Sunday, November 28, 2004

The travels of Mrs. Reyes

The travels of Mrs. Reyes

Updated 03:11am (Mla time) Nov 28, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the November 28, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

REP. Imee Marcos reported last week that the wife of Secretary Angelo Reyes traveled abroad as many as 48 times during the period from 1993 to July of this year. As such report may be as dead today as yesterday's newspaper, I am trying to keep it alive in the public interest. The people have a right to look deeper into this matter because Reyes is a public officer and a member of the Cabinet. He is married to this expensive and frequent traveler, who may or may not have a private fortune of her own. How much was spent for her trips, and by whom, is a proper subject of public inquiry.

The congresswoman, citing records from the Bureau of Immigration, says that during that 11-year period, Mrs. Reyes traveled to the United States, Paris, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Osaka, Singapore, Shanghai, Bandar Seri Begawan, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, and Kuwait. Her usual traveling companion was the wife of now retired Lt. Gen. Jacinto Ligot, who served as comptroller (before Maj. Gen. Carlos F. Garcia) when Reyes was AFP chief of staff. Mrs. Ligot left the country as many as 25 times from 1996 to 2004. Mrs. Reyes was also accompanied to Singapore by the wife of Col. George Rabusa, Garcia's former budget officer who is himself now under investigation for unexplained wealth. Rep. Roilo Golez adds that Reyes himself and his wife traveled abroad together no less than 22 times during that same eight-year period.

Asked for comment, Reyes said he did not have the records with him, but his spokesman described the report as a mere attempt to discredit his boss. Adverse criticism of the secretary is usually dismissed as part of a smear campaign against him, like the charge that he is building a P10-million mansion in Fort Bonifacio. The administrative probe of this matter was discontinued when he resigned as defense secretary. but it is likely to be revived now that he is back in the government. The suspicions raised by Representatives Marcos and Golez are too serious to be swept under the rug and deserve closer inquiry.

The revelation of these extravagant foreign travels equals, if it does not in fact exceed, the disbelief and indignation generated by the expos‚ of the dollar adventures of the family of now retired General Garcia who will have to show how he amassed as much as P143 million (if not more) on his comparatively meager compensation in the Armed Forces. Mrs. Reyes has explained to the Inquirer her 48 (50, she says) foreign travels during the past 11 years (12, she says) and the funds for her substantial, not to say excessive, expenditures. Some of these trips were official, she says, charged to our government or the host foreign countries that invited her peregrinations. But all these should be established in a formal investigation, not a mere interview.

General Reyes originally served as defense secretary in the Cabinet of Joseph Estrada, whom he belatedly abandoned when the latter's ship was sinking. The tardy deserter was not warmly welcomed at Edsa II but was in fact jeered as a Johnny-come-lately out to save his own skin. Returned to his former job by President Macapagal-Arroyo, he formed a singing team with Joey Lina and Bayani Fernando when he should be fighting the outlaws in Mindanao. At the height of the Oakwood mutiny, he appeared to be rather confused instead of decisive and on top of the crisis. Many say he resigned from the Cabinet because his multimillion-peso mansion was beginning to be so discomfiting, but he later became the anti-kidnapping czar before he was appointed to his present post as interior secretary.

It is rather curious that the frequent travels of the general's wife should be questioned by Imee Marcos, whose own mother was no slouch either when it came to taking trips abroad. In fact, Imelda Marcos was a known international jet-setter who did plenty of politicking, socializing and shopping in the exclusive resorts of the rich and famous in America and Europe, and, of course, and the pleasure spots in Asia. Who paid for these frivolities is still being debated in our courts, unless they have been slumbering all these years since the cases were commenced shortly after Edsa I. If similar informations are filed against Mrs. Reyes, and possibly also Secretary Reyes, let us hope they will not take as long to resolve as the charges against the elusive and presumably immune Imelda.

It is gratifying that Congressman Golez has suggested that the Ombudsman conduct an investigation of the foreign travels of Mrs. Reyes to determine if any crime has been committed. While we are not quick to condemn her, we cannot simply dismiss the suspicions that have been voiced, not without reason, by Representatives Marcos and Golez, from the facts revealed in official records. Such investigation will give her a chance to defend herself from the common speculation that she is yet another, and probably even worse, Mrs. Clarita Garcia.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Packing the House of Representatives

Packing the House of Representatives

Updated 01:05am (Mla time) Nov 27, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the November 27, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

A REGULAR correspondent, Paul R. Mortel, sent me a letter bewailing the tendency of the House of Representatives to create more congressional districts in addition to those now existing. He says that the present composition is far too large already, and the increase in the membership of that chamber would only add to the expenses of the public without corresponding benefit to them.

He speaks of the creation of three new districts in Parañaque City, Antipolo City and Bulacan province that he says was done "secretly" before it was reported by the media. He is disturbed by the plan to add another district in Negros Oriental province that, according to Representative Emilio Macias II, will mean "an additional amount for the province because every congressman is entitled to the so-called pork barrel." Talk about cynicism. Mortel says there is a similar plan to give another district to Marikina City that, I can only hope, is not for the same avaricious reason.

Some years ago, the municipality of Mandaluyong was converted into a city and because it had a population of more than 250,000 was automatically converted into a separate congressional district. This is the official justification for the creation of more similar units. If Congress does not exercise the necessary prudence, the House of Representatives will increase in size but not likely in wisdom or even only in usefulness.

The congressmen at present can hardly serve their constituents competently and it is their inefficiency that they are using for adding to their number. Their real reason is more devious. The truth is that dividing or creating new representative districts will make it easier for the incumbents to insure their reelection. They will have smaller areas to cover and fewer voters to woo or bribe. It is also a scheme to eliminate potential rivals in the old district by enabling them to run in the new district. My own city of Parañaque comprised only one district before, but we learned later that it had been divided into two. Our incumbent Representative Eduardo Zialcita did not have to campaign in the whole city as in 2001 but only in half of it when he sought reelection last May. Representative Roilo Golez ran and won in only the other half, and now we have to pay for two congressmen where before only one was enough. Was Zialcita so inadequate in representing the entire city that we had to elect Golez to assist him? Or was the new district intended to keep the peace between them and make them collaborators from their separate turfs instead of combatants for the original sole district?

The Constitution provides that the House of Representatives shall be composed of not more than 250 members but adds "unless otherwise provided by law." This maximum number includes the party-list members, of whom there are now 23, to sit with the 212 regular members chosen from the congressional districts. There are, therefore, no less than 235 congressmen in all who are supposed to represent the 86 million Filipinos composing our population.

Dividing the total population by the number of regular and party-list members of the House of Representatives, we have the quotient of only some 366,000 constituents per congressman. By contrast, the US House of Representatives has a membership of 435 for the total population of that country of more than 282 million. This means that each congressman in the United States is theoretically responsible for as many as about 648,300 constituents, compared to the much smaller ratio for our own legislators. They are nevertheless planning to further increase their membership even if the entire territory of the Philippines is even smaller than the 115.7-square-meter area of Omaha City in Nebraska. They couldn't care less.

The trouble with our legislators is that they think they can do anything as long as they are in power. This includes disdaining the spirit of the Constitution for their own selfish purposes. This kind of cupidity was denounced in the United States when Elbridge Gerry plotted to re-arrange his district by retaining only those areas where he was strong and removing those parts where he was weak. A colleague remarked on seeing the oddly shaped territory, "This looks to me like a salamander," to which another replied, "No, it looks like a gerrymander!"

Gerrymandering is prohibited in our Constitution, but not the division of districts to increase the incumbent congressmen's prospects of reelection. The original House of Representatives in 1987 consisted of only 200 regular members and four sector representatives, but that number has already been uselessly exceeded. More districts are now being planned that will be entitled to additional pork barrel allocations, as Macias has gleefully noted.

It's like adding more fat to an already bloated body.

Must we increase the membership of the House of Representatives simply because our population is uncontrollably burgeoning? Will the addition of new members automatically improve the mediocre quality and performance of this shameful body? Why not just abolish altogether this "lower House" (the "l" is not capitalized), and good riddance to an irredeemable disgrace?

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Is Vice President De Castro a Cabinet member?

Is Vice President De Castro a Cabinet member?

Updated 01:41am (Mla time) Nov 21, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the November 21, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

MY good friend Bartolome C. Fernandez Jr., who teaches in the UP College of Law and is a former member of the Commission on Audit, sent me a letter expressing his views on an important constitutional question. It concerns the multiple appointments extended by President Macapagal-Arroyo to Vice President Noli de Castro.

Professor Fernandez notes that De Castro has recently been named as "Cabinet Officer for Regional Development (CORD) for the ARMM. This is on top of and in addition to his earlier appointments/designations as 'Alternate' Chair of the National Anti-Poverty Commission; Chair of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC); and Presidential Adviser for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs)." My friend doubts that these multiple appointments/designations are constitutionally sanctioned under the following provisions of the 1987 Charter:

"The x x x , Vice-President, x x x shall not, unless otherwise provided in this Constitution, hold any other office or employment during (his) tenure." (Art. VII, Sec. 13, Constitution)

"The Vice-President may be appointed as a Member of the Cabinet. Such appointment requires no confirmation." (Ibid).

Fernandez says that pursuant to the said provisions, the Vice President is prohibited from holding any other office or employment during his tenure "unless otherwise provided in this Constitution." Elsewhere in the same Sec. 13, "the Constitution provides otherwise by empowering the President to appoint the Vice-President as a Member of the Cabinet."

"Please note the words 'a Member,' with a capital letter M, indicating a single appointment to a regular Membership in the Cabinet, say, as Department Head."

"By simultaneously holding the positions involved," Fernandez asks, "did Vice President De Castro become a Member of the Cabinet within the contemplation of the Constitution? Assuming that these positions have Cabinet rank, it does not follow that he thereby becomes a Member of the Cabinet. In a real sense, he holds only the rank but not the position of a regular Member of the Cabinet."

He argues that, "by analogy, the Court Administrator in the Supreme Court and the Government Corporate Counsel only enjoy the rank of a justice of the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals but not the title of Justice. That is why I am intrigued why they sport the title of Justice before their names."

Fernandez recalls that Chief Justice Enrique M. Fernando was emphatic in saying that unless one has been appointed to the superior courts, he has no business calling himself Justice.

I was the author of the resolution denying the request of the Court Administrator to be officially called Justice although he had not previously been appointed to the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals (and now also the Sandiganbayan). The Supreme Court rejected the ground for the request that the Court Administrator exercises disciplinary jurisdiction over all courts except the Supreme Court.

It is true that some former Court Administrators called themselves Justice but that was because they had previously served on the Court of Appeals. Examples are Justices Bellosillo and Presbitero Velasco who were appointed from that Court and so could continue calling themselves Justice. This is a permanent title like President or General. Others who did not have that background merely usurped that title because their non-judicial offices did not make them Justices.

Commissioner Fernandez raises a thought-provoking question that at least deserves serious study. Has the Constitution been violated by the multiple appointments or designations extended to Vice President De Castro by the President of the Philippines? President Arroyo is by her orientation and training not a lawyer but an economist. She probably has not fully read the Constitution of 1987, which is no fault of hers owing to its wordiness and occasional triviality. Even lawyers have the same failing (or justification).

Given her career inadequacy, President Arroyo has to depend much on her Legal Adviser when it comes to the proper understanding of the Constitution, which she is mandated to enforce. I am wondering if Merceditas Gutierrez, who now occupies that important position, has studied the question here posed or if she was consulted at all by the President on this matter. Vice President De Castro must also have some lawyers on his staff who might have advised him on the meaning of the constitutional provisions applicable to him. Have they?

Some civic-minded citizen, like the late Ramon A. Gonzales, a worthy gladiator of the bar, could bring this matter to the Supreme Court for a categorical decision. But the likelihood is that it will dismiss the case on the ground that the petitioner is not a proper party. That is the usual cop-out. Moreover, there is the considerable expense of litigation these days, especially the high judicial fees that have risen like the nation's blood pressure.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Poetry versus problems

Poetry versus problems

Updated 00:55am (Mla time) Nov 20, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the November 20, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

AND now, with all the troubles haunting our country, from rising prices through graft and corruption to the worsening peace and order and the P353-million loan granted by President Macapagal-Arroyo to millionaire Mike Velarde despite the greater need of our deprived countrymen for more succor and compassion from the unfeeling government, let us forget our desperate condition for a moment and find some solace, albeit if only briefly, in the soothing beauty of poetry.

I speak not of the comma poems of Jose Garcia Villa or the obscure language of the modern poets whose incomprehensible imageries only they can understand. They forget that, as T. S. Eliot says, "Genuine poetry must communicate before it is understood." I am an ordinary person who would rather leave unread those sublime thoughts that bedazzle like "splendor in the grass." My plebeian taste does not pretend literary connoisseurism and inclines to the simpler word as the more eloquent expression. The following are some examples.

Thomas Gray in "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" spoke regretfully of:

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear;
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

William Wordsworth had a different view when he wrote of Lucy, who "dwelt among the untrodden ways" as:

A violet by a mossy stone
Half-hidden from the eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

In high school, we were thrilled by John Greenleaf Whittier's "In School-Days," where a little girl said remorsefully to a classmate:

"I'm sorry that I spelt the word:
I hate to go above you,
Because, "the brown eyes lower fell"Because, you see, I love you ."
* * *
Poor girl! The grasses on her grave
Have forty years been growing!

He lives to learn, in life's hard school,
How few who pass above him
Lament their triumph and his loss,
Like her, because they love him.

I remember that when then Special Prosecutor Raul M. Gonzales openly accused three justices of the Supreme Court of impropriety for sending him written and innocent recommendations for some job applicants, I teased them with this passage from "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam":

The Moving Finger writes, and having writ,
Moves on; Nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

"This Prayer of a Little Dog," which I copied from a magazine when I was a teenager, still continues to delight me after all these years.

I've explained to St. Peter I'd rather stay here
Outside the Pearly Gates.
I won't be a nuisance, I won't even bark,
I'll be very patient and wait.
I'll stay here and chew a celestial bone
No matter how long it will take.
I miss you so much if I went in alone
It wouldn't be heaven to me.

Doggerel, the snob will say? To me it's charming.
Then there is this tender sentiment William Butler Yeats paid his daughter, who must still be cherishing it today.

She can, though every face should scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

I have many more verses to appreciate but there are space restrictions. And as Robert Frost wrote in "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening":

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

All right, class, lecture's over. Back to the grindstone and let's talk now of the latest nonsense that the financial crisis is over.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Campaign contrast

Campaign contrast

Updated 01:15am (Mla time) Nov 14, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the November 14, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

THERE is a sharp contrast between the recent US presidential election and our own election last May that the thinking observer could not have missed. It should give us pause over the futility of what passes for democracy in this country despite our historic passion for freedom that should have made us more jealous of our suffrages.

For one thing, there were no reports of widespread cheating in the American election, nor was it marred by the violence that is taken for granted in our own elections. Doctoring of election returns does not seem to be endemic in the United States. There were no warlords to murder political opponents or coerce the voters to support candidates dictated by the barrel of the gun. Bullets and ballots have an ominous synonymy in this country, but not in Chicago after Al Capone.

For another, the results of the elections last week were known within the day, or shortly thereafter, despite the wide expanse of the US territory and the 115.8 million Americans who exercised their right of suffrage. Our elections last May took more than a week to resolve although we had only about 42 million registered voters and our whole archipelago could fit in the state of California. Even now, Sen. Robert Z. Barbers claims that the senatorial election results have not yet been completed.

It is argued in defense of the slow count of votes here that our territory is not compact like that of the United States nor do we have the communication facilities that advanced countries enjoy. India, however, has a bigger voting population than ours, but its election results are determined much faster there than here. Appropriately, Kilosbayan president Rafael Alunan III and former Senate President Jovito R. Salonga have criminally charged the Commission on Elections before the Ombudsman for its illegal purchase of the Automated Counting Machines that has been invalidated by the Supreme Court.

But the most important difference between elections in the United States and the Philippines this year was the quality of the campaigns they separately conducted. One was intelligent and intellectual; the other was plainly stupid. The American election was a lesson in democracy in action while ours was a foolish charade of vulgar entertainment. Some of those entertainers are now in public office, in the Senate and almost even in Malacañang.

The protagonists in the US elections were the incumbent President of the United States and a four-term member of the US Senate. George W. Bush and John Kerry faced each other in three presidential debates sponsored by the media and watched by millions of Americans and even on satellite TV. These candidates represented the two major political parties-the Republicans and the Democrats- that have exchanged power for more than two centuries. Ralph Nader was only a vexatious nuisance.

In our election last May, the contending groups were practically undistinguishable because none of them could claim to be a major political party. Past elections used to be a contest only between the Nacionalista Party and the Liberal Party, but these political giants have lost their dominance and even their identity. Now they are only among several other splinter groups composing what is conveniently called a "coalition." The personalities of these combinations are as vague as their initials. It is possible that even their members sometimes forget where they belong.

The US election campaign was based on issues, the Philippine campaign on non-issues. The former called for serious reflection; the latter for mindless applause. The American voter was willing to discuss with the candidates matters that affected his welfare and future, but the Filipino voter only wanted to hear them sing or see them dance or exhibit their prowess in the martial arts. It was all simply show for us.

Bush and Kerry differed on such serious subjects as Iraq, terrorism, abortion, same-sex marriages, medical insurance, the economy, taxation, social security, stem cell research, and unemployment. In 1947, the Philippine electorate was widely divided on the issue of parity that President Roxas advocated and the Nacionalista leaders like Recto and Laurel attacked. But Estrada in 1998 and Poe this year refused even to debate with their presidential rivals, most likely because they were simply scared. Or maybe they had nothing to propose or defend or even a platform to stand on.

In this country, all parties and all candidates agree on the motherhood issues like nationalism and family solidarity, denounce graft and drugs, and support lower taxes. Having none to disagree about, they simply exhibit their histrionic talents, like President Macapagal-Arroyo who cheapened her office by donning ethnic costume and undulating in tribal dance to enthrall her indigenous audience.

The voters who elected those three misfits in the Senate and almost made that ill-prepared actor to be the President of the Philippines should learn to be more circumspect in the choice of our public officials. Bush beat Kerry 8 to 1 on the moral issue but many of our less discriminating voters do not bother with such substantial matters. They are more bedazzled by crudity and nonsense.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

More about the Cavite expropriation case

More about the Cavite expropriation case

Updated 11:15pm (Mla time) Nov 12, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the November 13, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

I RECEIVED a long letter from Renato A. Ignacio, provincial legal officer of Cavite, who said he was seeking to rectify some factual errors in my recent column about the curious case of the compromise agreement on the acquisition of certain lands earlier sought to be expropriated by the province in 1982. That agreement calls for the payment of P50 million to the private owners for about half of the original tract claimed in the complaint for expropriation filed 22 years ago.

He says that "the Compromise Agreement hewed closely to the recommendation of the 1992 Appraisal Committee which determined the prevailing price in 1992 at Php 1,000 per sq m and recommended the price of Php 500 per sq m to the Court considering the fact that the filing of the expropriation case/taking of possession was in 1982."

As Ignacio himself stresses, "the filing of the expropriation case/taking of possession was in 1982." This should be the year when the property should be assessed for determination of the just compensation to be paid the private owners. Yet "the Appraisal Committee determined the prevailing price in 1992" and not the prevailing price in 1982, when the expropriation case was filed.

The prevailing price then was P0.86 per sq m or a total market value of P215,000 for 250,000 sq m of the expropriated land, as the government itself claimed. Even the owners, for their part, argued that the market value of the property was P45 per sq m or P11,272,500 for the entire area. Yet in 2004, the parties "hewed closely to the recommendation of the 1992 Appraisal Committee which determined the prevailing price in 1992 at Php 1,000 per sq m and recommended the price of Php 500 to the Court considering the fact that the filing of the expropriation case/taking of possession was in 1982."

Inasmuch as the property was taken in 1981 and the expropriation case was filed in 1982, I am wondering why the government accepted the just compensation based on the fair market value of the land in 1992, more than 10 years later. The amount reached in the Compromise Agreement, even with the 6 percent accrued interest from 1981 added, was very much higher--perhaps unconscionably so--than the original value of the property at the time it was taken by the expropriator in 1981. The property had since then been considerably improved and as a result tremendously increased in value by 1992.

According to the case of Republic v. Castellvi, 58 SCRA 336, which I cited in my original article:

"Under Section 4 of Rule 67 of the Rules of Court, the 'just compensation' is to be determined as of the date of the filing of the complaint. This Court has ruled that when the taking of the property sought to be expropriated coincides with the commencement of the expropriation proceedings, or takes place subsequent to the filing of the complaint for eminent domain, the just compensation should be determined as of the date of the filing of the complaint. (Republic of the Philippines v. Philippine National Bank, 1 SCRA 597). In the instant case, it is undisputed that the Republic was placed in possession of the Castellvi property, by authority of the Court, on August 10, 1959. The 'taking' of the Castellvi property for the purpose of determining the just compensation to be paid must, therefore, be reckoned as of June 26, 1959, when the complaint for eminent domain was filed."

The above-mentioned rule has been retained in the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. I know it is not strictly applicable to the Compromise Agreement, which deals now with a voluntary sale, the expropriation case having been withdrawn. Nevertheless, I see no reason why the Compromise Agreement does not "hew more closely" to that rule, which would have provided for a just compensation much lower than the P50 million agreed upon by the province and the private owners. If the latter were unwilling, the province could have simply proceeded with the expropriation, which it would certainly have won and for a lower price.

Significantly, the Compromise Agreement calls for the payment of P50 million for practically only one-half of the property originally sought to be expropriated. Even with the accrued interest added from 1981, the resultant just compensation would have been much more advantageous to the province than the P50 million it agreed to pay the private owners, and for much less than the original area it had intended to acquire.

I suppose that the petition of Vice Gov. Juanito Victor C. Remulla questioning the Compromise Agreement has already been filed with the Court of Appeals, which makes the case now sub judice. I leave it now for his lawyers to debate the matter with Cavite's Provincial Legal Officer Ignacio, who speaks of certain "reciprocal concessions" of the defendants to establish in their retention areas a university, a mall, and a public parking lot. To be owned by the province? This may be the justification for the higher price agreed upon, so let's see how the court decides.

I hope that this case which began in 1982 will not take another 22 years to resolve.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Another legislative 'pakulo'

Another legislative 'pakulo'

Updated 01:34am (Mla time) Nov 07, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the November 7, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

ALTHOUGH I was much interested in the alleged acquisition by Maj. Gen. Carlos F. Garcia of millions of pesos (and dollars, too) of ill-gotten wealth, I did not bother to watch the investigation of the case by the legislative committees headed by Representatives Roilo Golez and Jaime Lopez. I knew it would amount to nothing except a lot of grandstanding, particularly by Golez. I wasn't about to waste my time again watching the legislators exhibiting another pakulo while more urgent matters demanded their attention.

The principal task of Congress is legislation; right now, the most demanding of that task is the approval of the general appropriations act for the next fiscal year, which seems to have been sidelined by the Garcia expos‚. The power of legislative investigation is allowed only when it is undertaken in aid of legislation and not to determine if there is probable cause of the commission of a crime that will justify the filing of the corresponding information or complaint in court.

The preliminary investigation of a crime is done by the prosecuting arm of the government, the Department of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman, not Congress.

The role of the legislature is to ascertain from its own investigation if the laws it has passed are being enforced by the executive department or whether the present laws should be supplemented or amended, or whether such laws should be repealed and replaced if found to be inadequate.

The preliminary investigation of a crime requires a basic knowledge of criminal law and criminal procedure. That is why it is entrusted to lawyers. The finding of a legislative investigating committee that a crime has been committed is not conclusive on the executive department; all the committee can do is recommend, if it sees fit, the filing of appropriate charges against the respondent. The prosecutors may or may not act on such recommendation, depending on their own appreciation of the case, based on their own special training and experience.

I realize that some legislative investigations have produced beneficial results like the investigation of the purchase of the Tambobong-Buenavista estate in 1950 for which Congress had appropriated the necessary compensation. It had a right to ascertain if the money had been used for the intended legislative purpose. But these and several other useful investigations have been the exception rather than the rule. Most of the investigations conducted by the legislature have proved useless and have simply allowed the legislators to show off, especially now that the proceedings are exhibited on the idiot box.

Not a few of our supposedly intelligent solons have proved otherwise during these legislative investigations, and they have pictorially proved their defects on television. They can have the congressional record edited to correct all their grammatical errors, but this cannot be done on the boob tube. Even their "propesterous" pronunciation is irremediable. But these are only the least of their shortcomings. Their major faults are their pretensions, as when they claim an expertise they cannot prove and often in fact easily disprove. I have watched with amusement some legislators acting as if they were expert cross-examiners like Clarence Darrow whom they probably never even heard of.

One legislative investigation I watched from start to finish, as did hundreds of other interested citizens like me, was the probe of the charges filed against Panfilo Lacson which was held almost daily in 2001. It was conducted by three Senate committees that heard a number of witnesses for the complainants, including Mary Ong and Victor Corpus, and particularly Reynaldo Acop for the respondent, until it was terminated on Sept. 5 of that year. The joint report of the three committees recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges against Lacson, but when it was finally called for deliberation by the Senate plenary last year, it was blocked by the minority senators.

With new senators from the last election changing the composition of the Senate, the Lacson case is now dead. Even Sen. Robert Z. Barbers, the chair of the lead committee who would have sponsored the joint report, is no longer a member. The public has a right to know what the Senate felt about that investigation, but it will never know now. It was one of the most important legislative investigations ever held in that chamber, and much official time and public funds were spent for nothing.

I think we have enough laws to apply to General Garcia even without the investigation held by the House of Representatives. Even now the Office of the Ombudsman has already filed information against him for unexplained wealth under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and the court martial is also intending to charge him under the Articles of War. We also have the Anti-Laundering Law to invoke if necessary. Golez and his investigators are merely saling pusa in this case but he is acting as if he was the main attraction.

When will all this exhibitionism end? No wonder actors want to become legislators and legislators want to become actors.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Re-computation of a bar examinee's grade

Re-computation of a bar examinee's grade

Updated 10:27pm (Mla time) Nov 05, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the November 6, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

A STUDENT of mine in the College of Law of the University of Perpetual Help in Las Piñas was given a final rating of 74.9980 percent in the 2003 bar examinations and was considered flunked. That was the year when the examination in Mercantile Law was invalidated because of a leakage and the 15 percent weight of that subject was pro rata distributed among the remaining 7 other subjects. The Office of the Bar Confidant computed the final grades of the examinee up to the second decimal point only, giving her .0020 percent less than the passing average of 75 percent.

The student filed a petition for the re-computation of her grades and showed that the Bar Confidant had rounded off the relative weight of the 7 subjects to only the second decimal point, resulting in her getting less than the required final rating. She showed by her own computation that "tabulation of the relative weight up to the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and tenth decimal places and/or the consequential general weighted average of herein Petitioner" would show an average of at least 75 percent and make her pass the bar examinations for that year. She attached a copy of said tabulation.

Ruling on her petition, the Supreme Court "resolved, upon recommendation of the Office of the Bar Confidant to DENY the request of Petitioner (name withheld by me to spare the student embarrassment) for mathematical re-computation of her grades in the 2003 Bar examinations, considering that the results of the Bar examinations are final and irrevocable."

The petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration saying that she was not asking for a re-correction of her papers or a re-checking of her examination booklets but a re-computation of her final grade not by rounding it off to the second decimal point only but "up to the fifth decimal place as it would substantially affect the Relative Weight and Product for each subject used in determining her final rating."

Included in her motion was a comprehensive mathematical discussion of the correct process of determining the final grades of the examinees, particularly hers which the Bar Confidant fixed at 74.0080 percent. This was not rounded off to 75 percent despite the minuscule .0020 percent difference. She also cited the cases of In re Victorio D. Lenuevo, A.C. No. 1162, Aug. 29, 1975, regarding the functions of the Bar Confidant, and In re Felipe del Rosario, 52 Phil. 399, decided on Dec. 7, 1928, where the Supreme Court granted an examinee's motion for the re-computation of his grades on the ground of error.

"Herein petitioner does not wish to disrespect this Honorable Court but merely seeks its reconsideration due to her sincere belief that there must be a precise methodical analysis used in determining her General Weighted Average due to the peculiar circumstances that occurred in the 2003 Bar examinations." She also pleaded for the "compassion of this honorable Court to exercise its discretionary judicial function" to grant the mathematical re-computation of her general weighted average.

I assume the Court considered her arguments carefully, but her motion was just the same "denied and final." It was at this time that I learned of my student's case and felt that it deserved a more careful study from the tribunal en banc. To this end, I called on Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr. and pleaded for a realistic and compassionate approach to the student's problem, considering the microscopic deficiency that prevented her passing, let alone the fact that she would have passed if the Bar Confidant had not rounded off the computation at the second decimal place only although she would not round off the final average to 75 percent. Even assuming that the petitioner's own computation was not acceptable, I said, a spirit of compassion could have softened the harsh and inflexible ruling of the Court without offense to the quality of justice.

I had the impression that Chief Justice Davide agreed with me and considered the case meritorious. He said he would take it up with the banc. The case was calendared, reset for a number of reasons, among them the absence of many members on official leave, until it was finally decided some time ago.

I went to see the Chief Justice in his office, where he informed me that the Court was unwilling to reconsider its original decision. I was disappointed, of course, but I saw no need to further argue the case. I am familiar with the mind-set of the Court and will not waste my time when I am convinced that it is determined to persist in error.

I thought to myself that this was a wonderful opportunity for Chief Justice Davide to rectify a wrongful ruling, as a leader should, but I suppose he was bound by the traditions of the Court. I am glad that I never allowed myself to be bound by such inhibitions whenever I felt them to be against compassion as an essential ingredient of justice.

I am proud to remember Chief Justice Andres R. Narvasa's compliment to me during my retirement program, where he spoke of my "understanding of human frailty that would temper the harshness of the law with compassion whenever possible..." I regret that the present Supreme Court does not have that redeeming virtue.