Rep. Reyes asks SC to disqualify 3 justices from HRET


Reference: Professor H. Harry L. Roque, Jr. 09175398096

Marinduque Representative Regina Ongsiako Reyes asked the Supreme Court today to disqualify three justices – Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Lucas Bersamin and Diosdado Peralta – from sitting as members of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) where she is facing a string of disqualification cases.

In her 23-page petition filed through her counsel, the Roque and Butuyan Law Offices, Reyes questioned the three justices’ continuing membership in the HRET, citing a conflict of interest on their part.

The HRET, which is chaired by Justice Velasco, is hearing three cases questioning her assumption to office as representative for Marinduque, namely (a) Case No. 13-036 (Quo Warranto), entitled Noeme Mayores Tan & Jeasseca L. Mapacpac v. Regina Ongsiako Reyes; Case No. 130037 (Quo Warranto), entitled Eric D. Junio v. Regina Ongsiako Reye; and a Petition-in-Intervention by Victor Vela Sioco.

If the HRET grants any of the petitions, it will benefit Lord Allan Jay Q. Velasco, Justice Velasco’s son, Rep. Reyes’ political rival whom she beat in the May 2013 elections, earning a comfortable 52,209 votes over the latter’s 48,311 votes.

Under Section 17, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, the Senate and the House of Representatives have an electoral tribunal as the sole judge all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of their respective Members. Each tribunal is composed of nine members, three of whom are justices of the Supreme Court designated by the Chief Justice while the rest are members of the Upper House or the Lower House, as the case may be.

Velasco, being the most senior of the three justices, chairs the HRET but has inhibited himself in the proceedings of the tribunal as well as in the proceedings of the Supreme Court involving his son’s case.

But Reyes said Velasco’s continued stay at the HRET in relation to his son’s case has become untenable.

“There has never occurred an equivalent incident in the entire history of the Supreme Court — or in any other Philippine governmental body for that matter — where a son’s desire to be awarded a Congressional seat would depend on a body headed by his own Justice-Father,” Rep. Reyes said in her 23-page Petition. “ The Supreme Court runs the risk of incurring historical infamy if it ignores this unprecedented scenario and contents itself with a complacent and run-of-the-mill inhibition by the Justice-Father from the case, even if said Justice/Father/HRET-Head still retains administrative control and moral suasion, and enjoys collegial camaraderie in the HRET.”

Reyes questioned the speed with which the HRET took up the Sioco petition-in-intervention, even if the petitioner failed to pay the required docket fees, which should have been a ground for its summary dismissal, not to mention that under the rules of the tribunal, a petition-for-intervention is not allowed.

She noted that the petition was filed on March 12, 2014 and by the next day, the HRET calendared it for discussion during its session set for March 13, 2014. Justice Velasco inhibited himself from the proceedings, with Justice Peralta taking over his duties.

Although Justice Velasco has officially inhibited himself from the cases against her, the HRET – the Members of which are not hampered from continuing their interactions with Justice Velasco in other pending HRET cases and administrative issues– is not thereby shielded from his influence, Rep. Reyes said. “By maintaining Justice Velasco as part of the HRET, that is the image that the Honorable Court projects to the public and the whole world.”

Reyes, citing jurisprudence said as the three only sit in the HRET in a designated capacity, they may be replaced anytime by the appointing authority as their designation to the tribunal is only temporary.

Rep. Reyes was proclaimed the winner by the Marinduque Provincial Board of Canvassers on 18 May 2013 and, at the time of her proclamation, no final judgment has been rendered against her for her disqualification. Likewise, no motion to suspend proclamation was filed to arrest her proclamation by, and the Commission on Elections (Comelec), has not issued an Order for the suspension of her proclamation in accordance with Section 6 of Republic Act No. 6646. To date, her proclamation has not been lawfully annulled by the only constitutional body – the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal – vested with jurisdiction over election contests, returns and qualifications of Member of the House of Representatives, including pre-proclamation controversies and annulment of proclamation.

She assumed office on 30 June 2013 and has been discharging the functions of her office since then.

Earlier, the HRET dismissed an election protest brought by the younger Velasco against Reyes

Rep. Reyes said both Justice Velasco and Justice Bersamin must admit that coming from political families, their job as part of the HRET is now hampered by questions about their impartiality to a political contest. Justice Velasco’s wife is a representative of a party-list group while his son ran against Rep. Reyes. Justice

Bersamin himself also comes from a family of Abra politicians, Rep. Reyes added, noting that he had likewise prejudged her case by voting with the majority in the petition filed by Velasco’s son before the Supreme Court which ruled in his favor. The controversial ruling of the Supreme Court in the said case has not been recognized by the House of Representatives.

“Like Caesar’s wife, a judge must not only be pure but above suspicion,” said Rep. Reyes. “A judge’s private as well as official conduct must at all times be free from all appearances of impropriety, and be beyond reproach.”

Moreover, in the case of Justice Velasco, even if he has inhibited himself in the case against Rep. Reyes, he remains the boss, head, and superior of everyone in the HRET, retains administrative control over all the operations of the Tribunal, and enjoys unavoidable camaraderie with the judicial and congressional members of the Tribunal.

“That is the only conclusion that can be made considering that, as Chairperson of the HRET, there is no way that Justice Velasco can completely detach himself from the cases involving his own son as the opponent of the Petitioner in the congressional elections in Marinduque, Rep. Reyes said.

As for Justice Peralta, Rep. Reyes said there are indications that he is equally guilty of failing to appear impartial, including the fact that he chaired the proceeding which allowed the Sioco petition-in-intervention to continue, despite its fatal flaws.

She asked the High Court to transfer Justice Velasco to the Senate Electoral Tribunal and to designate Justice Antonio T. Carpio in his stead. She also asked that Justices Bersamin and Peralta be substituted by other justices who do not suffer from the same entanglements.

Click here for a copy of the Petition For Transfer, Disqualification and/or Substitution of Justices Velasco, Jr., Peralta and Bersamin from the HRET

Re-examining freedom of expression


I have been the foremost advocate for freedom of expression, at least in the legal profession. I have always said that this freedom is ever important for it enables us to know the truth. It also enables us to form opinions, which taken collectively, have been proven in fiscalizing governments. For instance, we now know that the PDAF and DAP were never intended to benefit our people. They have been intended and used to further enrich our corrupt officials. If anything, the investigative work of journalists on PDAF and DAP has shown how crucial a vibrant press is in informing our people and in keeping our government in line.

But I have had to re-examine my advocacy for freedom of expression recently. This is because have had to reckon with the ugly side of the terrain: irresponsible journalism.

Note that days after my fellow private prosecutor in the Maguindanao massacre case, Nena Santos, claimed that Department of Justice officials were purportedly accepting bribes from the accused, the witness, Lakmudin Saliao, who, even if purportedly under the government’s Witness Protection Program, is actually under the custody of Governor Toto Mangudadatu; spoke to media, This was obviously arranged by Nena Santos herself. Purportedly the “smoking gun” to prove her allegations of bribery, Saliao then related that when he was still under the employ of the Ampatuans, he gave Atty Sigfrid Fortun the amount of P50 million, 20 million of which was to be paid to Undersecretary Francisco Baraan, and the balance of P30 million to be paid to the rest of the public prosecutors.

In the mind of Santos, this disclosure proved that Baraan was indeed on the take. The only problem was that Saliao, as one of the government’s star witnesses in the Ampatuan trial itself, was testifying on matters which occurred in 2009 and 2010 prior to the PNoy administration. Baraan only joined government as part of the PNoy administration. Hence, contrary to what Saliao is saying, Baraan could not have received P20 million since he was not yet in government at the time of the alleged payoff.

So when Ces Orena-Drilon came to my temporary office in the UP College of Law to show me a PDF file of an alleged diary listing personalities which she concluded were lists of individuals having received money form the Ampatuans, my remark to her was: “Ces, you’re the only one who still believes Nena Santos.” It was at that juncture that Ces then said that her informant was different from Nena Santos although she admitted that she met this informant through Nena Santos. Nena would later lie on national televisions and say that she does not know the informant.

I even explained to her that Nena was obviously on the warpath after she was found lying. But Ces was persistent. She then showed me an entry of a phone number, which corresponded to mine -next to the word “speedy”. Another entry had the notation “Speedy 10 M and a car”.

Asked for my reaction, I first explained that the since the diary was provided by an informant who did not prepare the diary, the same was not authenticated. I then said that while the number corresponds to my cell phone, my number is a very public number since it appears in all my press releases, my blog and FB entries, I do not know any “speedy” and do not know why it appears next to my number.

But lo and behold, in the newscast for that evening, it was reported that I received P10 million and a car since I was using the alias “Speedy”.

I am sure that those who know me will not believe this allegation. How do you explain the fact that unlike Nena Santos who has not presented a single witness in the Ampatuan prosecution, we have not only been active in presenting our witnesses (about 35) in the massacre case itself but have field 23 other actions against the Ampatuans? This included the plunder case against the Ampatuans, actions to freeze their assets with the Anti-Money Laundering Council, a separate civil case against former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for her complicity in the murder, separate criminal charges against the military officials in the area and international remedies for the victims. And unlike Nena Santos and Prima Quinsayas who are paid for their services, we have been doing our work against the Ampatuans on a pro-bono basis. It is strange that I – who have been working for free in these cases for five long years -was the one maligned as having received money from the same individuals who have in turn, sued me at least 14 times either in the form of contempt petitions or libel in their turf of Cotabato City.

Today, I am in the process of re-examining my advocacy for freedom of expression. I represent today the most number of journalists accused of libel and other families of journalists who have been killed and have not been accorded domestic remedies for their murders. We also continue our advocacy to decriminalize libel. But when a very senior journalist, a graduate of the same state university where I am a full professor, resorts to abuse of the right to a free press, one cannot wonder now if my lifelong passion in defending this freedom is indeed a noble pursuit.

I continue to dwell on it.

This post first appeared in http://manilastandardtoday.com/2014/08/14/re-examining-freedom-of-expression/

Centerlaw : FFFJ Counsel grossly misunderstands SC Resolution on First In First Out


PRESS STATEMENT
Reference: Professor Harry L. Roque, Jr. 09175398096

Centerlaw: FFFJ Counsel Atty. Prima Jesusa Quinsayas is Guilty of Professional Negligence for her Failure to Comprehend the “First-In-First-Out Rule” issued by the Supreme Court in the Ampatuan Case

We at the Center for International Law (Centerlaw) express our grave alarm at the failure of certain Private Prosecutors in the Maguindanao Massacre to comprehend a Supreme Court Resolution which aims to speed up the trial of the multiple murder cases.

We refer specifically to what we have called by shorthand as the “First-in-First-Our Rule” (FIFO) approved by the High Court for the Maguindanao Massacre trial.

For the record, it was Centerlaw through the Roque & Butuyan Law Offices that first proposed FIFO. Simply, under FIFO, the court may already render judgment on the case of any accused over whom all evidence – for and against – has already been heard.

The rationale is that the families of victims and the accused do not have to wait for the evidence concerning 194 Accused to be heard by the court to achieve justice, which could take a long, long, long time.

This is the fair rule respecting due process for both the families of the victim and the Accused.

Thus in the Motion for the adoption by the trial court of the First-in-First Our Rule we filed on December 5, 2011 with the Regional Trial Court Branch 221 trying the multiple murder cases, we said in part:

2. The extraordinary difficult nature of this case behooves this Honorable Court to consider the wisdom of providing closure to the proceedings with respect to some accused.

3. As to some accused against whom the Prosecution has already completed presenting its evidence in chief, after the Prosecution’s filling of its formal offer of evidence with respect to these accused, there is consequently a need to direct the corresponding defense counsels to present their defense evidence.

4. There is nothing in the Rules that prohibits this Honorable Court from so moving; but there is every reason, in the name of procedural and substantive due process for both the Accused and the heirs of the victims of the Maguindanao massacre, to finish
as soon as possible.

5. It goes against every sense of reason and justice to keep everyone in this case waiting until evidence has been presented for and against all 196 Accused, before the court resolves all the cases.

At the time we filed the Motion, we said that of the 196 Accused , only 93 have been arrested. Of those arrested, only 64 had been arraigned. Meanwhile 70 witnesses have been heard in the last two years of the trial as to the 64 Accused.

We noted in the Motion that under the ordinary rules of Philippine criminal procedure, the rule is that an Accused is entitled to confront and cross-examine all his Accusers in court.

This would mean that there will be a constant recall to the witness stand of all witnesses already presented each time there is a newly-arrested and newly-arraigned Accused. Assuming that each of the 103 unarrested Accused claims the right to cross-examine their Accusers one by one, by this measure, it would take a new series of cross-examinations at least 200 years to complete.

We said that none of the international tribunals of contemporary times – even those for cases of mass slaughter where the victims number by the hundreds, if not by the thousands – has resorted to wholesale prosecution of suspects.

“Ultimately, such an approach works against the interests of justice, because of the protracted litigation it entails that could take years and years and years and years and years and years and years and years and years and years and years and years and years and years and years to wrap up,” we said in the 8-page motion.

For the record, other than by lawyers of the Center for International Law, the Motion proposing the FIFO rule was also signed by the Deputy Regional Prosecutor Peter L. Medalle, Senior State Assistant State Prosecutor Ma. Emilia L. Victorio, and Assistant State Prosecutor Susan Villanueva.

Atty. Nena Santos and Atty. Prima Quinsayas did not join the Motion.

The regional trial court hearing the case rejected the proposal, but the Supreme Court subsequently adopted our proposal by issuing a Resolution to institutionalize it and to direct the trial court to implement it.

In paragraphs (2) and (3) OF A.M, No.10-11-5-SC, the Supreme Court thus directed Branch 221 Presiding Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes

“…to hold, based on her discretion separate trials for the accused against whom the prosecution contemplates no further evidence and thereby order such accused to present their evidence and, accordingly, have the case submitted for decision with respect to them; provided, that this paragraph is without prejudice to the application of rules on demurrer to evidence or other modes of terminating a case in advance of a full trial.

…to issue, when appropriate, separate decisions or resolutions for issues which are ripe for resolution in any of the 58 cases being heard without waiting for the completion of the presentation of the evidence for all the accused.”

The Resolution of the Supreme Court on FIFO is very clear. It so disturbing and bothersome that the counsel hired by the FFFJ Atty. Prima Quinsayas and Atty. Nena Santos for that matter fail to understand the same.

Atty. Quinsayas equates FIFO with any of the following: (1) the accused first on trial would be the one whose case would first be resolved (2) the Accused first to be arraigned to be the one whose case would first be resolved, and (3) first to file a Petition for Bail would be the one whose case would first be resolved

She said as much in two statements she signed and posted by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility on the latter’s Ampatuan Trial Watch blog.

The first statement, posted on August 4, 2014 entitled, “Private Prosecutor: resting in ‘evidence-in-chief’ does not reflect ‘first in, first out’ principle” said:

“…FFFJ legal counsel Prima Jesusa Quinsayas said that resting in ‘evidence-in-chief’ before the resolution of bail petitions in the Ampatuan (Maguindanao) Massacre trial does not reflect the ‘first in, first out’ system. Quinsayas pointed out that the list of the 28 accused for whom state prosecutors intend to rest their case in both the bail petitions and ‘evidence-in-chief’ does not show that they were among the first arrested, arraigned or the first to file a bail petition.” (emphasis supplied).

The second statement, quoting Atty. Quinsayas and posted on August 8, 2014, and entitled “FFFJ counsel: clarifications on points raised by Atty. Harry Roque,” said:

“My understanding of the concept is that the accused first put on trial would be the one whose case would first be resolved. But whether it’s First to be Arraigned, or First to File a Petition for Bail, the list does not reflect any of those. Thus based on the list of the 28 accused, his reason for supporting the partial resting in evidence-in-chief does not hold.”

Obviously, Atty. Quinsayas totally misread what the Supreme Court said because in this second statement, she also says that “as for the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court for the criminal proceedings of the massacre, the ‘First In First Out’ as a term does not appear in the said guidelines. Instead, the guidelines allow separate trials for the accused if so decided by the trial judge based on her discretion.”

Exactly. First-in-First-Out:

“…to hold, based on her discretion separate trials for the accused against whom the prosecution contemplates no further evidence and thereby order such accused to present their evidence and, accordingly, have the case submitted for decision with respect to them; provided, that this paragraph is without prejudice to the application of rules on demurrer to evidence or other modes of terminating a case in advance of a full trial.

…to issue, when appropriate, separate decisions or resolutions for issues which are ripe for resolution in any of the 58 cases being heard without waiting for the completion of the presentation of the evidence for all the accused.”[emphasis supplied]

Essentially, the High Court approved our proposal as contained in our Motion asking the trial court to adopt the First-in-First Out Rule in the trial of the cases.

It is highly disturbing to us that Attorneys Santos and Quinsayas have seriously jeopardized the prosecution of the case by their professionally negligent blunder.
In their gross error they have likewise arrogantly issued public statements that questioned without any basis the integrity of the work of the panel of public prosecutors and their fellow private prosecutors.

We call on organizations constituting the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) to re-examine the professional competence of Atty. Quinsayas. We even invite these organizations to refer the interpretation of Atty. Quinsayas on the FIFO rule to their respective independent counsels for objective evaluation purposes.

As we have shown, her pointed and unfounded attacks on the integrity of the work of the public prosecutors betray her uncomprehending incompetence. Unwittingly, she has not only placed in serious risk the case of the other victims being prosecuted by other private prosecutors, but also those of victims being supported by the FFFJ as an organization.

H. Harry L. Roque, Jr.
Joel Ruiz Butuyan
Romel Regalado Bagares
Gilbert T. Andres
Ethel C. Avisado
Geepee Aceron Gonzales

Please click here for a copy of the Motion for First in First Out filed December 5, 2011 and the Supreme Court Resolution dated December 10, 2013

Statement of Professor Harry L. Roque, Jr. and the Center for International Law (Centerlaw) Philippines on allegation of bribery


CENTERLAW PRESS STATEMENT
Reference: Professor Harry L. Roque, Jr. 09175398096

This current scandal has the sole purpose of destroying the prosecution and derailing the conviction of the Ampatuans. I will not fall into it. I will not allow myself to be used as a tool in this attempt to derail.

In this fight to bring justice to the 58 victims of the Ampatuan massacre, we are up against somebody who has all the resources to do everything to derail the case and prevent the conviction of the Ampatuans. We will not be derailed.

Since they came up with this story about bribes, I ask the police, the NBI, the Ombudsman, and the AMLA and all the proper authorities to resolve these accusations because this should not get in the way of our mission. Our mission is to bring justice to the massacred journalist and the other Ampatuan victims.

While investigation is being done, I will continue prosecuting the cases against the Ampatuans. This is for the cause of press freedom, this is for the mission. I want justice for the victims.

Our mission is to give the Ampatuan victims swift justice. People say that the trial will take more than 10 years to finish. We want justice now. This is our mission for the fallen journalists and the civilian victims of the massacre.

I expect more ploys to derail us, but I assure the victims that we will be steadfast in our mission and we will deliver the justice that the victims deserve. To the victims, we have a strong case, we will obtain convictions against the perpetrators of these dastardly crimes.

Statement of the Center for International Law on the alleged bribery of public prosecutors in the Maguindanao Massacre


The Center for International Law (Centerlaw) is firm in our goal to achieve justice for the victims of the Maguindanao Massacre.

As counsel for the heirs of 15 victims of the massacre, we lament unsubstantiated allegations of bribery that serve no purpose other than to derail the goal of effective and expeditious prosecution.

The publicity lamentably generated by Attorneys Nena Santos and Prima Quinsayas in making grave allegations against the public prosecutors unfairly taint the integrity of the entire work of the prosecution considering that the allegations hurled remain bare, naked, and reckless even.

If Attorneys Santos and Quinsayas have good faith belief in the worth of their cause, we are the first to encourage them to correctly ventilate them in the proper forum of IBP administrative and judicial criminal proceedings, where they should present real, concrete and substantiated evidence.

As to their claim that they still have many witnesses crucial to the case to present,
we have been hearing about this claim for so long – in fact, long before this controversy came up – and we regret to say that, to the best of our knowledge and after waiting for so long, there is not much that can be staked on such a claim.

For the record, it was Centerlaw that first proposed the First-in-First-Out Rule (FIFO). Simply, under FIFO, the court may already render judgment on the case of any accused over whom all evidence – for or against – has already been heard.

The rationale is that the families of victims and the accused do not have to wait for the evidence concerning 194 Accused to be heard by the court to achieve justice, which could take a long, long, long time.

This is the fair rule respecting due process for both the families of the victim and the Accused.

The regional trial court hearing the case rejected the proposal, but the Supreme Court subsequently adopted our proposal by issuing a circular to institutionalize it and to direct the trial court to implement it.

This is the legal background against which the decision of the public prosecutors to rest the case on the first batch of 28 Accused must be understood.
We actively participated in the presentation of the case against these 28 Accused. With the public prosecutors, we believe there is more than enough evidence presented in court to satisfy the demands of justice.

This is why for lawyers of the Center, without evidence of bribery presented before the proper forum, the charges raised by Santos and Quinsayas do not make any sense.

Sadly – whether Santos and Quinsayas wittingly or unwittingly realize it — the parties that will benefit most from their baseless allegations and senseless intrigues are the Ampatuans.

H. Harry L. Roque, Jr. Joel Ruiz Butuyan Romel Regalado Bagares Gilbert Andres Ethel Avisado Geepee Gonzales