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Manila is hotter than usual. Apart from the usual sizzling heat of summer, the decision of the Supreme Court to oust Chief Justice Sereno and declare the position vacant added to the searing heat of the season. In a landmark decision of the Supreme Court, the judiciary body granted the quo warranto petition against the Sereno’s appointment with 8 justices voting in favor of the said petition.

As the news broke out, my social media accounts were abuzz by both those who were rejoicing with the decision and those that are agonizing with it. I saw opinions being shot left and right. In all honesty, I have kept my opinions on the issue to myself for the past months because I do not think my opinion, or anyone else’s, will matter. No amount of my interpretation of the law, and the others, will define the decision of the Supreme Court. The case is for the Highest Court to decide on.

The decision is out and I would have to say that I am relieved with the decision. I am confident with the Supreme Court’s decision.

As I have earlier pointed out, my stand on Sereno’s case is simple – she needs to be booted out of the office for her failure to file her SALN from her previous government employment as a professor of the University of the Philippines. The SALN is a vital government tool for its check and balances against corruption. It is mandated by the law that ALL government employees are to file their complete SALNs annually. The failure to file a government employee’s SALN, or even the incomplete declaration of assets and liabilities, merits dismissal from the office. We have had cases of government employees and officials who have been booted out of the office for their failure to make a complete declaration of the assets and liabilities. A court interpreter and a Chief Justice were booted out of the office for undeclared assets in their SALNs.

If undeclared assets in the SALN is a violation of the law which merits dismissal from the office, then why should we handle the case of non-submission differently. It is the one and the same. The former is an omission of an entry and the latter is the omission of the actual document. It is tantamount to declaring nothing which is against the law and merits the dismissal. Sereno has the burden of proof to show that she indeed filed her missing SALNs to the University of the Philippines. She had the opportunity to present these SALNs during the oral arguments in Baguio City but none were presented. Even in her subsequent talks and public speaking engagements, none of these documents were ever presented or even discussed. Until now, I am to believe that she did not file her SALNs during the years in question which is a violation of the law. And yes, it merits her dismissal from the service.

The question on whether the granting of the quo warranto petition was constitutional or not is a question that was answered when the decision came out today. The Supreme Court is the highest government body that we have installed to interpret the law for us. It is a collegiate body that votes on their decisions based on how they interpret the law. It is not governed by one person and its decision is arrived by a democratic vote by the justices. The Supreme Court is the final resort when it comes to the interpretation of the law. Its decision is with finality as decided by the majority of the justices of the Supreme Court.

The decision that came out proves that, as per the interpretation of the Supreme Court, the quo warranto was lawful and constitutional. In fact, majority of the justices voted affirmative to the three issues of the case – the granting of the quo warranto, whether the quo warranto is the proper remedy, and whether Sereno violated the Philippine Constitution for her failure to file her SALNs. The highest court of the land have spoken through their initial decision that there was no violation of the constitution. And the Supreme Court is THE government body to decide on its constitutionality and legality. That is their mandate.

The way I am looking at it is that the judiciary body is looking at cleaning up their own backyard rather than suffer the same fate and humiliation that they all had to go through during the impeachment of Corona. They did their job of sorting things out within the judiciary that serves within their mandate. Let us face it, impeachment is not a fight of legality or constitutionality. It is subjecting a public official to an arena of politics more than that of legality. Our senators will always use that arena to their benefit even if it means that evidence is in favor of the accused.

This is probably why some politicians are up in arms on the Supreme Court’s decision. It is as if their time under limelight was snuffed out by the justices. The impeachment court was supposed to be their venue of a grand show. One that is suppose to be similar to that of Former Chief Justice Corona’s but probably with more fireworks. It was their time to show that they yielded power. They were snuffed out of their opportunity for grandstanding.

Unfortunately, I believe the justices are smarter than that now. They acted on the quo warranto based on its legal merits which is a far better basis for Sereno’s expulsion rather than subjecting Sereno to a court that will only use her for their political gains. Sa totoo lang, ilan sa mga senador na mga yan ang maayos at tama ang kanilang mga SALN? I think that it was a wise move for the Supreme Court to work on its own backyard with its mandated legal parameters. By deciding as a collegiate body, they have actually showed their independence as a government branch. They used their mandate to correct themselves and they did not allow another government branch to use one of their peers as a stepping stone to further the careers of these politicians.

The position of the Chief Justice is a pivotal role in the Supreme Court. It is a place of integrity and honor. We need to put someone in the position that knows how to abide by the law. Unfortunately for Sereno, her unfiled SALNs is a grave misconduct under the law which merits her dismissal and, possibly, her disqualification from holding other public office. It is not enough to say that the Judicial and Bar Council waived the SALN provision during the application process. That is where JBC committed that integrity mistake for a judicial role that requires a law-abiding justice. By doing that, it is like my kid saying that it is alright to cheat in school because her teacher said so.

Welcome to the outside world, former Chief Justice Sereno!

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It was a brewing storm for the past months judging from the blind items and hushed talks making its rounds. Who would have thought that a blind item that I once heard on an AM radio show on my way to work about a Presidential appointee dubbed as “Angry Bird” would become a national headline in a matter of months? It was funny that the “item” was very precise with its details and the only thing that really stuck with me was Angry Bird’s kinky fetish. Don’t blame me but the anchor made the whole topic really juicy.

So after this Monday’s big reveal, I took the time to watch Karen Davila’s interview of Tisha Bautista and Commissioner Andy Bautista, on her morning show at ANC, to get a better grasp of what was being presented and the arguments being laid on the table for public consumption. You get a better insight of the issues after hearing both sides of the story. I took down notes that I deem valid and my own thoughts while watching the interview.

She Says

I have to say that Tisha Bautista was very composed throughout the whole interview. She acted what she was saying that she was not there to convince people to believe her. All that she pleaded was for them to look at the documents she had presented and then make a judgement. She was modest enough to steer clear of putting her estranged husband in a bad light when she reiterated that look at the documents before making the judgement. Her focus was clearly directed on the issue – what were these financial documents? She came in with a clear demarcation line of what is a domestic dispute and what is a government concern.

Tisha was right in saying that their marital woes is just a distraction on the real issue – her discovery of 36 LDB passbooks, pay envelope that go back to the PCGG years of Commissioner Bautista, commission handout reports, documents of BDO checks issued to LDB, and vital and sensitive correspondence. She focused on the issue of clarifying what these financial documents are that reflects billions of pesos that the commissioner possibly owns and was undeclared in his SALN.

As for the accusation on her alleged extramarital affairs, she categorically denied the accusation. She also raised a valid point on the allegation that she was just after the money when she said that by putting these questionable accounts forward, it will reduce the money that she could legally claim when their marriage gets dissolved. She could have easily earned half of these billions by just keeping silent. But she was very clear with what she wanted, she wanted what is rightfully and legally hers from their assets that is cleanly their ownership.

Tisha Bautista did confirm that the root of all these discoveries was their marital woes and did not deny that there were prior meetings where both parties were trying to resolve the marital issue. She did confirm that both parties were in the process of getting into an agreement but she felt uncomfortable with certain points in the agreement. Two of these clauses were her denial of the discoveries of this documents and her admittance to the understanding that some of the documents were related to a family business. I like the way her lawyer phrased it that Tisha Bautista agreed to the financial terms of the agreement but she did not agree to participate in the concealment of a possible crime.

Tisha Bautista understands that what she has presented now for public scrutiny is bigger than her and their domestic dispute but she also understands that she needs to stand up for what is right and that we should do something. I like the way she said it, stop complaining and do something about it. Her message was clear that we should look into these documents and take the necessary action based on the findings.

He Says

Commissioner Andy Bautista was a stark contrast to his estranged wife Tisha during his turn on the interview table. He sounded off like a whining brat who took offense that a broadsheet gave her wife more airtime than him. He was on that table to convince people that he was a poor victim and depicting his wife as an adulterer who is playing a part in orchestrating a demolition job against him. Interestingly, more airtime was spent on how sour their marital relationship turned out and the demolition plan against him rather than answering the allegations against him.

While Tisha came in with the stance that their marital woes was not the issue here, Andy came in with an attack that highlighted their marital problems. He started it off with a story on how his wife was unfaithful to him and what he went through when she told him that she has found her soulmate. She painted her wife, not only as a cheater, but as someone who completely turned her back to the family. He tried to paint the issue as a domestic dispute turned political at his expense by his wife and the people behind her.

When faced with the question regarding the vital documents found in his custody, he neither issues a categorical yes or no. He kept emphasizing that he needs to see these documents first. He does “subtly” confirm a couple of points to the issues raised at him:

  1. He does confirm that some of the 32 passbooks are actual existing and closed accounts. He confirms that these accounts were a product of family investments in forex and pyramid scheme, where he is either a co-investor or form part of the “and/or” bank accounts.
  2. He confirms that he recycles PCGG pay envelopes but does not categorically say that the money inside these envelopes were planted although he tries to imply that it might be and that he needs to see it first.
  3. Commissioner Andy Bautista confirms that SMARTMATIC is a client of the Divina Law Firm.

Despite these confirmations from the commissioner himself, he added that some of these bank passbook were probably falsified. Karen Davila was quick to retort that it would be difficult for Tisha to falsify a bank document to which he responded “I don’t know”.

Commissioner Andy also denied the allegation that he received any commission from anyone or the Divina Law Firm. He said that the checks issued to him was for the payment of a property that he sold to Nilo Divina which was being paid in installments.

In the same way as that of Tisha’s interview, he also confirms that he and his estranged wife were both on a negotiating table where he presented a document to support his claim of an initial 620 million settlement through Tisha Bautista’s first lawyer, Atty. Kapunan. He also confirms by showing the last settlement draft between him and the new lawyers of Tisha. Parts of the draft was read out loud by the host which also affirms it was the same parts that Tisha was not in agreeance to.

It is interesting to note that the focus of Commissioner Bautista was on the ongoing marital squabble with the attempt to depict Tisha as a vulture that was pouncing on a hapless victim. He never made a categorical admittance or denial to any of the allegations thrown at him but instead focused on the issue as an after effect of a domestic problem. It even came to the point that he started hitting on the new lawyers of his wife on a personal level. I had the impression that he came into the interview a bit rattled where his objective was to discredit his wife.

Me Says

Tisha Bautista was on point with the fact that with our culture that is deeply embedded with too much drama similar to the soap operas that hound our television sets daily, their marital woes is really none of our business. It is their drama and theirs alone. The issue is not about their failed marriage and the issue goes far beyond that. Hence, their marital issue is theirs to settle and not for the public to meddle.

Having said that, the real issue at hand are the authenticity and the ownership of the financial documents presented by Tisha Bautista which is allegedly owned by Commissioner Andy Bautista. This is the first step in finding the truth behind these allegations. Tisha presented it very well by encouraging the public and the authorities to look at these documents before making the judgement. Are these documents valid? Once this is answered then we can then check whether this documents are really owned by the COMELEC Commissioner before we can proceed to any further action.

Based on the “subtle” admittance of Commissioner Andy that some of these bank accounts exist and some were already closed, then we can proceed with the inquiry whether these accounts are owned and/or co-owned by Andy. He already made a claim that these accounts are owned by his family and he is just part of the “and/or” management of these accounts. This is where the clincher comes in, if these accounts bear the name of the commissioner whether wholly or partly then it should have been declared in his SALN. The way I see it, the names that appear on that account are legally the owners of the money deposited even if only one really owns the actual money. If Commissioner Bautista has his name in ANY of these accounts then he should have accounted it in his SALN. If not, then Andy just committed an impeachable offense.

From my point of view, Commissioner Bautista’s best defense really is by presenting facts to the public rather than their melodramatic love story. He could have easily presented his bank accounts with the Luzon Development Bank and cross-referenced it to his submitted SALN. That way, from the point of accusation, he could have easily flicked off the doubt. But his continuous tugging of “I need to see the documents” is really making me think that these documents may actually be valid. Commissioner Bautista says that he was nominated by the family to be the finance guy so I am pretty sure he knows how many, if not all 32 LDB passbooks, are valid and active, whether his name appears on these accounts, and whether he declared it in his SALN.

The “Maang-maangan School of Arts” approach of Commissioner Bautista no longer appeals to the discerning public, and you can also include in the list the drama of comparing himself to a “rape victim”. It is so lame because at this point he could have already deflected the accusation by presenting his actual SALN, which is a public document. He is at a position where he can already present the truth if he really submitted a truthful government document.

Commissioner Bautista can paint his wife as an adulterer. He can paint her as mentally imbalanced. But that does not disregard the REAL question that Commissioner Bautista needs to answer to the Filipinos – how much is the commissioner’s real net worth and where did these assets really come from?

While Tisha Bautista sat on the hot seat composed and focused on what she believes was the right thing to do, it bothers me when Commissioner Andy said that he is seriously considering on what his next move would be because it would implicate others in the issue. At this point, everyone involved in their marital and political issue have already been divulged to the public.

So… sino pa ba ng pwede ma-involve sa issue na ito, Commissioner?