MANILA, Philippines – Like a repentant sinner, Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio must do his penance. Yet it will be more than just 5 Hail Marys and one Glory Be.
For former Senator and human rights lawyer Rene Saguisag, Carpio must wait for two more years to become Chief Justice. His sin? The controversial past of the law firm he founded, Villaraza Cruz Marcelo & Angangco, known as The Firm in legal circles.
In an interview on Rappler’s #TalkThursday, Saguisag said he salutes Carpio for his key decisions in the Supreme Court but is not keen on having him appointed Chief Justice at this time. (Watch the full interview here).
“May kasaysayan siya at saka yung The Firm kaya ako din meron ding reservation kung siya dapat ma-appoint …. Kung may kasalanan ang The Firm noong araw eh ito siguro ang penance. Magtiis pa ng another two years.” (He and The Firm have a history that’s why I have reservations about his possible appointment. If The Firm indeed had faults before, maybe this is the penance. He should wait for another two years.)
Saguisag was referring to The Firm’s former ties with ex-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the Ramos government. Arroyo was once its most prominent client before it severed ties with the former President.
Under the Ramos government, Carpio and his colleagues at The Firm were behind the dismantling of the monopoly of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company, which was then headed by President Aquino’s cousin, Antonio “Tonyboy” O. Cojuangco.
In expressing reservations about Carpio, Saguisag reiterated his proposal for President Benigno Aquino III to appoint a Chief Justice who would serve for only two years during what he called a “calmative, cooling off period.”
“I think we have to get through this version of a Scarborough Shoal dahil sa ngayon, napakainit eh (because now the atmosphere is very tense),” said Saguisag.
It floods when you say ‘President Binay’
Saguisag was also nominated to be Chief Justice but he declined, saying he is over 70, the mandatory age for justices to retire. He is 72.
Instead, he nominated Supreme Court Associate Justice Roberto Abad and former Executive Secretary and San Juan Rep Ronaldo Zamora to be Chief Justice. Both will turn 70 in two years.
If appointed, Abad and Zamora would retire in 2014. Saguisag said the President could then appoint another chief magistrate, when the political climate is not as heated.
Saguisag said another argument to back his proposal is speculation that Vice President Jejomar Binay is against Carpio’s appointment. Reports say Binay opposes Carpio because of The Firm’s ties to Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas, who filed an electoral protest against him over the 2010 vice presidential race.
Saguisag is friends with Binay, with ties dating back to the anti-Marcos movement. Both belong to Mabini, a group of human rights lawyers who defended victims of abuses during Martial Law.
The former senator quipped, “Matagal na rin kaming ‘di nagkikita ni Jojo. Mahirap naman dahil ‘pag tinawag na ‘Mr President,’ nung araw, naluluha lang. Ngayon, bumabaha na eh! Di na namin makausap.” (We haven’t seen Jojo for a long time. It’s hard because when he’s called “Mr President” before, he just tears up. Now, his tears are flooding! We can’t talk to him anymore.)
Saguisag added, “To me, that’s why it’s an additional argument why we need someone like Bobby Abad or even Ronnie Zamora who is not really identified with Balay or Samar.”
‘Bring back SC’s glorious past’
Saguisag said the next Chief Justice must lead reforms in the Supreme Court to bring back the glorious, principled past of the institution.
With the huge backlog of cases in the Supreme Court, Saguisag said justices should not pursue graduate studies and travel while serving on the bench.
“The exercise in the US Supreme Court is, what do you see your duty to be? Three words: to decide cases,” said Saguisag.
“We have a case already on its 3rd decade and still pending and that’s not unusual. Biyahe nang biyahe itong mga tinamaan ng mga… mahistrado. Iyan ang mga gusto kong pagbabago na mainstitute.” (But these magistrates keep traveling. That’s a reform that I want to see instituted.)
Saguisag also said the Supreme Court should stop entertaining letters as it did in the case of the Flight Attendants and Stewards’ Association of the Philippines (Fasap). The court reversed a final ruling based on mere letters of Philippine Airlines (PAL) counsel Estelito Mendoza.
Saguisag cited how former Chief Justice Roberto Concepcion handled a similar situation. In 1971, female college students wrote the Supreme Court about lowering the voting age to 18 so they could vote.
“Chief Justice Roberto Concepcion, one of my icons, nagalit (got mad). ‘This is not done, meaning don’t write to us. You get a lawyer, you file [a petition].’ Pero dito kapag mga anak ng Diyos na kamukha nila Titong Mendoza nakakasulat at yung final, suddenly nabubuhay.’” (But here, when the children of God like Tito Mendoza write, what is final is suddenly revived.)
Mendoza had written to the SC four times to inquire about the status of the case filed by Fasap against PAL.
Life utter waste?
Saguisag said if Aquino can appoint a Chief Justice in the mold of Concepcion, the former senator’s life would not be wasted.
Saguisag’s political career began as spokesman for president-elect Corazon Aquino. He was elected as senator in 1987 and served until 1992. He was one of the defense lawyers of former President Joseph Estrada in the latter’s plunder case.
Saguisag survived a car accident in 2007 that claimed the life of his wife, Dulce.
“Sometimes, there are nights I think my entire life, it’s an utter waste because I’m about to leave this world in a far worse shape than when I entered it.”
“And I tried my best but it seems totally wasted but we can never ever give up hope. We can never ever give up on our Motherland.” – Rappler.com
Click on the links below for related stories:
- Antonio Carpio: The man on the bench
- Corona and Carpio: From friends to foes
- Carpio declines Palace invite to vin d’honneur
Elsewhere on Rappler: