When you tangle with Juan Ponce Enrile, attorney-at-law, on a matter of law, you better go to court prepared and supported by a phalanx of brilliant lawyers. Even if, and especially if, you are the president of the Philippines.
Three times, an incumbent president Aquino – first, president Corazon Aquino, twice; and second, president Benigno Aquino 3rd, once — went into the ring against Enrile. And all three times. her/his excellency lost the battle.
And each time, it was no less than the Supreme Court that pronounced the verdict.
With Enrile’s latest legal coup, the fallout from defeat could be even greater for the Aquino camp – as it threatens to spread from Enrile to other cases, especially the case of Aquino’s biggest trophy prisoner, former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
The Palace is now scrambling to contain the damage from Enrile’s recent feat, but President Aquino should resist the urge to overwork his apologists in the media and in the high court (they are already disgracing themselves as it is). It’s better for him and his team to study the landmark cases and learn why they lost the argument. PR is of little help here because the toothpaste is already out of the tube.
Election to the Senate in 1987
The three cases wherein Enrile defeated a President Aquino before the Supreme Court are:
1. First, Enrile’s petition for proclamation as a winner in the May 1987 Senate elections — On August 13, 1987, the Supreme Court responded favorably to the petition of then citizen Enrile requesting his proclamation as 24th winning senator in the 1987 election.
Reporting on the episode, US embassy historian Lewis Gleeck, Jr. wrote in his book, President Aquino: Sainthood postponed ( Loyal Printing Co. 1995, Manila):
“After weeks of palpable chicanery at the Commission on Elections intended to deprive Enrile of a place in the Senate, the Supreme Court took the matter out of the hands of the by now totally discredited COMELEC by responding favorably to an Enrile petition requesting his proclamation as 24th senator.”
He continued: “Cory was visibly angry and disappointed that the man whom she properly identified as her foremost opponent should have been rescued by her court. Though she had appointed them all, only Justice Sarmiento, the most partisan of the Cory court, objected to the decision. Before the TV cameras, President Aquino found it possible only to say, between clenched teeth, that the Supreme Court had spoken the final word. Pro-Enrile demonstrations then broke out when Enrile appeared before Supreme Court chief Justice Claudio Teehankee to take his oath.”
Independent reports on our public affairs are instructive because they bear the distinctive stamp of objectivity.
Rebellion complexed with murder, 1990
2. Charge of Rebellion Complexed with murder filed by the government of Presiden Cory Aquino against Senator Juan Ponce Enrile –On June 5, 1990, the Supreme Court, in a rebuff to President Aquino, ruled that the Government’s charge of rebellion against Senator Juan Ponce Enrile should not have included murder and was invalid.
The decision nullified the criminal cases filed by state lawyers against Mr. Enrile and about 20 other civilians linked by the Government to a failed army coup attempt in December 1989. The court voted 11 to 2 to nullify the government’s charge. Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan said the case against Mr. Enrile should be reduced to rebellion. The Government must amend the charge if it wishes to proceed with the prosecution.
The case was so bad, then Senate defense committee chairman Sen. Ernesto Maceda demanded that the government lawyers who filed the case should be fired.
Bail petition on Plunder case, 2015
3. Petition on Plunder case before the Sandiganbayan – On August 18, 2015, the Supreme Court en banc granted the petition filed by detained Senator Juan Ponce Enrile seeking a bill of particulars in the case filed against him by the Ombudsman.
At a press conference, SC Public Information Office Chief and Spokesman Atty. Theodore O. Te, said “the Court, voting 8-5 PARTIALLY GRANTED petitioner Juan Ponce Enrile’s Petition challenging the Sandiganbayan’s July 11, 2014 Resolution which denied his Motion for Bill of Particulars.”
“The Court directed the Ombudsman to submit a Bill of Particulars, providing the information to be contained in the Court’s Judgment,” Te added.
In his petition, Enrile said the Sandiganbayan’s Third Division committed grave abuse of discretion when it dismissed his request for the Bill of Particulars, hence his recourse to the SC for intervention.
Those “particulars are material facts that should be clearly and definitely averred in the complaint in order that the defendant may, in fairness be informed of the claims made against him,” he added.
Last Thursday, August 20, Senator Enrile was released after posting P1.4 million bond.
Enrile’s request for the Bill of Particulars exposed the weakness of the government’s evidence against him, which cancels one ground for the denial of bail.
The argument Senator Enrile advanced was compelling: Where bail is not available as a matter of right, it can be denied only after it has been determined that evidence of guilt is strong. The argument is so persuasive, the dissenting justices were hard put to confute it.
From Enrile to Arroyo
The significance of the SC ruling on Enrile’s case goes far beyond the senator’s travail. It could lead to the high court laying down doctrine that will write finis to this administration’s policy of detention prior to conviction and denial of bail for certain offenses. Once this is ruled as inimical to due process, a long list of persons who have been denied bail will find new life and hope.
Keeping President Arroyo under continued hospital arrest will become totally indefensible.
Legal experts and pundits aver that there are even more compelling reasons for the SC to grant bail to Arroyo and facilitate her release. Her state of health is more precarious than that of Senator Enrile.
Her case has also been brought to the United Nations human rights panel by a high-profile international lawyer, the wife of actor Gorge Clooney. If ever Mrs. Clooney decides to come to Manila to visit her client, the embarrassment of President Aquino will be globalized.
The president is in this fix because he has bent the law to his will, and sycophants and apologists have abetted him.
Gleeck’s judgment on the Cory Aquino presidency is instructive: “A government cannot perform adequately if its basic raison de’tre is revenge…revenge as a basis of government, covers up flaws in both the policies and performance of government…I regard the presidential term of Corazon Aquino as not only a failure, but in the end, a regression.”
Like mother, like son.