effect that if GMA was allowed to run for president in 2004, having served as president immediately prior thereto for less than four years, there is also no reason why Estrada cannot run for president, considering that he also served for less than four years. This proposition, however, ignores the fact that GMA only succeeded to the office of presidency in 2001 while Estrada was elected thereto in 1998.

One other legal obstacle being thrust into Estrada's candidacy is his conviction for plunder, which carried the accessory penalty of disqualification. It would appear, however, that the absolute nature of the pardon granted him by President Macapagal-Arroyo has eliminated this legal challenge.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Mercury is Rising: A Look at Global Warming

As early as 1896, Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius predicted the warming of the Earth's temperature through an increase in the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2). At that time, however, given the rate of CO2 emissions then, Arrhenius was not alarmed by this possibility. More than a century later, Arrhenius's prediction has become a reality with global warming becoming one of the most pressing threats to life on Earth.

While the Earth's temperature passes through a natural cycle of heating and cooling, or what skeptics of climate change call natural climactic swings, scientists have found that human activity has contributed to much of the heating of the Earth for the past century. And studies point to so-called greenhouse gases (GHGs) as the major culprits.

The Earth's atmosphere contains concentration of gases (such as methane and CO2) which trap some of the heat coming from the sun. These trapped heat keeps the planet warm and makes it possible for life on Earth to thrive and be sustained. This process is called the greenhouse effect. But years of massive GHG emissions and buring of fossil fuels, brought about by industrial processes, vehicle use, and every other human activity involving the use of energy, has abnormally increased the level of GHG gases in the atmosphere (now much higher compared to 650,000 years ago), thus making the planet hotter. Per the latest estimate, the world's temperature has gone up by more than one degree Farenheit and even higher in the polar regions.

The atmosphere's natural alternating cycle of warmth and cold usually takes hundreds of thousands of years. In contrast, we are now seeing an abnormal increase in global temperatures. Eleven of the 12 hottest recorded years occured between 1995 and 2005 ever since the thermometer can gauge the temperature. As a result of this, we are now seeing the effects of global warming taking its toll on Earth: glaciers and sea ice are melting (sea levels have risen faster over the last century), precipitation patterns are shifting wherein snow and rainfall has been observed to be increasing in certain areas of the planet, and some animals have changed their migration patterns by moving farther north in search of cooler climate.

There is now a general consensus that the question is no longer whether there is global warming being caused by human activity, but the question is more on what can be done to prevent or stop global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), consisting of hundreds of leading scientists the world over, which was formed by the UN Environment and Development Program in 1988 in collboration with the World Meteorological Organization, has released a report in 2001 declaring unequivocally that humans have caused the rise in the Earth's temperature.

Unless action is taken by the world's leading industrialized nations, such as China (now the biggest emitter of GHGs) and the United States, the Earth's temperature will continue to heat up to abnormal levels, increasing to as much as 10 degrees Farenheit. This will be catastrophic because it will melt the polar ice caps and increase worldwide sea levels that will flood coastal regions; extreme weathers will beset us, such as stronger typhoons and hurricanes; crop yields will drop greatly as increased rainfall is followed by longer periods of droughts; many plants and animals will become extinct as their habitats are destroyed. These are but a few of the dangers of global warming if left unchecked.

Let us hope that the Coppenhagen Climate Conference on December 2009, which will be participated by 170 countries and several non-governmental organizations worldwide, will result in an effective and sustainable plan to combat global warming and climate change.

In the meantime, let us do our part in helping in our own small way in the overall effort to stop global warming, such as becoming more energy efficient and saving energy in our daily activities. We can, for example, replace our incandescent light bulbs with flourescent bulbs, lower the thermostat in our heating systems during winter, avoid using our cars whenever possible, unplug unused applicances, turn off lights when not in use, etc. We could also help by participating in information drive to educate the public about global warming or urge our political leaders to take action. These individual actions, when combined together, will have great impact on our environment.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Religious Exception

Just a little over a month after Republic Act No. 9710, otherwise known as the Magna Carta of Women, has been approved, the Catholic Church is already laying the basis for an exemption from the full application of the law. In a speech during the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) national convention, Monsignor Gerardo Santos, the association's president, said the CEAP will seek exemption from the provision of the law outlawing the expulsion or non-readmission of women employees or the non-admission of women in schools, on account of pregnancy outside of marriage.

Monsignor Santos is asserting CEAP member-schools' right to academic and religious freedom and vows he will see to it that such exemption is inserted in the law's implementing rules and regulations.

If and when a case involving this issue reaches the Supreme Court it will be the second of its nature. The first that landed on the Supreme Court is the 2003 case of Estrada v. Escritor (A.M. No. P-02-1651). For the first time in Philippine jurisprudence, Escritor laid down the rule on exemption of religious conduct from the application of a generally-applicable law. Briefly, the case involves a court employee, Escritor, who has been living with a man for years without the benefit of marriage. This man also happens to be married, although separated, with another woman. When an administrative complaint for immorality was filed against Escritor, she raised as a defense that her cohabitation with another man is sanctioned by the tenets of her religion and was with the knowledge and approval of her congregation's religious leaders.

In a lengthy and exhaustive opinion that is more of a dissertation rather than a court decision, then Associate Justice Reynato Puno, writing for the majority, said that the free exercise of religion clause of the Constitution protects the rights of individuals to engage in certain religious conduct - even if contrary to the provisions of existing law (read as exemption) - as long as it is based on sincerely-held religious belief and the state has no compelling interest to burden the exercise of such religious conduct. Three years after remanding the case to the Office of the Court Administrator (Supreme Court office that investigates complaints against court employees) - to determine the sincerity of the belief and its centrality to the professed believer's faith and allow the government adduce proof of a compelling state interest to penalize the non-marital relationship - the Supreme Court found for Escritor by ruling that the freedom of religion or free exercise clause of the Constitution exempts her from the provisions of the Revised Administrative Code penalizing immoral conduct.

While the Supreme Court recognized the state's legitimate interest in protecting the institution of marriage and the family, it refused to accept the government's claim of compelling state interest on such broad and general principles; it wanted more narrow or specific interests of the government that will be subverted if the non-marital union of Escritor with another man is not penalized.

The Supreme Court laid down the following important criteria when courts can carve out an exemption from a law of general applicability based on religious conduct, namely: (1) the law burdens religious freedom; (2) claimant's sincerity in his/her religious belief; (3) there is no compelling state interest involved; and (4) the burden on religious freedom is the least intrusive means of achieving the government's objective.

It is clear from the foregoing criteria that the fact that a law burdens a religious belief and its exercise, and such belief is sincerely-held by a person, if there is a compelling state interest involved and there are no alternative means of pursuing that interest, the claim of religious exemption will fail. Thus, in the American case of US v. Lee the Supreme Court of the United States found a compelling state interest in sustaining the fiscal viability of the social security system through mandatory contributions when it denied the Amish religious group's claim of religious freedom in refusing to pay social security taxes. On the other hand, the need to maintain peace and order and punish violent crimes would be a compelling state interest that would defeat a claim of religious freedom in, for example, religious practices involving human sacrifices.

The compelling state interest test is, therefore, a check on pleas for religious exemption, while at the same time it guarantees religious freedom under the free exercise clause by requiring only the strictest scrutiny of regulations, although secular in nature and are of general applicability, that incidentally burden religious freedom.

CEAP will undoubtedly rely on the criteria enunciated in Escritor in seeking the exemption from the Magna Carta of Women. Whether or not there is a compelling state interest in burdening the Catholic Church's moral doctrine as applied to unwed mothers will be a question the courts will have to address. But what is clear is that Escritor has paved the way for religious groups in seeking exemption from a law which, although is religion-neutral on its face, has the incidental effect of burdening the exercise of religious freedom.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Defeating the Intent of the Law

With 11 justices concurring and three dissenting, the Supreme Court, in Roque, et al., v. Comelec, et al., G.R. No. 188456 (September 10, 2009), voted to deny the petition questioning the legality of the poll automation contract entered into between Comelec and Total Information Management (TIM)-Smartmatic to fully computerize the 2010 national and local elections.

On July 10, 2009, Comelec awarded the poll automation contract to TIM and its foreign partner Smartmatic. The purpose is to implement a nationwide automation of elections in May 2010 pursuant to R.A. 8436 (Poll Modernization Act), as amended by R.A. 9369. But UP Law Professor Harry Roque and the Concerned Citizens Movement (petitioners in the case) questioned before the Supreme Court the validity of the contract on the following grounds: (1) lack of a pilot testing for automated elections; (2) validity of the joint venture between TIM and Smartmatic; (3) failure of the Precinct Count Optical Scans (PCOS) machines to meet accuracy requirements; and (4) abdication by Comelec of control over the electoral process.

Since the interpretation of section 5 of R.A. 8436, as amended by R.A. 9369, is the most contentious, I will limit my discussion on this issue. The pertinent provision reads as follows:

Sec. 5. Authority to use an Automated Election System.- To carry out the above stated-policy, the [Comelec], x x x is hereby authorized to use an automated election system or systems in the same election in different provinces, whether paper-based or a direct recording electronic election system as it may deem appropriate and practical for the process of voting, counting of votes and canvassing/consolidation and transmittal of results of electoral exercises: Provided, that for the regular national and local elections, which shall be held immediately after the effectivity of this Act, the AES shall be used in at least two highly urbanized cities and two provinces each in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao to be chosen by the [Comelec]: Provided, further, That local government units whose officials have been the subject of administrative charges within sixteen (16) month prior to the May 14, 2007 elections shall not be chosen. Provided, finally, That no area shall be chosen without the consent of the Sanggunian of the local government unit concerned. The term local government unit as used in this provision shall refer to a highly urbanized city or province. In succeeding regular national or local elections, the AES shall be implemented nationwide.
Interpreting the above provision (particularly the highlighted portion), the Court ruled that the requirement that in the regular elections to be conducted immediately after the effectivity of the law automation shall be conducted in at least two highly urbanized cities and two provinces each for Luzon, Vizayas and Mindanao is not an indispensable requirement for full automation in 2010. It is not a condition precedent or a condition sine qua non for full automation in 2010.

The majority refused to characterize said provision as "pilot testing." But as Chief Justice Puno observed in his separate opinion, the intent to test an automated election system (AES) is evident from the amended text of Sec. 5 of RA 8436. There is no rhyme or reason why Congress would mandate Comelec to use the AES first after effectivity of the amendatory law (RA 9369) in at least two highly urbanized cities and two provinces for each of the country's major islands if it were the intention not to pilot test. This is clear from the following statements of Senator Richard Gordon, cited by the chief justice, during deliberations on the automation law:

Mr. President, this is precisely why we are starting the automation in two provinces and two cities so that we do not take a big bite right away. And I accepted the amendment of the Minority Leader precisely because we want to make sure that the bite is sufficiently enough for us to be able to run the automation. . . . Now, the sample is only two provinces and two cities, Mr. President, so that we would be able to get a gauge.
Now I don't know what the words "to get a gauge" means, as used above, if not to test, check, determine or judge.

The Court determined that a pilot test is not necessary by saying that (1) the limited application of automation to two cities and provinces, as provided by Sec. 5 of RA 8436, refers only to the elections immediately succeeding the effectivity of the amendatory law (RA 9369), which is the 2007 elections and (2) by holding that the last sentence of Sec. 5, as amended, stands independently of the rest of the section. The last sentence of Sec. 5 states that "[in] succeeding regular national and local elections, the AES shall be implemented ." The majority views this provision as a mandate for full automation in 2010, regardless of the holding of a limited automation during the 2007 elections.

The following words of the chief justice in his separate concurring opinion are illuminating:

The respondents’ reading of Section 5 disregards the tenor of the entire provision. A rational reading of the entire provision will show that the different parts isolated and then interpreted by the respondents are connected by the conjunctions provided, that and provided, further that and provided, finally that. These conjunctions signify that the clauses that follow the conjunction are a pre-requisite or a condition to the fulfillment of the previous clause. The words provided, that mean the same as “as long as,” “in order that,” and “if only.” . . . In this light, Section 5 should be interpreted to mean that the COMELEC is authorized to use an AES as long as the following requisites are complied with: (1) for the regular national and local elections, which shall be held immediately after the effectivity of the Act, the AES shall be used in at least two highly urbanized cities and two provinces each in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao; (2) that local government units whose officials have been the subject of administrative charges within sixteen months prior to the May 14, 2007 elections shall not be chosen; and (3) that no area shall be chosen without the consent of the Sanggunian of the local government unit concerned. And, when the above conditions are complied with, the AES shall be implemented nationwide in succeeding regular national and local elections.

As regards the last sentence of Sec. 5, this is what he said:

The last sentence of the provision which provides that “[i]n succeeding regular national or local elections, the AES shall be implemented nationwide” may appear as not connected to the enumeration of requirements for the use of an AES. But this does not mean that it can be read in isolation and independently from the rest of the provision. Section 5 expressly declares that the COMELEC's authority to use the AES on a nationwide scale is contingent on the prior conduct of partial automation in two provinces and two highly urbanized cities each in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
But the chief justice, while recognizing the necessity of a pilot testing before full automation is implemented, stopped short by siding with the majority in holding that with the enactment of RA 9525 on March 5, 2009, which appropriated Php 11 billion for the 2010 elections, the pilot test requirement has been dispensed with. The argument is that it is the congressional intent in enacting RA 9525 to make way for full automation in 2010 despite the failure to implement a limited AES (two cities and two provinces automation) in May 2007.

The argument, however, of the petitioners is equally persuasive, if not more convincing. According to them RA 9525, particularly Sec. 2 thereof - as relied upon by respondents, has not impliedly repealed the pilot testing requirement of Sec. 5 of RA 8436, as amended, but in fact reinforces it as can be read from from the following proviso of Sec. 2: "the disbursement of the amounts herein appropriated or any part thereof shall be authorized only in strict compliance with the Constitution, the provisions of Republic Act No. 9369 and other election laws . . ." In other words, the utilization of the funds allocated by RA 9525 for poll automation shall be made strictly in accordance with RA 9369. As already discussed, Sec. 5 of RA 8436, as amended by RA 9369, mandates the two cities and two provinces application first of an AES.

A rational reading of Sec. 5 of RA 8436 shows the unmistakable intention of the law to pilot test first the implementation of an AES by limiting it to at least two cities and two provinces each for Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. There is no other purpose that can be gleaned from said provision but to see first how automation can be carried out with limited application, before making it nationwide in scope. And this is but proper, considering that it will be the first time that automation will be carried out in the election of national and local officials.

Since the initial requirement for full automation has not been complied with in the 2007 elections, that does not mean the same rationale is no longer applicable. Now, if the pilot test required by law was not implemented in the 2007 elections for practical reasons (due to time and funding constraints), there is no reason why, for practical reasons also, that said testing cannot be implemented first in 2010 before we embark on full automation. To be sure, the limited application of AES madated after the effectivity of RA 9369 was not just inserted there by Congress for no reason at all. It was meant to pilot test automation first, plain and simple. To repeat, just because automation was not undertaken during the 2007 elections does not mean that the purpose behind a pilot test no longer applies.

Applying the pilot testing requirement of Sec. 5 of RA 8436, as amended by RA 9369, in the 2010 elections would not violate the law anymore than its non-application during the 2007 elections violated the law. On the contrary, it will serve and implement the clear intent of the law.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Ball is Now in Noynoy's Hands

On August 25, 1975, a half hour before midnight, and from his dark and desolate prison cell in Fort Bonifacio, Ninoy Aquino typed his last words of advice and farewell - or so he thought it would be - to his son Noynoy. In the concluding portion of his letter, he said, "Son, the ball is now in your hands." Ninoy could not have probably thought then that his only son would blossom into a political leader and become the standard bearer of his party, but his letter finds as much relevance today as it did 34 years ago.

Ninoy apologized to Noynoy for not bequeathing him any material wealth. He was, however, proud to tell Noynoy that he will leave him an untarnished name that he will carry for the rest of his life - that is, if he himself does not tarnish it. Now that Noynoy has publicly declared his intention to run for the presidency, the Aquino legacy, which has been rekindled with the demise of Cory Aquino and anniversary of Ninoy's death, will prove most helpful. In fact, it was these momentous occasions that propelled Noynoy into the national spotlight.

But as Ninoy said, the ball is now in Noynoy's hands. The shadows of his parents will not stay for long; as the race deepens, Noynoy will have to prove his own mettle. It will become more and more his own fight where his own strength of character, resolve, charisma, and abilities would matter. To be sure, Noynoy will be compared with the fiery eloquence and brilliance of his father, and the disarming demeanor and charisma of his mother. And there can be no pretense that Noynoy possesses these outstanding qualities. But since Noynoy's supporters have found in him the symbol of unity and integrity in governance, they are willing to overlook these absent qualities for as long as Noynoy remains above reproach and humble in his abilities.

Noynoy may not have the fat resume of an accomplished legislator who have written volumes of beneficial legislations, but he brings to the table the integrity of his name and the guarantee that he will run a clean and honest government. There is the conventional wisdom in politics that a bad economy is bad for the current administration in the coming elections. That wisdom applies equally well when the current administration is wracked by corruption and abuses. The contender that promises a clean and honest government presents the most appealing alternative, as it did in 1986. This is the promise of Noynoy that is not seen on other presidential hopefuls - at least after Mar Roxas dropped his ambition.

For those who would question Noynoy's intellectual abilities and experience to run the country, suffice it to say that we have elected before an Erap Estrada and possibly a Fernando Poe, Jr. Noynoy will not exactly be clueless and wanting in academic credentials. He graduated from Ateneo with an economics degree and has served his district in Tarlac as congressman for three consecutive terms, aside from the fact that he is now an incumbent senator. He is, therefore, no stranger to politics and the operations of the government.

The call of the times, however, is not another bar topnotcher, seasoned politician or accomplished economist. The people are clamoring for someone who can bring back confidence to government and make it work for the people. The first one appears within reach by a Noynoy presidency, but the latter still remains to be seen. For now, however, given the current dispensation, the people appear poised to put their stake on someone who could bring the first objective.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Why Don't You Sue Me in Court

Thus cavalierly challenged presidential son and Pampanga 2nd District Representative Mikey Arroyo in response to probes and criticisms about his questionable Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN). Such arrogance and blatant disregard of the meaning of public accountability by an elected government official is, of course, not something new. It is certainly not news, but definitely a cause for outrage by every citizen who stands against the excesses of officialdom.

A little review of our Constitution tells us that a public office is a public trust, and public officials must at all times be accountable to the people. From this lofty principle proceed all our laws on the conduct of public officials, such as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, the Ombudsman Act, Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, provisions of the Revised Penal Code on crimes involving public officers, laws requiring public disclosure of officials' assets, law penalizing plunder, etc. A public officer, like Congressman Mikey Arroyo, holds a position of trust and the public is, as it were, his cestui que trust (the beneficiary of the trust). He acts solely for the benefit of the public he is sworn to serve. And every trusteee owes accountability to his beneficiary by being answerable for his conduct and acting with complete transparency.

Congressman Arroyo has a lot of explaining to do on his SALN, considering that his net worth skyrocketed from Php 5 million to Php 76.9 million in just a span of three years from 2002. His 2008 SALN shows that his net worth has reached Php 99 million. But instead of providing a clear explanation, he passes the buck to his lawyers and challenges anyone questioning him to sue in court. The public that reposed its trust on Congressman Arroyo deserves an answer; if he truly believes he did nothing wrong he should clarify the entries on his SALN, rather than pass the burden to the public. As former NEDA Secretary Winnie Monsod aptly said, it is he who owes the burden and is not for the public to prove whatever is wrong with his SALN.

Okay, Congressman Arroyo did say he is not yet versed in accomplishing a SALN when he was still a vice governor of Pampanga in 2002, thus apparently attributing the relatively small sum of his declared net worth in 2002 to an honest mistake. He also explained that his wealth increased due to campaign contributions, the gifts he received when he got married, and as a result of some investments. Regarding the Beachway house in California, which was not listed on his 2008 SALN, he said it is owned by a company (Beachway Park LLC) and he merely owns a stake in said company.

Let us see how these explanations can hold water. To be sure, everybody is entitled to make mistakes, but to say that one can forget the extent of his wealth - unless you are as extremely rich as Bill Gates or Warren Buffet - is beyond belief. How could Congressman Arroyo forget to include his other assets? To say that the ballooning of his assets from Php 5 million to Php 76 million was merely the result of failure to include his other assets due to inexperience would be outrageously ridiculous. How in the world can Php 71 million be forgotten? Okay, maybe I am exaggerating and this is not really the extent of the undeclared assets, but how about his claim that he was assisted by his - take note of the plural - lawyers. Is he telling us that his lawyers failed to get all relevant information from him or they forgot to include all his assets?

It gets even worse when Congressman Arroyo said his wealth increased due to campaign contributions and wedding gifts. Is he telling us that he did not use all his campaign contributions and instead pocketed the rest? I wonder what the congressman's donors will say. How much did he receive by way of campaign donations? Can the congressman stand firm on this claim when Comelec filings of his campaign contributions and expenditures are bared? How about the wedding gifts? Again, questions of propriety will arise here because if this is true we are not talking only of small amounts. We are talking in millions of pesos! How can someone amass a fortune through wedding gifts? If some of the donors are not relatives, as I'm sure there are, the receipt of such huge sums of money by a public official - regardless of the occasion - violates ethical and legal standards, considering that he was a public official when he received such gifts.

Congressman Arroyo would also like us to believe that he had some investments. But his 2008 SALN shows that the earliest investment he acquired was in 2006. How could such 2006 investments earn him P 71 million in 2005 or earlier?

Regarding the California property, the congressman claims it is owned by a company in which he holds an interest. A limited liability company, like a corporation in the Philippines, has a legal personality separate and distinct from its members. The implication is that the company's properties are technically not owned by the members. So he could probably be excused in not declaring the property as legally he does not directly own it. But as established by Vera Files, the group blogging site that exposed Congressman Arroyo's property, the house is in the name of the congressman's wife and their investigation into the records of California yielded no results for the company. The law requires properties in the name of spouses to be declared in the SALN as well, which Congressman Arroyo did not.

Given these implausible explanations, should the public be blamed for seeking more information and clarification? By not giving straight and clear answers - which Congressman Arroyo can do even without his lawyers and the courts, if truly he is not guilty of any wrongdoing - he is only fueling further doubts on his integrity.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

US Forces Do Participate in Philippine Military Operations

The revelation by Lt. Senior Grade Nancy Gadian, the so-called Balikatan whistleblower, that US forces participated in military operations against the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf is not something new. The terms of Balikatan 02-01 - that huge joint RP-US military exercises in Basilan in 2002 - clearly say that US Forces can engage in combat as an act of self-defense.

It is interesting to note that our government officials are trying very hard to deny the embedding of US forces when in fact the very document signed by the government to govern the terms of these joint military exercises clearly states this. The same thing goes for the US Embassy in Manila. In a 2006 article by US Army Colonel Gregory Wilson, who has served as operations director for Special Operations Command South (based in Florida) and a command position for US forces in Southern Philippines, entitled Anatomy of a Successful COIN Operation: OEF-Philippines and the Indirect Approach (found on the US Army website!), he wrote the following:

In February 2002, the United States dispatched JTF-510, comprised of 1,300 U.S. Troops, to the Southern Philippines. Its mission was to conduct unconventional warfare operations "by, with, and through" the AFP to help the government separate the population from, and then destroy, Abu Sayyaf. The bulk of the force consisted of an air component in Mactan, Cebu, and staff and support personnel located at the JTF headquarters in Zamboanga. The tip of the U.S. spear consisted of 160 SF personnel and, later, 300 members of a Naval construction task group. All U.S. Forces operated under restrictive rules of engagement. Once on Basilan, SF advisers deployed down to the battalion level and moved in with their Philippine counterparts in remote areas near insurgent strongholds. . . (citations ommitted)
Although Colonel Wilson was careful enough to emphasize that US forces operated under restrictive rules of engagement, as are other public records on the matter, the undeniable fact is that US forces participated in Philippine military operations. And there is no denying the fact that when they did this, whether their presence is called on an "advisory" capacity only, they were not merely bringing hammers and shovels; they were in full combat gears! Now in a highly explosive conflict situation, where the object is to hunt down and kill Abu Sayyaf insurgents, firefights are bound to erupt - as in fact they did. So what would these highly trained American special forces units do in such a situation? We all know the answer to that.

But considering the colonel only said that US forces were deployed at the battalion level, which is equal to saying that their involvement in actual conflict would still be remote, skeptics would still be not convinced. The following, however, should erase any doubt about the embedding of US forces:

Soon after Balikatan 02-1, JTF-510 reorganized into a much leaner organization called the Joint Special Operations Task Force, Philippines (JSOTF-P), which continued advisory efforts with selected AFP units at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels . . . Deployed at the tactical level, SF advisory teams called Liaison coordination elements (Lce) are small, tailored, autonomous teams of special operations personnel from all services.57 they advise and assist select AFP units in planning and fusing all sources of intelligence in support of operations directed at insurgent-terrorist organizations.58 LCEs conduct Decentralized planning and execution using a robust reachback capability to the JSOTF-P to leverage additional assets in support of AFP operations.
The "SF units" referred to above means special forces, such as Green Berets, Navy Seals and other highly specialized and trained units of the US Armed Forces. If during the Balikatan 02-01 (also known as Operation Enduring Freedom) US forces were only deployed at the battalion level, the above passage clearly says after that operation, the US Forces started deploying at the tactical level - which means at the company or even platoon or squad levels, in which the actual military operations are carried out. Sure they are merely there as "advisers," but that is a very deceptive term. It will be recalled that during the early years of the Vietnam War, US Forces started being embedded on South Vietnamese Army units as "advisers" also. And, as previously observed, being deployed in a conflict situation creates the strong likelihood of being engaged in actual combat. So all this talk about US Forces being subject to restrictive rules of engagement while accompanying Philippine troops in pursuit of insurgents is nothing but quibbling.

To further prove my point that indeed US Forces participate in Philippine military operations, the following passage in a January 15, 2009 Congressional Research Service (public policy research arm of the United States Congress) report entitled Republic of the Philippines: Background and US Relations is very revealing:

In 2005, the Philippines and the United States developed and implemented combined operations against elements of Abu Sayyaf operating in western Mindanao and Jolo. The operation apparently had three objectives: (1)neutralize Abu Sayyaf-Jemaah Islamiyah training; (2) kill or capture leaders of Abu Sayyaf; and (3) root out the Abu Sayyaf forces and organization on Jolo in a similar fashion as the successfulcampaign on Basilan in 2002. The U.S. role in western Mindanao reportedly involved intelligence and communications support of the AFP, including the employment of U.S. P-3 surveillance aircraft; deployment of Navy Seal and Special Forces personnel with AFP ground units; and rules restricting U.S. personnel to a non-combat role (although such rules normally would allow U.S.personnel to defend themselves if attacked)
Note the objective of capturing and killing leaders of Abu Sayyaf and the deployment of Navy Seal and special forces personnel with AFP ground units (in boldface). US Special Forces units will accompany Philippine soldiers in undertaking missions to capture or kill Abu Sayyaf leaders or in neutralizing them. Any sensible person would know that such a dangerous mission would entail combat or actual military hostilities. Surely, these Navy Seal units won't only shout advises to Filipino soldiers while taking fire from insurgents! As also noted above, they would be allowed to defend themselves. But if the mission is to actively seek out and exteminate insurgents, the phrase self-defense appears contradictory.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Brief Biography of Benigno S. Aquino, Jr.

(In honor of the sacrifices and martyrdom of Ninoy - who was mortally felled by an assassin's bullet 26 years ago today - I am linking an article on Ninoy's brief biography)

Ninoy Aquino's martyrdom galvanized the Filipinos to unite and rise in opposition against former President Ferdinand Marcos, which restored democracy in the Philippines.

Born on November 27, 1932, Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. - popularly known as Ninoy - was destined to become a political leader in the Philippines. He traced his lineage from people who have worked with some of the country's well-known leaders. Gen. Servillano Aquino, his grandfather, became a general of the Philippines' first president, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. Benigno Aquino, Sr., his father, served under President Manuel L. Quezon and became a Speaker of the House under the presidency of Jose P. Laurel.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

No Fully-Automated Elections in 2010

UP Law Professor Harry Roque and the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) have been at the receiving end of criticisms ever since they filed a petition before the Supreme Court(SC)questioning the legality of fully-automated elections in May 2010. Although clearly expressing their position that they favor automated elections, Harry Roque and CCM's move is seen as abetting the agents of electoral fraud who thrive under our antiquated manual election system.

One of the major objections posed by Roque and CCM is the holding of a nationwide automated elections in May 2010. According to Roque and CCM, Republic Act 9369 (law amending the Poll Modernization Act or RA 8436) mandates Comelec to pilot test poll automation first by holding it in selected cities and provinces only for the coming national and local elections. A closer reading of RA 9369 will show that Roque and CCM are merely acting as proponents of the rule of law.

We were led to think that Congress finally crafted a mandate for full automation in the coming 2010 elections, but a review of the amendatory law will reveal that it provides for a hybrid election (partly automated and partly manual) only. The pertinent section of the law that justifies this assertion is as follows:

SEC. 6. Section 6 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows:

"SEC. 5 Authority to Use an Automated Election System. - To carry out the above-stated policy, the Commission on Elections, herein referred to as the Commission, is hereby authorized to use an automated election system or systems in the same election in different provinces, whether paper-based or a direct recording electronic election system as it may deem appropriate and practical for the process of voting, counting of votes and canvassing/consolidation and transmittal of results of electoral exercises: Provided, that for the regular national and local election, which shall be held immediately after effectivity of this Act, the AES shall be used in at least two highly urbanized cities and two provinces each in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, to be chosen by the Commission: Provided, further, That local government units whose officials have been the subject of administrative charges within sixteen (16) month prior to the May 14, 2007 election shall not be chosen: Provided, finally, That no area shall be chosen without the consent of the Sanggunian of the local government unit concerned. The term local government unit as used in this provision shall refer to a highly urbanized city or province. In succeeding regular national or local elections, the AES shall be implemented nationwide."

Notice the "provided clause" in the foregoing. It talks about the conduct of national and local elections in May 2010, which provides for automated elections (AES) in at least two highly urbanized cities and two provinces for each of the country's major islands. Comelec is given the authority to choose the appropriate cities and provinces, subject to the following criteria: (1) the Sanggunian or local legislative body of the chosen cities and provinces must consent to their designation for the conduct of automated elections; and (2) the officials of the designated cities and provinces must not have been administratively charged within 16 months before the May 2007 elections.

In other words, the amendatory law mandates Comelec to conduct automated elections in 2010 in certain selected areas only. It may be argued that the word "at least" in section 6 authorizes Comelec to hold automated elections in more than two cities and provinces as such phrase only sets the minimum. And more than two could practically mean covering all cities and provinces in the country which would in fact make automation nationwide. But that would be reading into the law something not contemplated by it. First, that would mean requiring the consent of the Sanggunian of every city and province in the country, which is of course ridiculous for why would the law prescribe such consent requirement if after all every city and province would be involved. Besides, the provinces and cities could clearly defeat automation by withholding consent. Second, a nationwide automation is clearly not contemplated by limiting it to cities and provinces whose officials have not been subjected to administrative charges before the 2007 elections. Surely, there are cities and provinces the officials of which have been administratively charged.

The last sentence of section 6 states that AES will be implemented on a nationwide basis in regular elections after the 2010 elections. Now if the 2010 elections are meant to be fully-automated, why would Congress even bother inserting this last sentence? The clear implication is that a fully-automated election is only allowed in regular elections succeeding the 2010 elections.

Another provision of RA 9369 which reveals the intent of Congress on partial automation is the following section:

SEC. 31. Section 25 of Republic Act No. 7166 is hereby amended to read as follows:

"Sec 25. Manner of Counting Votes. - In addition to the requirement in the fourth paragraph of Section 12 of the Republic Act No. 6646 and Section 210 of the Omnibus Election Code, in reading the official ballots during the counting, the chairman, the poll clerk and the third member shall assume such positions as to provide the watchers and the members of the public as may be conveniently accommodated in the polling place, an unimpeded view of the ballot being ready by the chairman, of the election return and the tally board being simultaneously accomplished by the, poll clerk and the third member respectively, without touching any of these election documents. The table shall be cleared of all unnecessary writing paraphernalia. Any violation of this requirement shall constitute an election offense punishable under Section 263 and 264 the Omnibus Election Code.
"The chairman shall first read the votes for national positions.
"Any violation of this Section, or its pertinent portion, shall constitute an election offense and shall be penalized in accordance with Batas Pambansa Blg. 881.

The above section, as well as section 12 of RA 6646 or the Electoral Reforms Law of 1987 and section 210 of the Omnibus Election Code as referred to therein, provide for the manner in counting of votes at the precinct level under a manual election system. It is accomplished with the chairman of the Board of Election Inspectors tediously reading the names of all candidates voted in every ballot. If it were the intention of Congress to provide for full automation come 2010, the above section 31 would surely be out of place since in an automated election either the ballots are brought to a central counting center where they are fed to counting machines or the votes on every ballot are counted as they are fed to voting machines which will then electronically transmit the results for consolidation, or by any other methodology as the voting machines permit and as determined by Comelec, but certainly it will not be in the antiquated manner provided by section 31, which is prone to cheating and election protests.

Section 31 is clearly intended to govern the manner of counting of votes in areas where AES is not implemented in 2010. These will be the cities and provinces which will not be designated by Comelec for computerized elections. And this is only possible in partially-automated elections. As for areas covered by AES, Comelec is authorized under section 18 to provide for the procedure in the automated counting of votes.

If the 2010 elections proceed under a fully automated mode, as it is being pursued by Comelec right now, losing candidates could find refuge under RA 9369 in asking for the nullification of the elections. Imagine the results of an entire election being invalidated for having been conducted in violation of law. This would be a surefire recipe for a constitutional crisis of huge magnitude that would throw the whole country in chaos. So Roque and CCM are actually doing us a favor in questioning as early as now the legality of a fully-automated elections in 2010.

But there is still hope for nationwide automated elections even if the SC were to rule against full automation in 2010. Congress could easily amend RA 9369 by removing the partial and qualified application of the AES as it now stands. If President Macapagal-Arroyo is really true to her pronouncements of favoring fully-automated elections in 2010, she could as easily certify as urgent an amendatory bill that Congress would pass.

Now if Roque and CCM are proven wrong, as I will be, then we could all concentrate on becoming vigilant to ensure the conduct of honest, orderly and peaceful fully-automated elections in May 2010.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Free Speech is the Casualty in Punishing Willie Revillame

The Movie Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) has once again shown its penchant for curtailing free speech rights by mulling over the imposition of sanctions against Wowowee television show host Willie Revillame. Last Monday, Revillame expressed his objection to the showing of live feeds on Cory Aquino's funeral cortege during a segment of the popular noontime show. He asked for the removal of the feeds for being inappropriate and distracting.

Apparently riding on the tide of public outrage against Revillame, MTRCB Chairwoman Consoliza Laguardia said Revillame violated Presidential Decree 1986 (the law creating the MTRCB)and the KBP (Kapisanan ng mga Broadcaster sa Pilipinas) Code. Notice the haste and prematurity with which Laguardia has spoken; already, the MTRCB through its chairwoman pronounced its judgment even before the besieged showman was given the opportunity to defend his actions.

But not only is the MTRCB disregarding Revillame's due process rights, it is also arranging to violate his free speech rights by imposing sanctions for his conduct which, although distasteful and inappropriate, is a function of democracy. However objectionable Revillame's statement may be, the fact of the matter is there is nothing in either his conduct or statements that would justify MTRCB in imposing sanctions on him, for he was free to express how he felt about the mixing of the funeral procession with his game show.

Speech under our laws can only be regulated or punished if it passes a strict scrutiny test. Not long ago, Chavez v. Gonzalez made it abundantly clear that this test applies with equal vigor in the broadcast media - which is a dramatic departure from American jurisprudence from where we imported our concept of free speech. The Supreme Court in this case did away with the differentiation between print and broadcast media in the application of the strict scrutiny standard in content-based regulation of speech. Under this test, speech can only be regulated if it creates or is likely to create a clear and present danger of a grave and imminent evil which the government has the right to prevent. The government must show a compelling or overriding interest that would justify curtailment of speech.

There is nothing in the statement or conduct of Revillame that would even remotely suggest such clear and present danger. It may be in bad taste, but to say that the government has an overriding or compelling interest to prevent or punish such speech is downright ridiculous. Revillame's gaffe is the stuff of 24/7 news that thrive on controversy rather than of state interest.

In fact, a review of section 3 of PD 1986, which is being relied upon by MTRCB, would show that there is nothing that would make Revillame's case fall squarely. Said section enumerates the powers of the MTRCB and the instances upon which it may exercise its power to approve, disapprove or otherwise censor objectionable movie and television shows. Specifically, the section empowers MTRCB to regulate or prohibit media materials constituting sedition or rebellion, which glorifies criminals and condones crimes, solely satisfies market for violence and pornography, abets the traffic and use of prohibited drugs, are libelous or defamatory, or constitutes contempt of court. None of these instances cover Revillame's statement and conduct.

It is true that good Filipino customs dictate respect for the departed, but I find it hard to understand how requesting the removal of the coverage of a funeral procession in a game show - without a doubt out of place and timing in the show - could constitute such disrespect. If there is anyone who was disrespectful it was the director of the show, and not Revillame, for including or allowing the inclusion of the former president's funeral cortege during a merrymaking portion of the game show. Revillame may be guilty of insensitivity for proceeding with his show like it was business as usual at a time of national mourning, but his act of not allowing the mixing of a somber occasion with an entertaining game show was actually the right thing to do under the circumstances. He should have, however, requested the removal discreetly and should not have needlessly publicized his disgust.

Former President Corazon Aquino became our beloved icon of democracy when she stood to fill the place of Ninoy after being felled by an assassin's bullet. She led the fight to restore our democracy which gave us the freedom to speak our minds. Punishing Revillame for his inappropriate statement - which is certainly not a "crass attempt to desecrate the memory" of the former president, as her family's spokesperson Lourdes Dy Sytangco characterizes it - would be a disregard of the cherished right which Ninoy and Cory fought for.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Obama-GMA Meeting Reflects US Policy Toward Philippines

Having spoken strongly against those who cling to power through corruption and deceit during his inaugural address, one would think President Obama would somehow reinforce this message during his conversation with GMA, whose waning administration as we know has been beset by serious allegations of corruption and abuse of political power. He made no qualms reiterating this in his disapproval of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya's ouster by the military, although there are still hanging questions on the legitimacy of Zelaya's actions that precipitated his removal. Instead, President Obama steered away from such hot-button issues like charter change, term extensions, martial law, corruption and human rights, despite the fact that these issues threaten the political stability of the Philippines.

To be sure, President Obama was briefed on these issues but policy considerations made them off-limits. That President Obama did not make any reference to them at all, or even a hint, is an indication that the US's only interest in the Philippines right now is regional security. Given the generous accommodation the Philippines provides to US forces, not to mention our history of unflinching support for US foreign policy in other parts of the world, GMA is seen by the US as an invaluable ally in propping up its presence in the Asia-Pacific region in the wake of the North Korean threat and the growing dominance of China. Serious questions about GMA's governance appear to be the least of US's worries for now.

Such approach to US foreign policy is not something new, where notably corrupt and dictatorial regimes have been supported by the US in the past in pursuing its interests, as in the case of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War or of Pervers Musharaff of Pakistan in recent memory. Or closer to heart, we have the case of President Ferdinand Marcos who, until Edsa I, continuously enjoyed the support of the US. But the idea that President Obama would resuscitate this reprehensible policy is a big disappointment. After all, President Obama stressed during his inaugural speech that he rejects the false choice between America's safety and ideals; that US foreign policy - when it comes to protecting America - would not compromise its ideals. Although such pronouncement was made in the context of fighting terrorism it is safe to assume that it would also apply in other instances.

What is even disconcerting is that not only did President Obama fail to indicate US disapproval of any totalitarian tendencies and raise concerns on the disturbing corruption and unsolved human rights cases in the Philippines, he also heaped encomiums on GMA for her position on human rights and, in his words, for doing "an outstanding work on a whole range of issues." This is ironical because the human rights record of the Arroyo administration is not anywhere near acceptable. Just last year UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Philip Alston gave the Philippines a failing mark on human rights. And five months ago, the Philippines has been listed as the most dangerous peactime country for journalists in the wake of the numerous unsolved murders of journalists.

I don't know if corruption - where the Philippines notoriously and consistently get a high world ranking - is among the "range of issues" where President Obama said GMA is doing an outstanding work. I am sure he is not unaware of the recent World Bank report on corruption of road projects in the Philippines which are funded by no less than the World Bank, in which the US has a stake; or of the allegations of corruption in the use of military assistance funds provided by the US on the joint RP-US military exercises.

But why would the US put so much value in its relationship with an administration which, although has proven to be an important and loyal ally, is already in its waning days and risk the ire of an opposition that could seize power after the elections, given the administration's sagging popularity? This is a fertile ground for speculation of possible US support, or what amounts to the same thing, of off-hand US policy in case our much-feared apprehension of a term extension for GMA comes true. How we wish we knew what transpired behind closed doors between these two leaders.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Election Cases: Waste of Time and Money

"It will only be a waste of time and money," observes Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio's election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, when asked for his reaction to the Supreme Court's recent ruling allowing the recount of votes cast during the Pampanga gubernatorial elections in 2007. Former Lubao, Pampanga Mayor Lilia Pineda filed an election protest against Governor Panlilio by claiming that the erstwhile priest and his followers committed various electoral frauds.

This statement, coming no less from a veteran election lawyer, speaks a mouthful about the state of election cases in our country. It pains me to say this, but election cases in general do nothing except line the pockets of election lawyers, for in most cases the winners end up with empty victories, no to mention empty purses, because the favorable verdicts come in only after they have become moot. With the 2010 elections just less than a year to go, the election protest against Governor Panlilio is yet another example of an exercise in futility. The recounting of votes, while every protestant's dream, takes the longest and is the most contentious and tedious process in an election protest. The protestee's lawyer interposes every imaginable objection from the custody and handling of the ballot boxes to be re-opened to the reading and inclusion of ballots prejudicial to his client. Take it from Macalintal, who must've handled thousands of election cases (both high-profile and low-key) already, when he said that the recount against Panlilio is futile at this point in time.

With the slew of cases being filed every three years, the Philippines probably has the richest jurisprudence when it comes to election cases. A lot of defeated candidates with money to spare, perhaps excesses from the huge campaign war chests, cry they have been cheated after every elections even when the margins are huge. Many factors can be attributed to this phenomenon - which a visiting Canadian lawyer I once met during a legal forum found unbelieveable because he has never heard of election cases in his country. For one, our electoral system is prone to cheating and election officials are bribe-susceptible. Not only can election officials in charge of counting and canvassing of votes be bribed to guarantee victory for one candidate, but election judges to assure favorable judgments in election cases. Another equally strong, if not more powerful, reason is the insatiable quest for power, with all its illegitimate perquisites that promise luxury and indulgence to the holder. Politicians with such devious motivation (and there are lots of them unfortunately!) will have no qualms bribing their way to victory, both at the polls and courtroom.

If it's any consolation, law students and lawyers won't find a shortage of jurisprudence illuminating the election code and its companion laws that makes for interesting studies and provides guidance to our courts in disposing election cases before them. At least we would not be groping in the dark as US courts did in the wake of the 2000 US presidential elections between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when confronted with thin jurisprudence in trying to make sense of their varied election laws. But then again the dispatch with which these courts came out with a decision in the Bush v. Gore case (decided in less than a month) and the recently concluded legal contest between Norm Coleman and Al Franken for a Minnesota US Senate seat (completed in eight months) would make us weep.

The exceedingly slow pace at which election cases are resolved in the Philippines has turned election law litigation into a big joke. Although election cases are given preferences before regular courts and the election code directs their resolutions with dispatch, our legal system - with its loophole-ridden appeals process - makes it possible for parties on the losing end to prolong the litigation with the end goal of getting them through their terms before a decision is finally handed. More often than not election cases are resolved after the contested terms have expired or elections for the next terms have passed.

In my home town of Mabalacat, Pampanga, for example, when in 2001 the election protest against Mayor Marino "Boking" Morales was resolved declaring his long-time rival Anthony Dee the winner, Morales already completed his term of office. Then again in the 2007 case of Rivera III, et al. v. Comelec, et al., G.R. No. 167591 (May 9, 2007) - originally a petition to cancel the certificate of candidacy of Morales where I was one of the petitioners and counsels - the Supreme Court declared the ineligibility of Morales to run for Mayor in the 2004 elections. But this decision came only less than two months before the term for which he was found ineligible expired. There are tons of other cases bearing similar backdrops which i'm sure most of you can relate to that we need not cite them here for convenience.

Despite this sad reality, however, the Supreme Court, which is empowered by the Constitution to not only give meaning to the law but to promulgate rules of procedure in matters of litigation, has done nothing to put a stop to this abhorrence. Worse, it even sustains it by, for example, allowing wrongdoers to profit from their misdeeds by allowing "elected" candidates found to have lost the elections to keep their salaries, however miniscule they are compared to the illegitimate perquisites of their office, under the de facto officer doctrine. Would it not be more just that a usurper of public office be penalized by returning all the salaries he drew during his unlawful tenancy? The Supreme Court has also the penchant for entertaining petitions that do not establish new law and are clearly covered by established jurisprudence. Instead of declining jurisdiction and deferring to the Comelec or lower courts' rulings in cases squarely adhering to established jurisprudence, it proceeds to hear and publish full decisions in cases that could otherwise be disposed of by minute resolutions, thus adding to the delay in disposition of election cases.

Election litigations should not only be a lawyer's or politician's concern, but of every voter because it is an extension of the electoral process of choosing our leaders. They are designed - supposedly - to protect the voters' choice at the polls and ensure that those who court our votes are only those who are legally qualified to do so. But when they drag on indefinitely and are decided only when they can no longer serve their purpose or worse, when they are manipulated to the advantage of the unworthy, they subvert, and become an affront to, our sovereign will.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Military as Arbiter of Political Conflict

In the July 9 New York Times article "Fuel for a Coup: Perils of Latin America's Oversized Military," Nobel Prize winner, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias wrote that strong militaries in Latin America have paved the way for military solutions to political conflicts in the region. He observed that the coup d'état that led to the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya is something that is not unexpected in a region that "continues to view armed forces as the final arbiter of social conflicts."

While the Philippines is not as extravagant as Latin America when it comes to military spending, since the days of martial law our armed forces have increasingly taken an active role in trying to resolve our nation's manifold problems. We thought that after EDSA I the re-branding (from AFP to New AFP) and reorganization of the armed forces would eventually lead to its depolitization. But as history would have it, coup after coup have wracked the nascent administration of then President Corazon Aquino.

Yet again under the present administration, the military continued its political involvement in seeking solutions to our socio-political problems during the so-called Oakwood Mutiny despite repeated indoctrination at the nation's premiere military academy and among the ranks of active military personnel against military adventurism. Then there was the Manila Pen incident. The leader of Oakwood, Navy Lieutenant Antonio Trillanes IV, would later on be popularly elected as senator even while he was behind bars.

Coup d'état as a means of achieving change is, aside from being a crime punishable by law, without a doubt unconstitutional. Not even the present constitutional provision defining the role of the armed forces as the protector of the people can legally justify the military's role in acting as the arbiter of the country's political conflicts. That provision was meant to highlight the military's role in protecting the people against external threats or aggression, and not as a prescription against a corrupt government, however appealing the idea may be to others.

Arias says the imbalance between Latin America's fragile democracies and strong militaries, with the scales tipping toward the latter, has much to do with the militray taking an active role on the political landscape. The Honduran experience shows that when Zelaya committed flagrant disregard of the country's Constitution and defiance to its high court's ruling, the military decided to resolve the impasse by arresting Zelaya and whisking him out of the country. The Honduran military's swift action did decisively what the Supreme Court and Congress failed to do: to immediately stop the illegal actions of an abusive president.

The failure of our democratic institutions in maintaining political stability and reigning in of official excesses have left our people looking for answers elsewhere. Idealists in the military have seen this as an impetus for involvement in transforming our society by resorting to extra-constitutional measures. As citizens equally disgusted by the worsening problems in the country, these soldiers follow the route where they have been trained well in seeking the much needed change. And for a country that is yet to see a truly military rule, Marcos's martial law notwithstanding, hard line military idealists would find the idea of a military junta a seductive goal, especially so that previous administration changes have only resulted in installing new faces into power without resolving the country's fundamental problems. The guiding political aphorism, it would seem, is that when democracy fails force becomes a necessity.

To be sure, the armies of other nations are much more powerful and highly trained compared to those of Latin America and the Philippines. But we do not see the United States or United Kingdom being threatened by coup d'états. The reason is their democratic institutions and processes do not fail them. Sure there are failings here and there, but not on a scale as grand as in our country. And solutions are invariably found. In the Philippines we've seen how our democratic processes and institutions have been repeatedly mocked by those in power: until now not a single verdict of conviction has been handed down against the former First Lady Imelda Marcos despite the plethora of cases brought against her, she and her family have reacquired political power, public officals who only earn miniscule salaries continue to live lavish lifestyles, we have a president who committed an act comparable to or even worse than Watergate but continues to remain in power, scandals after scandals are being heaped upon us by government officials who remain unscathed by the scalpel of justice, etc.

For as long as we do not fully mature as a democracy, where our democratic institutions and processes are revered as inviolable, members of the military establishment clamoring for change will continue to see their relevance in instituting political reforms. As long as our politicians continue to tinker with the Constitution and unabashedly violate the law, our institutions fail to cut down official excesses and public officials defy the people's will, the military will remain an active participant of political change.

Friday, July 3, 2009

When GMA Exercises Commander-in-Chief Powers

Once again talks of an impending martial law abound with the recent story in a major newspaper of a so-called "Oplan August Moon," which is allegedly a plan to extend the term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo by declaring martial rule - to be accomplished by appointment to key military positions of generals loyal to GMA and creation of emergency scenarios reminiscent of the Marcos era. You may want to read Ding Gagelonia and Patricio Mangubat's interesting articles on this issue.

A review of the Constitution tells us that the president can exercise commander-in-chief powers under Art. VII, Sec. 18, which provides as follows:

Section 18. The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law. . .
The foregoing provision spells out three important powers that the president may exercise in times of national emergencies: (1) calling-out power (2) power to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and (3) power to declare martial law.

The calling-out power refers to the power of the president to mobilize the armed forces - whose regular function is to protect the territorial integrity and security of the state against foreign aggressions - in preventing or suppressing lawless violence. In the words of David v. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (Prof. Randy David's first taste of eskrima with GMA), this involves ordinary police action. The Supreme Court also said in this case that the criterion by which the validity of the exercise of this power may be tested is the phrase "whenever it becomes necessary" in Section 18, meaning whenever the president determines there are existing conditions or situations - such as widespread violence, invasion or rebellion - that would necessitate the use of more force in restoring and maintaining peace and order in the country.

The power to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus (HC) and declare martial law are considered the more expansive exercise of the president's emergency powers. Martial law is distinguished from the president's exercise of his calling-out power in that in the former the country or a portion thereof is placed under military rule while in the latter the armed forces is only called upon to assist the police in maintaining peace and order. HC refers to the process by which a court compels the government to produce before it a person under the latter's custody or to justify the reason for such custody. The suspension of this privilege could lead to the detention of persons without charges.

It should be noted that although traditionally the suspension of the privilege of HC is equated with or follows the proclamation of martial law, the Constitution now makes it clear that martial law by itself does not suspend the privilege and there must be an order for such suspension.

If and when GMA declares martial law and/or suspends the privilege of the writ of HC she is required by the Constitution to submit a report to Congress within 48 hours from such declaration and/or suspension. Here again is where GMA can benefit immensely from her allies in Congress. Notice the following paragraph in Section 18:

The Congress, voting jointly, by a vote of at least a majority of all its Members in regular or special session, may revoke such proclamation or suspension, which revocation shall not be set aside by the President. Upon the initiative of the President, the Congress may, in the same manner, extend such proclamation or suspension for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it.
Unlike the Cha-cha provision in Art. XVII, Sec. 1, there is no equivocation on the manner of voting. The Constitution explicitly allows (in fact it requires it) suspension of the bicameral process by requiring Congress to vote jointly in revoking, affirming or even extending martial law. Given the number of representatives, most of whom being administration allies, GMA can easily get congressional support. And if HR 1109 is any indication the votes alone of the loyal congressmen would suffice to meet the majority vote required.

If this happens the last constitutional resort to question the legality of martial law is the Supreme Court. Unlike in the pre-1987 Constitution era, there is no longer a debate as to whether the courts may look into the factual bases for the declaration of martial law. Where before the determination by the president of the necessity of martial law is binding and conclusive - a political question which the courts may not review - the Constitution now explicitly makes it a justiciable political question by stating in paragraph three of Section 18 that the Supreme Court may review ''the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or the extension thereof." In fact this provision confers a legal standing upon any citizen to bring the appropriate petition.

A word of caution however. David tells us that it will be the petitioner questioning the validity of martial law who must bear the burden of proving the insufficiency of the factual bases relied upon by the president in declaring martial law and/or suspending HC. The problem with this is that there is a strong likelihood that the Court will accord great weight to the executive department's finding of necessity (the Constitution says [1] there is an invasion and public safety requires it or [2] there is a rebellion and public safety requires it), either in subservience to GMA or what amounts to the same thing, in deference to another co-equal branch of government. As the Court ratiocinated in David in finding factual bases for GMA's Presidential Proclamation No. 1017 - declaring a state of emergency - "Owing to her [GMA] Office’s vast intelligence network, she is in the best position to determine the actual condition of the country."

I would like to believe GMA would be wise enough to cover her base if and when she invokes her commander-in-chief powers by seeing to it there would be sufficient basis for martial rule. In addition to this it would be safe to assume that she would also see to the appointment of sympathetic justices in the Supreme Court, where she is in the enviable position of filling almost half of the Court's membership as several of them retire before her term ends.