For 4 Supreme Court justices, you’re guilty if you’re intelligent

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What else could you expect, if three of these are so inexperienced and unqualified for the post, appointed by an incompetent President purely on the basis of their loyalty to him — the first time such level of inexpert lawyers are appointed to the Supreme Court in its 115-year history?

You’ll fall off your seat if you read justice Marivic Leonen’s preposterous “dissenting opinion’ on the Supreme Court’s acquittal of the plunder case against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which had kept her incarcerated at grave risk to her health for five years (She was arrested Nov. 11, 2011).

Leonen’s argument: Arroyo was intelligent enough to know that the alleged P366 million confidential funds under the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) which she had approved would be stolen by its officials. However, neither Leonen nor the Ombudsman had presented any evidence that this money had been stolen; they only said that these were confidential funds bigger than before, and have not been properly accounted for.

“Where it went and why it was disbursed was not fully explained,” Leonen himself wrote.


Read his 47-page dissenting opinion (the same length as the Court’s decision concurred in by 11 justices) if you don’t believe me.

He starts his dissent with the following: “Arroyo was a highly intelligent President who knew what she was doing. . . . As President, it was her duty to stop . . . pilferage of public coffers.”

He ends it with: “The former President cannot plead naiveté. She was intelligent and was experienced.” Therefore she’s guilty, Leonen argues. Of what? Being intelligent? The Ombudsman had not submitted a single evidence, not even a single centavo out of the PCSO funds alleged to have been stolen and found their way into Arroyo’s pocket, or into the pockets of those of the rest of the 10 accused, including the Commission on Audit chairman who didn’t see anything anomalous in the agency’s use of its confidential funds. (All of those accused except Arroyo and one other PCSO official had been acquitted.)

Clockwise from top-left: Justice Leonen, Chief Justice Sereno, and Justices Carpio and Caguioa, who voted against the decision of the 11 other justices of the Supreme Court to acquit Arroyo of plunder charges.

Clockwise from top-left: Justice Leonen, Chief Justice Sereno, and Justices Carpio and Caguioa, who voted against the decision of the 11 other justices of the Supreme Court to acquit Arroyo of plunder charges.

Leonen’s argument is preposterous, even hilarious. He’s saying that if an official has Einstein’s level of intelligence, any fund he approves and later turns out to have been stolen by subordinates, makes him guilty of the crime. So going by Leonen’s logic, the dumber a government official accused of graft is, the more innocent he should be in the eyes of the law.

But maybe his argument is really not that stupid, but intended to put some legal point on the record in case his patron Benigno S. Aquino 3rd, who appointed him to the Court, is charged. He’d argue that Aquino was not intelligent enough to have known that the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) was unconstitutional and the MRT maintenance contracts involved corrupt dealings.

And if one embraces a stupid opinion, what does that make of him or her? Just as stupid, of course. Lourdes Sereno, whom Aquino appointed as Supreme Court chief justice with as much qualification as Leonen does, had her own dissenting opinion, but strangely emphasized she fully agreed with his dissenting opinion. So did senior justice Antonio Carpio, and the last justice appointed by Aquino, Alfred Caguioa, both of whom put the notation in the Court’s ruling that they were “joining” Leonen’s dissenting opinion.

Leonen even ends his dissent with the following accusation that is typical of deranged persons’ scream, “Can’t you see it?:” “(Arroyo’s) scheme is plain except to those who refuse to see.” That’s, of course, an insult to his 11 colleagues who voted for Arroyo’s acquittal.

A national shame
However, beyond Leonen’s stupidity, it is important for us as a nation to understand why Arroyo’s detention has been such a national shame and a travesty of justice, as well as a cruel case of unconscionable political prosecution. To appreciate these, one would have to understand what the Plunder Law (R.A. No 7080) is all about.

It is really a strange only-in-the-Philippines kind of law. That it was more of a propaganda device at that time is obvious in that it hijacked a term with a precise meaning in the English language. “Plunder” refers to what bad armies do in territories they conquer and what bad poor folks do when they loot supermarkets when the police vanish during civil disturbances.

It was passed in 1991 under President Aquino, when the flavor of the day then was how bad Marcos was that his was not just large-scale corruption, but “plunder” of public coffers.

Therefore, ‘Never Again!’ So the Cory-controlled Congress hastily passed a law against such Marcos-type “plunder.” It was Senator Jovito Salonga who authored the law and pushed for it, obviously because he was exasperated that the PCGG he led from 1986 to 1987, couldn’t put anybody in jail.

Two related things made the law quite unusual, even irrational, as a just law. First, the penalties it prescribed were the harshest possible, “reclusion perpetua to death.” (The death penalty was banned only in 2006, with all offenses penalized by it, reduced to reclusion perpetua).

Reclusion perpetua is nearly synonymous with life imprisonment, which has been the penalty only for heinous crimes such as murder, rape, parricide and treason. The penalty for plunder law, unless you believe in legal systems under Islamic law and other strongmen, is inhumanly harsh. After all, the death penalty’s underlying logic is Old Testament mentality of life-for-a-life.

But in the case of large-scale graft (which is what that term “plunder” simply means), it’s a life when the amount stolen is at least P50 million – the benchmark at and above which graft becomes plunder. (Which raises the question: If the defense proves that only P49.9 million pesos was stolen from government coffers, shouldn’t the accused grafter be acquitted? And if acquitted, shouldn’t he or she be immune from graft charges, to avoid a case of double jeopardy?)

Second, while I suspect most legislators didn’t realize its consequences at that time, the fact that the penalty prescribed was “reclusion perpetua to death” meant that anybody accused of the crime cannot avail himself of the fundamental right to bail – it’s “non-bailable.”

Some senators at that time objected: What if an Administration which has the Ombudsman under his or her thumb, uses the Plunder Law as a weapon to put a political enemy in jail? That was struck down, though, with the belief that there would never ever be a President who would use it for persecuting his enemies. Of course, no one could have thought at that time that a psychologically imbalanced and pettily vengeful person as BS Aquino 3rd would be President some day. Or that a self-righteous megalomaniac would be Ombudsman.

The objectors, however, were convinced to pass it, anyway, when the bill was amended to define plunder as a government official who “amasses, accumulates or acquires ill-gotten wealth (of at least P50 million) through bribes, malversation of public funds,” or other such practices we all know as graft. What this means is that one is guilty of plunder only if it is proved that he enriched himself by at least P50 million through graft.

This is so different from the anti-graft law (R.A. 3019 passed in 1960), which didn’t require that a charged government official be proven to have enriched himself through graft. The law even categorically prescribed that one is guilty of corruption if he approves a contract “grossly disadvantageous” to government, “whether or not the public officer profited or will profit thereby.” However, the penalties for graft mainly ranged from imprisonment of not less than six years to not more than 15 years — in sharp contrast to the plunder law’s life imprisonment to death.

Legislators — experts, of course, in covering up their tracks or they wouldn’t be in Congress — who had objected to the harshness of the Plunder Law satisfied themselves with the thought that anyway, it is practically difficult to prove that a grafter put this or that much in his bank account or vault, as the law prescribed.

That seemed a rational expectation until a cabal of lawyers, a former President (not the one who succeeded him), the Yellow Cult, and the oligarchs hating President Estrada so much, gathered all their resources and charged Estrada with plunder right after he was deposed in January 2001.

Put Estrada in jail
The prime motive was to put Estrada in jail and keep him there, since he had substantial mass support, especially since his ouster was on flimsy grounds. In jail, he would be defanged and wouldn’t be able to build up his political forces to return to power. If he were merely charged with graft, he would have been out of jail on bail to plot his comeback.

However, Estrada in his hubris (and his daily drunken stupor) was so sloppy that what was difficult in the plunder law to prove – the accused amassing ill-gotten wealth – was proven beyond a doubt.

He never expected, of course, that his bosom friends – former Ilocos Sur governor Chavit Singson and jueteng king Atong Ang – would testify that themselves handed cold cash in suitcases to Estrada as his cut in the tobacco excise tax proceeds and in the illegal-numbers game loot. He never expected that bank branch managers would testify that he signed as Jose Velarde as depositor in accounts that contained the proceeds from his corruption.

In fact, the Sandiganbayan’s move convicting him in 2007 focused its decision on how much Estrada accumulated in ill-gotten wealth: P545 million in jueteng money, P200 million of which was deposited in the account of “Erap Muslim Youth Foundation” and P189 million in his “commission” for ordering the GSIS and SSS to purchase Belle Corp. stocks in his “Jose Velarde” account.

This was in sharp contrast to the plunder charge against Arroyo. The P366 million, which the charge allegedly involved, is just pure propaganda and a flimsy reason for charging her of plunder, so she coudn’t avail of bail. This 366 million is the total amount of confidential funds Arroyo approved as requested by PCSO officials over five years.

However, as the Court noted in Arroyo’s defense and agreed to: “Not a single exhibit of the 637 exhibits offered by the prosecution nor a single testimony of the 21 witnesses, was offered by the prosecution to prove that petitioner amassed, accumulated or acquired even a single peso of the alleged ill-gotten wealth amounting to P366 million or any part of that amount.” Despite the Aquino government’s threats to the other accused that they would rot in jail unless they ratted on Arroyo, not one of them did a Chavit Singson or an Atong Ang.

The Ombudsman even tried to “amend” the Plunder Law by alleging that it didn’t require proof that the accused enriched herself. ‘Basta!’ was essentially Ombudsman Conchita Carpio- Morales’ argument.

The Ombudsman submitted evidence that the confidential funds couldn’t be accounted for. However, she didn’t offer a single evidence that even a centavo went to Arroyo or her family’s purses. The Court even reminded the Ombudsman to read again the Plunder Law and try to understand it: “The gravamen of plunder is the amassing, accumulating, or acquiring of ill-gotten wealth by a public officer,” the Court emphasized.

The plunder charge against Arroyo was entirely a tactic to keep her detained. What I’m angry about is that Aquino and the Ombudsman were aware of it, expecting that she’ll die in jail because of her spinal illness before the trial ends.

They should pay for such a travesty of justice, and for that heinous conspiracy to kill a former President.

tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com

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41 Comments

  1. “So going by Leonen’s logic, the dumber a government official accused of graft is, the more innocent he should be in the eyes of the law.” – I like this one lol!

  2. give him a chance……….He is not even 30 days in power……Judge Him at the middle of his term …..Good or Bad………..at the moment all go nicely…

  3. I dont see any rason why do you have to mention Islamic Law. May I ask how far are you in your studies of Islamic Law? Dont be a piece of shit!! Bobo lang mga abogado ni Pnoy kaya naka laya si GMA.

  4. Who and How can this Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales abuse of power be checked ? What is the role of Integrated Bar of the Philippines be, to someone like her found practicing vindictiveness and selective justice when she is supposed to render equality of justice to all. Will the newly elected President ( tho Inday Sara’s husband is related to her as she proclaimed) recommend an inquiry to her unsound practices of law. She and de Lima are good steward of vindictiveness ,

  5. Mr Tiglao, just curious , why is it that Conchita Capio-Morales was appointed to another gov’t position when in fact she has retired from a gov’t position as a Associate SC judge and receiving pension? just asking, is there such a limit or prohibition of being employed again or be appointed to work for the go’vt (as Ombudsman) ?

  6. There was a bigger chance of convicting CGMA should the Ombudsman instead filed a case of Technical Malversation. However, while the case is on trial, CGMA cannot be put in jail (or in hospital arrest) because in that case, bail will be a matter of right. That’s why, even if the Ombudsman knew for a fact that the Plunder case is weak, they still proceed with it, after all even if CGMA will be acquited later (which actually happened because lack of evidence) she had been incarcerated during the trial, at least during the term of Pnoy.

    Political persecution in the highest term. Indeed, Sen. Drillon is correct, the government lost the case because of the Ombudsman’s poor lawyering.

  7. Abel Labarda on

    The three PBS Aquino appointed SC justices were rewarded of their positions, not out of being “intelligent” enough for the SC. Sereno for overpaying Hacienda Luisita, Leonen for attempt to handle Moro Mindanao to MILF and Malaysia (in addition to Sabah claims), and Caguioa for disregarding the DAP/PDAP case, all to favor BS Aquino and his Daang Matuwid gang. Justice Carpio may have been too well spent on the UNCLOS case he authored and won over China that he overlooked the decision of the UN on the unjust detention of PGMA obsessively orchestrated by BS Aquino. I wonder how long will the three “Student Council” appointees will repay their popularity conscious Boss before they ingratiate themselves to the new administration.

    • The 3 justices intelligence is just like a computer, can only process what is being fed into them. the fourth one is smart, but let his personal anger at GMA overcame his mind.

  8. ernie del rosario on

    “Leonen’s argument is preposterous, even hilarious. He’s saying that if an official has Einstein’s level of intelligence, any fund he approves and later turns out to have been stolen by subordinates, makes him guilty of the crime. So going by Leonen’s logic, the dumber a government official accused of graft is, the more innocent he should be in the eyes of the law.”

    OMG ! Eh di wala na pala tayong pag-asa na makulong si BSA III on the basis of Leonen’s IQ metrics for guilt alone ?

  9. Simply said, the four gangsters in the robes are plain stupid. The reason behind his dissenting opinion was just to appease his appointing minion, B.S. Aquino, even to the extent of destroying his reputation. That’s the problem of our Filipino culture of giving back favor to what we have received.

  10. Juan T. Delacruz on

    Why make this issue so complicated? Where is accountability and responsibility? Arroyo ordered the release of the P366 million and she cannot account for it, where did it go? and why did she wait until change of administration to file a demurer? The missing P366 Million, once belonged to the Filipino people is a weak evidence? Because not a single centavo was found in Gloria Arroyo’s pocket? Wow! only in the Philippines, Mr. Tiglao! This type of Filipino mentality makes us look bad to the rest of the world. You were able to convinced and brainwashed, the not so bright followers as well, those MT readers that cannot think independently.

    Plunder law is defined as “the amassing, accumulation, or acquiring ill gotten wealth by a public officer.” Nobody cannot prove that Arroyo herself pocketed the P366 Million ? Did anybody investigated the excess wealth of Mickey Arroyo? If you put in in a graph, there was a sudden spike of his wealth that he, himself, cannot even explain. By all definition, this article is a one sided story and the author, Mr. Tiglao once worked for Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

    • You seem uninformed.

      GMA’s lawyer filed petitions to the Sandiganbayan for demurrer to evidence and was denied so many times since last year!

      Only after exhausting petitions at the Sandigan that they filed a petition with the SC and that was way before the 2016 elections.

    • She did not wait for a change in administration to file a demurrer. It was the SC that decided after the change of administration. This is a judicial proceeding on a criminal complaint. It rises and falls on evidence, sufficiency or insufficiency. The Ombudsman’s case did not give sufficient evidence, the SC ruled. That’s the point. Respect the rules of evidence. It protects all from injustice later. Another lesson in warfare, which mirrors the game of tennis, don’t overdo things. Don’t go for plunder when you can only prove say, technical malversation but still get a conviction. Aquino focused on detaining Arroyo but he ended up missing the forest for the trees.

    • Jessie Corrales on

      are you stupid? where is the evidence that she pocketed te money? where are the witnesses? all 9 of her co-acused were free so where is the conspiracy if the “conspirators” were set free? it can’t be a conspiracy by 1 woman. You keep asking where did te money go? the COA said it was spent accdg. to what the approval said it would go. That’s not PGMA’s pocket. Let’s face it, this is all politics not legal. If your anti PGMA like yourself and the 4 justices you’ll say she’s guilty even if your arguments are shallow, yes very shallow. In our justice system there is a term that’s known as “beyond reasonable doubt.”

    • Mike Arroyo is extremely rich. As rich as or richer than the Cojuanco’s. They were hacienderos and gave most of their land to CARP….

    • you must be kidding. ibig mong sabihin e si micky arroyo ay biglang tumaas ang kayamanan ay kasalanan ng nanay nya yon or are you implying that the money went to mikey?? if that is so why did the ombudsman not use your logic to pin down gloria? tanong mo nga ay walang makapagpatotoo na hindi napunta kay arroyo ang pera, hindi ba? e yun nga ang sabi ng majority ng sc justices e. walang napatunayan ang ombudsman na kahit isang singkong duling ay napunta sa bulsa ni arroyo. btw, not only in the phil. yung walang nakitang pera na ninakaw na napunta sa iyo ay hindi ka guilty. sa ibang bansa, sa prelimineary investigation pa lang ay hindi na mapupunta sa trial ang kaso at siguradong dismiss agad.

  11. how in the Philippines could make the voters be wary and careful enough not to vote personalities with doubtful capabilities? we just have a very good President Duterte, a workhorse for the good our country… but for God condemning power, we elected the same faces in the senate whose self motives are for their convenience… add that with new faces, still of self convenience if not bereft of honest to goodness spirit of public service… how can the voters elected one who danced and sung with the druglords? How can voters ignore the fact of DAP/Pdaf defenders whom by themselves were part and enjoyed the engineered graft of Aquino administration? The thick skin senators appeared like they are superheroes for laws meant to alleviate poverty but are dumb and tounge-tied to fight graft and corruptions committed in disguise of good intentions, the deceitful positioning of anyone guilty of amassing wealth from public funds… indeed, we need a strong willed President… I and the many who voted Duterte are thankful he won the last Presidential election!!! :-) :-) :-)

    • and that is the essence of democracy and that is why we don’t have too many outside investors.

  12. Sereno, Leonen and Caguiao have got to be the most ill-qualified lawyers to be appointed to the SC. They should be impeached for incompetence at the very least.

    • correct! in the case of Grace Poe, Leonen committed a blunder coz of his being “TOO INTELLIGENT” by saying that let the voting citizens decide the fate of Poe’s candidacy not her citizenship. EH GAGO TALAGA EH! HAWAK NILA CONSTITUTION BOOK eh ayaw tanggapin na tama ung isinasaad sa konstitusyon na dapat purong Filipino at natural born citizen ang dapat maging Pangulo ng Pilipinas… hindi banyaga o dual citizen. Take note of what happened to a Vietnamese National Assembly Delegate. She won actually a seat in the assembly but was removed after having been verified that she is a dual citizen. Natural born citizen pa ang ale na ito. Delegate pa lang yan, hindi pa Pangulo o Presidente. Parehas ng kaso ni Poe. Stop your Political Patronage, Leonen, Sereno at Caguioa. SCJ Carpio, blilib pa naman ako sa iyo. nagpadala ka sa mga tarantadong co-associate at chief justice mo…..

    • I think carpio has an ax to grind with GMA. he though of becoming the chief justice, but GMA installed the late Chief Justice Corona instead. He is vindictive too.

  13. I agree and I am ashamed every time I hear the name of these four (4) incompetent and unqualified “justices” in the Philippine Supreme Court. Leonen, Sereno, Caguiao does not even deserve to be called justice and in addition I feel vomiting every time Sereno is mentioned as a “chief justice.”

  14. Thank God finally you are free. Do not and keep on praying with rest of the world for your full recovery. May God Bless you, your family and the whole Philippines.

  15. I agree on the basic allegations on what the decision is about but not on the ad libs which are purely added to it. The SC decision granting the demurrer is correct despite the dissenting opinion. Associate Justice Carpios lawyering of the Philippines claim over the reefs, rocks, shoals and the fishing grounds within the 200 miles Eco zone may have influenced his vote. Anyway, it’s time to move on; & people must untie. There are other business of public governance to take care.

    • Justice Carpio may still harbor anger when GMA did not appoint him CJ. His disappointment was completed when Aquino by-passed him for the most junior associate justice then – Sereno.

  16. Thank you very much Mr. Tiglao for explaining the reasons why President Arroyo spent five years in house arrest at VMH. I am convinced now that our government is in shambles and disarray that needs to be fixed or change. I am for a change by creating a revolutionary government that dissolved the legislature and judiciary functions. Provisionary governemnt then is created to prepare for the kind of government that is aligned with our values, status and wealth of the nation. This will take time to implement just as it will also take time to correct defects of our crooked government. I rather forego the latter and go for a new form of governemnt.

  17. P.Akialamiro on

    B.S. Aquino has made the SC his ‘political’ tool. (period). The lack of judicial experience of those he appointed to the “highest” court of the land is plain and simple politics.

  18. It will be HISTORY that will sink the 2 Aquino presidents & their names into its dustbins

  19. Pro C Edillo on

    Why lump the 3 other justices with Justice Leonen ‘intelligent’ dissenting opinion?

  20. after reading this article, the 4 justices must have been grimacing and somewhat amused by their stupidity, and could not believe how in their mind, they agreed to the dissenting opinion.

    • Three stupid justices, and one brilliant but broken hearted justice of the Supreme Court.