The tale of two envoys


Two Ambassadors figured in the news recently. The first is the Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the country. Josef Rychtar, who claims that MRT General Manager Vitangcol and others attempted to extract a 30 Million dollar bribe from a Czech company for the supply of additional rolling cars for the MRT. This supposed bribery became even more controversial because earlier reports claimed that Presidential sister Balsy Cruz was part of the company that attempted to extort the bribe. The Ambassador has since clarified that Balsy was not involved although he stood firm about Vitangcol and Company.

The other is Italian Ambassador to Turkmenistan Daniele Bosio. He was nabbed by police authorities in Laguna allegedly for child trafficking, In both these cases, issues of immunity have arisen. In the case of Rychtar, the issue is if he can be summoned to appear before a Committee of Congress investigating the bribery try; while in the case of Bosio, it is whether he can be investigated, prosecuted and convicting for child trafficking.

A diplomat’s sovereign immunity from local jurisdiction has been amongst the earliest cornerstone of diplomacy. While this immunity is now codified in the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations, which the Philippines has ratified, it has also been recognized under customary international law. This means that this immunity is not just a matter of treaty obligation. It is recognized and complied even by countries that have not ratified the Convention. This is because without this immunity, Ambassadors, who serve as alter-ego’s of sovereigns and heads of states, will not be able to perform their functions in the territory of receiving states. More often than not, Ambassadors function to protect the interest of their states in the receiving state and even to gather information which otherwise would be considered as espionage.

This immunity exists immediately upon a diplomat’s presentation of his credentials in his station and subsists for a reasonable time upon expiration of his tour of duty. This immunity is accorded him while he is posted in his station and subsists for all of his official acts even after he leaves his post.

Under the current state of international law, the Czech Ambassador’s immunity includes the immunity to heed a subpoena that may be issued for him to appear before any committee hearing of Congress. And when he does appear, which is a waiver of his immunity, it will include additionally, immunity for all matters that he states in the official proceedings, including prosecution for false testimony, unless he again waives his sovereign immunity. The latter though, being contrary to human experience, would be highly unlikely.

Ambassador Bosio himself would be entitled to full immunity from local jurisdiction had he been apprehended in his station in Turkmenistan, or when he was officially en route to his official post. But because he was apprehended in the company of very young boys while vacationing in the Philippines, his predicament has figured repeatedly in many bar exam questions in political law: he is not entitled and should not be accorded immunity from our power to investigate, prosecute him and punish him for child trafficking.

The rationale for Bosio’s predicament is immunity is not indispensible to a vacationing envoy since he is not in the discharge of his official functions.

But beyond the issue of immunity for both envoys, there is also the issue of how our officials have been responding to the issues created by these envoys.

In the case of Rychtar, Presidential bad mouth Lacierda has shown his usual foul character by bashing the credibility of the Ambassador saying that the enjoy was merely” sour grapping since the Czechs lost the bid” for additional rolling cars to a Chinese company. Huh? As my students would say: WTF!

All Ambassadors because of their immunities and function are normally the best civil servants of the sending state. Their characters hence are beyond question, Furthermore, the fact that the Philippines as the receiving state had consented to the appointment of Rychter through an agreement (not wrong spelling) means that we have recognized that he is fit for the post which commands utmost respect in all civilized societies. By bashing the character of the Czech envoy, Lacierda shows anew his ignorance of international law and highlights what many foreign investors have been complaining about this country: rampant systemic corruption conducted with impunity.

Any sane spokesperson would not question the character of an Ambassador. instead, where there is an allegation of bribery, a responsible competent authority would promise a transparent and earnest investigation of the matter. This is how a state inspires confidence amongst foreign investors. Lacierda’s ways is why we might be hailed to court for the third time by a foreign investor. The first two instances, ironically, also involved allegations of bribery: the T3 controversy with Fraport and the Belgian dredging contract in Laguna Lake.

Anent Bosio, while I commend our authorities for upholding our sovereignty when they arrested the Italian envoy for child trafficking, I’m afraid it’s too early to tell if they will continue to do so. Chances are, in the same manner that the murderers behind the Ampatuan massacre, and the suspects behind the killings of Gerry Ortega and the many murdered journalists continue to roam free, my bet is that his Excellency Mr. Bosio may soon be allowed to roam free again. Hopefully though, he would no longer be in pursuit of Filipino boys.


What happens now to JPE et al?

Now that the Ombudsman has found probable cause against three senators, Janet Napoles and Dennis Cunanan for plunder and violations of the anti-graft law, what happens next? Will they immediately be put behind bars and tried in the same manner that former President Erap Estrada was?

Not quite.

All indicted accused have the statutory right to move for reconsideration on the finding of probable cause. There is probable cause when on the basis of the evidence, the Prosecutor or the Ombudsman concludes that there is likelihood that a crime was committed and that the respondents are probably liable for these crimes. It’s a very low standard because ultimately, the determination of guilt beyond reasonable doubt is a judicial function. Nonetheless, when the indictment is for a capital offense where bail is not a matter of right when the evidence of the accused is strong, a finding of probable cause is almost always a guarantee of the temporary deprivation of the right to liberty.

So, because of their right to move for reconsideration, no information is immediately forthcoming. Consequently, there will also be no warrant of arrest that will be issued soon.

I was correct in my assessment that the finding itself of probable cause will be marred with delay. The Ombudsman resolution came eight months after newspaper reported the details of the scam. This is still relatively quick given that the Ombudsman, unlike the regular Prosecutors, do not comply with the requirement that they conclude their preliminary investigations on or before 90 days from submission of the case. Clearly, it was the public indignation of the PDAF scam that compelled the Ombudsman to act more quickly than usual.

Outside of the motion for reconsideration, the accused may also proceed to the Court of Appeals to challenge the determination of probable cause. Although this is no longer a statutory right, it is nonetheless a constitutional right since the 1987 Constitution provides that judicial power includes the power to annul acts of government which are done in utter grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of or in excess of jurisdiction. There is grave abuse of discretion where there is a violation of the Constitution or any existing law. Already, Senator Bong Revilla has a pending petition describing the Ombudsman’s refusal to act on his complaints against Luy et al as acts indicating grave abuse of discretion The Supreme Court has already scheduled his petition for oral arguments.

It is only after the resolution of the motion for reconsideration and if the higher courts do not restrain the Ombudsman that the information is filed with the Sandiganbayan. Unless the information is filed, the special anti-graft court cannot issue warrants of arrest.

Is it for certain that the accused will be apprehended and detained?

Yes, insofar as their actual arrest is the manner by which the Court can acquire jurisdiction over their persons. Fortunately for the respondents, they can now invoke the new rules of the Supreme Court on the speedy grant of bail to secure provisional release even for capital offenses. Under A.M. No. 12-11-2- or the SC “GUIDELINES FOR DECONGESTING HOLDING JAILS BY ENFORCING THE RIGHTS OF ACCUSED PERSONS TO BAIL AND TO SPEEDY TRIAL”, the respondents, when they are charged in court can file a petition for bail. The procedure now is on the basis of affidavits or direct testimonies, the prosecutor has the burden to prove that the evidence of guilt is strong. Thereafter the Judge, including the Sandiganbayan, only has 48 hours to summarize the evidence presented and determine whether or not the evidence of guilt is strong. If so, the accused will be denied bail. Otherwise, he will be allowed to post bail to secure his provisional liberty.

This new guidelines is long delayed. The predisposition of Courts is to allow the prosecution to prove that the evidence of guilt is strong in a manner that would reproduce the evidence presented for bail as evidence on the merits. In this manner, the accused is for all intents and purposes, denied the right to bail because the determination of guilt is made part and parcel of the presentation of the evidence on the merits.

Senator Juan Ponce Enrile as an octogenarian will probably be given special consideration given his age. So will the two incumbent senators. While pickpockets and others committing petty crimes have to endure torturous conditions in our local jails, the three senators, because of precedents—will inevitably detained in special detention facilities. Already, Janet Lim Napoles is on hospital arrest. I foresee that Enrile and the two other senators may also seek hospital or house arrest. Note that being an octogenarian will not exempt Enrile from criminal prosecution or from being arrested. This is how the Sandiganbayan can acquire jurisdiction over his person. But when he is convicted, the Sandiganbayan has the option of recommending his release on humanitarian grounds.

What happens to Ruby Tuason and Cunanan? To begin with, I’m surprised that they were even indicted. Under the Witness Protection Law, those admitted into the program should not be included in the charge sheet. Perhaps the Ombudsman will later move that they be dropped. Otherwise, it could already be an indication that the Ombudsman does not consider their testimonies to be indispensable in proving the averments in the Information. Personally, I hope this is in fact the case. Let Tuason be the queen of socialites in jail.


(View from Malcolm, Manila Standard Today, 4 April 2014)



The $10 million question

At long last, the die is cast. After repeatedly saying that Chief Justice Renato Corona need not take the witness stand in the impeachment trial against him, his counsel, out of the blue, assured the Senate that the CJ will take the witness stand.

The promise though appeared to have a condition: that is, that the Complainants against the CJ in a pending complaint in the Ombudsman, to wit, former Akbayan Representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and Rep. Walden Bello, together with Harvey Keh, and no less than Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales; should be subpoenaed by the Senate to appear purportedly as hostile witnesses in the impeachment trial. After which, the CJ’s counsel promised that his client will take the stand to rebut what these witnesses may say. This is interesting. While the nation has been left wondering about an alleged 700,0000 dollar account with PS Bank allegedly belonging to the CJ and yet undeclared in his SALN,  the nation gasped with horror at the possibility that the CJ may have a lot more in his  dollar accounts. In fact, the amount is mind-boggling: 10 Million or at least 420 Million pesos at today’s exchange rate.

There’s an obvious difference between the circumstances behind the 700,000-dollar placement and this later 10 Million deposit. In the case of the smaller amount, it was the Prosecution that asked the Court to subpoena PS bank to bring and present to the Court the documentary evidence for such an account. When asked by the Court where the Prosecution obtained its information about the account, the Prosecution panel claimed that a “small lady” in the gallery of the Senate gave it to Rep. Reynaldo Umali. It would later turn out that Rep. Jorge Banal of Quezon City had previously gone to the Katipunan branch of PS Bank to inquire about this 700,000-dollar account. Rep. Banal in turn, claimed that an unknown person left the documents at his residence.

The Supreme Court then came to the rescue of the embattled CJ when in a petition filed by PS Bank, the Court issued an indefinite temporary restraining order which effectively stopped the impeachment court from compelling the bank to produce all relevant documents relative to the $700,000 account. This time, the $10 Million dollar deposit was not even by reason of any document, even information, provided by the Prosecutors. Instead, what is  clear on the basis of newspaper reports are: One, as alleged by veteran Journalist Ellen Tordesillas in a story published by Vera files, the Ombudsman allegedly had asked the Anti-Money Laundering Council to provide her with a copy of the documents establishing that the CJ has an undisclosed amount in  dollar deposits in  undisclosed banks. This, according to Tordesillas, the Ombudsman did in response to the complaint filed by Hontiveros et al.

Two, in a story carried exclusively by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the CJ was allegedly asked by the Ombudsman to explain in writing within 72 hours how he acquired several peso and dollar accounts, described as  “grossly disproportionate” to his salary. Quoting from Carpio’s order, the PDI reported that the CJ was allegedly asked to explain, among others, how he acquired dollar deposits with an “aggregate amount of at least US$10,000,000”.

It was because of this second story that Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago opined that the Ombudsman could conduct a parallel investigation with the impeachment court on the CJ’s concealed dollar deposits. Senator  Edgardo Angara , for his part, said that the impeachment court could accept evidence emanating from the Ombudsman in this regard. The legal basis for both Senators’ opinions is found in the Ombudsman law, which provides that the said office may investigate even impeachable officers for the purpose of recommending to Congress the initiation of impeachment against them.

Apparently, this was the game changer. While the CJ, through his lawyers, lawyers ignored the show cause letter of the Ombudsman arguing that the said office has no jurisdiction over an impeachable officer such as the Chief Justice, the results of such an investigation was nonetheless, the reason why the CJ will now take the stand. According to his counsel last Tuesday evening, this was to “rebut the testimonies” of Hontiveros and the Ombudsman et al, which presumably, will be adverse to the CJ. Obviously the nation will be glued to the proceedings specially when the Ombudsman takes the stand, which she has said she will. And the obvious question will no longer be whether such a huge deposit exists, which for all intents and purposes, appear to be admitted. The issue now is why he did not declare such an amount and how he acquired this huge sum.

The plot thickens. It’s definitely more fun in the Philippines!

Privacy as a human right: Way to Go P NOY!

President Aquino’s pronouncement in the United States that he would have family planning devices available to those who cannot otherwise afford them ushered in a storm probably surpassing the intensity of Ondoy that hit us last year.
On the one hand is the Catholic Church that has traditionally taken the view that artificial contraception is contrary to the teachings of the bible. It teaches its flock thus that spouses who want to plan the size of their families are limited either to natural family planning called the “rhythm method”, which unfortunately has largely proven to be ineffective and rather messy; or to abstinence, which to many Filipinos is like telling the sun not to rise.

On the other hand are advocates of the pending reproductive health bill which mandates that government, both national and local, should provide family planning devices for free so that those who badly need to plan the size of their families, the poor, can have access to them. Thus far, the debate has taken religious undertones with the church fulfilling its role as the guardian of morality, while RH bills supporters,in turn, highlight the separation between church and state. And yes, while both the church and the RH supporters differ in the methods by which spouses should plan the size of their families, both sides to the debate nonetheless somehow acknowledge, save perhaps for the very conservatives in the Church, that uncontrolled population growth will in fact lead to economic debacle given very limited resources available to an ever-growing population.

Thus far though, the debate has ignored the human rights dimension of family planning. This perspective finds its origin in a decision rendered by the United States Supreme Court in the famous case of Griswold v. Connecticut. While this is a foreign judgment and is, at most, persuasive in our jurisdiction, our own Supreme Court has adopted its ratio decidendi as part of our very own jurisprudence.

Griswold involved the criminal prosecution of a doctor and a couple who were accused of violating a Connecticut statute that made it illegal for doctors to prescribed artificial family planning devices to couples. Here, the petitioners were all convicted of violating the statute, which prompted all of them to appeal their conviction by challenging the constitutionality of the criminal statute.

While the petitioners could have questioned the constitutionality of the statute for violating the separation between church and state, and without doubt, the prohibition was largely influenced by the teachings of both the early Calvinist and the Roman Catholic Church, the petitioners instead focused on what they said was a right implied in the due process clause of the US Bill of Rights. We have adopted en toto the due process clause in our own Constitution. While there was literally no provision in the Bill of Rights that recognized the right to “privacy”, petitioners nonetheless argued that there are decisions that only spouses can make from themselves and which decisions should not be hampered either by the church or the state. Thus includes the right to determine the size of one’s family or the right to choose the number of children that couples would want. According to the petitioners, this is a right which is a “penumbra” or arising from the right to due process that protects both life and liberty against arbitrariness. In other words, while petitioners could have subjected their criminal conviction to the exact same debate that we are again having, they opted to altogether to skirt the debate by arguing that as a matter of human right, spouses have the absolute right to determine the number of siblings free from any interference from an anybody or any institution, full stop.

The arguments persuaded the US Supreme Court and hence, the rise of the right to “privacy”. This right is separate and distinct form the right to privacy in one’s communication and correspondence that is separately protected by the bill of rights. The Griswold type of privacy is the right to literally be “left alone” to make very personal decisions that only individuals can make for themselves. While it was originally applied in declaring the Connecticut statute imposing criminal sanctions to doctors and patients who will resort to artificial birth control methods as being unconstitutional, it has since also been made to apply in equally personal decision’s such as whom to spend the rest of one’s life with, and even in declaring criminal statutes prohibiting same-sex sexual encounters as being unconstitutional.

My point is this: the debate on reproductive heath, if conducted as one involving morality and separation between church and state, would be an endless and unproductive debate. This is why despite the fact that we are literally suffering from an unsustainable population growth, the debate continues. Perhaps, both the church and state, and their respective supporters, should cease to view this issue purely in terns of morality, which in the end is subjective. Instead, they should focus on the right of individuals to make very personal decisions for themselves. In this manner, the debate should cease as in lieu thereof, both church and state should defer to decisions to be made by people for themselves. Ultimately, this would mean empowering the people since it gives them the right to decide freely on matters that they should be the sole judges of.

Kudos and congratulations are in order for P-Noy for remaining steadfast on this issue. Previous controversies notwithstanding, his handling of this most sensitive issue has proven that he can rise up to the challenge and actually rule and lead this very troubled land of ours. Way to go, P-Noy!

A necessary toothless tiger

Much has been said about the Truth Commission. While it is true that this body promised by President Noynoy Aquino as a means of ferreting out the truth on the many scandals of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is in reality a toothless tiger, a superfluity, and will be the source of disappointment for many, it is still an exercise that must be resorted to if the Arroyos are to be held responsible for their many crimes.
The pitfalls of the commission are many. For instance, as a creation of the Executive, it cannot exercise powers beyond gathering facts. It cannot have the powers to issue summons, nor will it have the power to cite individuals in contempt. In other words, absent legislative imprimatur, it can only count on the willingness of crucial witnesses to testify and their voluntary submission of evidence.

To be sure, P-Noy’s Truth Commission is not the first in Philippine history. An earlier one was the Agrava Commission. It was formed to conduct factual investigation on who killed Ninoy Aquino. The appointed Chair of the Aquino Truth Commission was also legal counsel of the Agrava Commission. To highlight the weakness of fact-finding commissions, thirty years after the Agrava Commission was formed, we still do not know with certainty who killed Ninoy Aquino.

The Truth Commission is also being compared to the Presidential Commission on Good Government. The comparison at least is that both bodies seek to ascertain the sins of the previous dispensation. But that is the beginning and end of the comparison. For unlike the Truth Commission, the PCGG was a legislative creation, created pursuant to EO 1 issued by then President Corazon Aquino when she was exercising extraordinary powers that were both executive and legislative in nature. The PCGG could hence issue summons, order the production of evidence issue writs of sequestrations, and cause the filing of cases in court. The difference lies, in other words, with the fact that the law gave the PCGG extraordinary powers whereas the Truth Commission, being a mere creation of the Executive, cannot exercise powers not delegated to it by Congress, the latter in the exercise of its policy making mandate.

Can it compel, for instance, Romulo Neri to answer the three questions which would implicate Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the NBN-ZTE scam but which were declared by the Supreme Court to be covered by executive privilege? Certainly not. If Congress, despite its plenary powers to conduct investigation in aid of legislation, was restrained by the Supreme Court, there is more reason that a mere fact finding commission would not succeed in this regard. Likewise, Cito Lorenzo, even if he wanted to turn state witness, could not count on the Commission to grant him testimonial immunity. It behooves both rhyme and reason why he would then incriminate himself voluntarily without being admitted first as a state witness.

Likewise, it is unlikely that the intelligence community, despite the chain of command, would voluntarily surrender information on the “Hello Garci” scandal. And of course, the Department of Foreign Affairs, still under Secretary Alberto Romulo, would not want to reopen the Northrail controversy as he would almost certainly argue that to do so would harm bilateral ties with China.

So is the Truth Commission completely irrelevant?

Not necessarily. In transitional societies like South Africa where convictions for the gravest human rights violation has become impossible because of the passage of time and the dearth of witnesses, truth commissions have at least accorded these societies an opportunity to heal. While justice was not completely served in the absence of criminals actually being meted sentences for crimes that they committed, the truth would at least give the victims an opportunity to move on. There is solace in knowing, for instance, that a loved one who has disappeared has conclusively been found to have been killed. These kinds of confirmations at least accorded mothers to grieve, rather than hope that their loved ones could still be alive.

The Truth Commission to be established by P-Noy should not, however, follow the pattern of the South African model. In truth and in fact, the Commission should meanwhile perform the fact-finding function that the Ombudsman has opted not to perform. With Merceditas Gutierrez appointed precisely to protect the Arroyos, the intention should be not to accord the latter impunity, but to engage in fact finding while there is paralysis, nay dereliction of duty, in the Office of the Ombudsman.

The Truth Commission should thus be supported precisely because the evidence against the Arroyos should be gathered and preserved while the merciless Mercy is still in office. It should never be considered as a substitute for the vast powers granted by the Constitution to the Ombudsman. It is, hence, a stop-gap measure intended to send the message that at no time should the Arroyos think that they can get away with their crimes.

Since the Truth commission appears to be a necessary toothless tiger, how then should the Commission proceed with its mandate?

To begin with, in the absence of legislative imprimatur, it must conduct its investigations utilizing existing executive offices with the powers that it will require. Here, it is indispensable that the Department of Justice formally conduct preliminary investigations on the many crimes of the Arroyos. In this manner, it can utilize its power to resort to compulsory processes, which the Commission does not have on its own. Furthermore, the Commission should also have the Solicitor-General on board. This is because existing laws on unexplained wealth grants the Solicitor-General the power to file forfeiture cases against proceeds of the crime of plunder and other violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. Likewise, the Commission should have the full support of the Anti-Money Laundering Council, if we are to freeze and still recover the ill-gotten wealth of the Arroyos and their cohorts.