SPECIAL REPORT | All eyes on Supreme Court justices as they hear petitioners vs Anti-Terror Law

Text by BULATLAT STAFF
Illustration by DEE AYROSO

On February 2, the 15 justices of the Supreme Court will hear the oral arguments on the much-contested Anti-Terror Law.

The law is a priority of President Rodrigo Duterte, the reason why it was earmarked as urgent in Congress, and being fast-tracked, took only less than a year to be signed into law.

It was introduced in the Senate on September 30, 2019 and in the House of Representatives on May 30, 2020. It was signed into law July 3 with its Implementing Rules and Regulations approved on October 14 of last year.

However, because of provisions violative of human rights, 37 petitions from different individuals and groups were filed before the Supreme Court questioning its constitutionality.

While the law passed smoothly in the Legislative, questioning its validity in the high court is not a walk in the park. The oral arguments on the petitions against the ATL was first scheduled on the third week of September, but later on set to January 19, 2021. This was, later on, reset to February 2 as requested by Solicitor General Jose Calida on the grounds that “his Assistant Solicitor General and some staff who will attend the oral arguments have been tested positive for Covid 19″.

Still wanting to delay the arguments, Calida filed a request for the total cancelation of the arguments apparently because of psychological trauma caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This was denied by the high court.

Now that the schedule has been set, the focus now is on how the members of the high court would come up with a decision on these. Considering the caliber of the lawyers questioning the ATL’s validity, will they simply brush off the arguments to put a finality on the question and allow the president to do as he wills or will they listen to the arguments and seriously put the law into question?

This can be deduced from the previous rulings and how members of the high court voted on issues considered critical by the Duterte Administration like the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO), the case of Sen. Leila de Lima, martial law in Mindanao, and the Bayanihan Act.

In the high court, 11 of the 15 justices are Duterte appointees, with Associate Justice Jhosep Lopez as the latest appointee, replacing Justice Priscilla Baltazar Padilla, also a Duterte appointee, who retired eight years early. Will these appointments influence the way they decide on the petitions? So far, the high court has been deciding in favor of the administration, even to the point that there are groups and individuals questioning the fairness and justness of the esteemed institution.

Let us examine each justice to better understand how they would vote on the petitions against the anti-terror law.

Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta

Peralta began his career as a prosecutor in Laoag City, and later was assigned to Manila. In 1994, he was appointed as judge in Quezon City where he penned landmark decisions such as the 1999 death penalty on a police officer who shot an 11-year-old while flying a kite at their rooftop; and the conviction of several police officers who deliberately failed to file charges against suspected foreign drug-traffickers in exchange for money.

Under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, he was appointed as Sandiganbayan associate justice where he later became part of the special division that handed the guilty verdict on former President Joseph Estrada.

In 2008, he was appointed as the 162nd Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

Under the Duterte administration, Peralta voted for the constitutionality of the martial law declaration in Mindanao, allowed the hero’s burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and the ousting of former chief justice Maria Lourdes Serreno.

Peralta is set to retire in March, ahead of his mandatory retirement next year.

Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe

Bernabe began her career as a private practitioner for various financial institutions before she was appointed Metropolitan Trial Court judge and later as a Regional Trial Court judge in Makati City.

In 2004, she was appointed as Court of Appeals associate justice. Under President Benigno S. Aquino III, Bernabe was appointed to the Supreme Court.

As associate justice, she is described in media reports as “unpredictable.”

For instance, she concurred that Joseph Estrada, the former president who was pardoned from his guilty plunder verdict, can run again for public office yet she upheld the plunder charges against the former president’s son Sen. Jinggoy Estrada.

She was appointed by former President Aquino, yet she voted against him on controversial issues such as the Priority Development Assistance Funds, the Disbursement Acceleration Program, and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

She also acquitted former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of plunder.

Under the Duterte administration, she voted in favor of the constitutionality of the martial law declaration in Mindanao and its consequent extensions but dissented on two key issues: the validity of the arrest of Sen. Leila de Lima and the ousting of Serreno through a quo warranto petition.

Bernabe, considered as the second most senior in the 15-member collegial body, is expected to retire in June 2022.

Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen

The former dean and professor of the University of the Philippines’ College of Law began his career by co-founding the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, Inc, a legal and policy research and advocacy institution that provided services to rural poor and indigenous peoples.

Under the Aquino administration, he was appointed as the Philippine government’s chief negotiator with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. This led to the 2012 signing of a Bangsamoro peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. In the same year, he was appointed to the Supreme Court, the youngest in the country’s history.

Despite being appointed under the Aquino administration, Leonen concurred that certain parts of the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) were unconstitutional.

Leonen is also one of the four who dissented from the majority ruling that freed Arroyo of her plunder case. Arroyo was facing charges before the Sandiganbayan for the alleged misuse of the intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) amounting to P366 million.

Under the Duterte administration, Leonen has been subjected to various attacks, including an impeachment threat through a quo warranto petition, a tactic used to oust former SC chief Serreno. These attacks reportedly stemmed from Leonen’s persistent dissenting votes on controversial issues pushed by the Duterte administration. These include the mass testing petition, the martial law petition, and Sen. De Lima’s arrest.

Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa

Caguioa served as President Benigno C. Aquino III’s chief presidential legal counsel and later justice secretary to replace now detained Sen. Leila de Lima, who was then running for senate.
Shortly after his appointment as justice secretary, at least 500 Lumad and Mindanawon, along with human rights activists, stormed the justice department, decrying the institution’s role in the continuing systematic rights violations.

Among the issues brought to his office during his short stint as justice secretary and head of the Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture and Other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty and Security of Persons, are cases of murders and massacres, particularly those committed against indigenous peoples, which remained unresolved – even until now.

In January 2016, Caguioa was appointed as associate justice to the high court.

Under the Duterte administration, he dissented on three key issues: the Supreme Court resolution denying the mandamus petition for President Duterte to reveal his health record, the arrest of Sen. De Lima, and the quo warranto petition of former chief justice Serreno.

Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo

Gesmundo is the fourth Supreme Court Associate Justice appointed by President Duterte in 2017. Before his appointment at the SC, Gesmundo was the chair of Sandiganbayan’s Seventh Division.
Gesmundo also co-chaired Sandigan’s Committee on Rules and was the Philippine Judicial Academy’s Department of Remedial Law’s vice-chairperson.

In 2009, Gesmundo authored the Sandiganbayan’s decision acquitting retired Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia of perjury charges.

Garcia was a former comptroller of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who was accused of falsifying his 1997 state of assets, liabilities and net worth as he failed to declare three vehicles reportedly worth around P1.6 million.

For his voting track record, Gesmundo voted in favor of the validity of Senator Leila De Lima’s arrest, on the question of the constitutionality of the implementation of martial law in Mindanao and for its extension up to the end of December 2019.

He was also among the justices who voted in favor of the quo warranto petition against former Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Gesmundo voted against the disclosure of Duterte’s health records, effectively shielding the president from questions on his state of health.

Justice Ramon Paul L. Hernando

Hernando was appointed by President Duterte to fill in the vacancy left by then SC Associate Justice Samuel Martires.

Hernando was admitted to the bar in 1992 but prior to that had worked as confidential assistant in the office of Supreme Court Justice Edgardo L. Paras. A year later, he transferred to the office of Supreme Court Justice Florenz D. Regalado before his appointment as state prosecutor in 1998. Later on, he was appointed to be the presiding judge of San Pablo City, Laguna (2003-2006) and then of Quezon City (2006-2010), and briefly, in the appellate court.

As an associate justice in the high court, Hernando voted in favor of the extensions of martial law in Mindanao, voted for the dismissal of the petition calling for the disclosure of Duterte’s health record, and voted against the petition for mass testing.

Justice Rosmari D. Carandang

Before joining the judiciary, Justice Rosmari D. Carandang was affiliated with private financial and government institutions namely Perpetual Savings Bank, the Filinvest Group of Companies/Family Savings Bank, and the Commission on Audit.

In 1994 she was appointed presiding judge of the Manila court and in 2003 was appointed by the President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the appellate court where she served for 15 years.

On November 26, 2018, she was appointed by Duterte to the high court, after having been shortlisted five times. She filled up the position vacated by Teresita Leonardo de Castro who, prior to her retirement, briefly sat as chief justice following the ouster of then SC chief Serreno.

In her interviews, Carandang expressed that she is not in favor of same-sex marriage because of her Catholic faith but ironically supports medical abortion, which is strongly being opposed by the church.

She also said that Congress should have convened to decide on martial law in Mindanao, and that granting bail to former senator Juan Ponce Enrile is not provided for in the Rules of Court. She also disagreed with the burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. at the Libingan ng mga Bayani “on moral grounds,” but said that there was no law against it.

She was also in support of the passage of the Reproductive Health law.

Justice Amy C. Lazaro-Javier

Javier was shortlisted eight times under Duterte’s administration until she got appointed on March 6, 2019. She was the seventh appointee of the president taking the post of Noel Tijam who retired in January 2019.

Before the SC, Javier was appointed as Court of Appeals associate justice in 2007 under then president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. She was the CA’s senior member of the 2nd Division when she was appointed to the SC.

In her November 2016 Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) interview, Javier said that she disagreed with the SC decision on Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

At the SC, Javier was among the justices who dissented against the SC’s ruling invalidating warrantless searches and seizures of illegal drugs in vehicles based on an unverified anonymous tip.
Javier also concurred in the SC’s dismissal of the petition calling for the disclosure of Duterte’s health records.

In December last year, Javier penned a ruling upholding the right of the employers under the law to dismiss employees on the ground of redundancy.

In the petition to release political prisoners vulnerable to the novel coronavirus, Javier wrote in her separate opinion that there should be a relief given to Reina Mae Nasino’s daughter, River Emmanuelle who contracted pneumonia and eventually died after being separated from her mother a month after she was born. Javier also said that the Enrile bail ruling should be applied “whenever circumstances call for it.”

Meanwhile, during her June 2018 interview with the JBC, Javier was asked about her views on Duterte’s “predilection for male appointees.” Javier said that she sees the president, not as an enemy of women and that she will pass based on her qualification and not because of her gender.

Justice Henri Jean Paul B. Inting

Inting has been in public service for more than 30 years. He began his legal career in 1983 as Senior Corporate Attorney of the National Housing Authority.

Inting is the brother of Commissioner Socorro Inting of the Commission on Elections who was also appointed by Duterte in 2018. They hail from Davao City, the president’s hometown.

Inting is an associate justice in the Court of Appeals before his appointment at the Supreme Court in May 2019.

In 2017 during his stint as CA associate justice, Inting concurred to the court’s decision to deny the appeal of US Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton to reverse the guilty verdict against him by the local court in Olongapo City for the death of Jennifer Laude.

According to news reports, Inting wrote the SC resolution dismissing the petition for Duterte to disclose his health records in May 2020.

He also penned the SC decision ordering a recruitment agency to pay disability benefits and sickness allowance to a seaman who acquired illness while at work.

He will serve the SC until 2027.

Justice Rodil V. Zalameda

Zalameda was sworn in as a member of the Supreme Court on August 6, 2019.

Before that, he served as city prosecutor of Mandaluyong City and was appointed to the Court of Appeals in September 2008. He was the chairperson of the CA 17th Division before he joined SC.

Zalameda penned the decision dismissing the administrative charges against then Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro over the delay in resolving anomalous transactions in the Philippine Air Force, and the decision against Tanduay over the Ginebra trademark case.

Justice Mario V. Lopez

Lopez was appointed Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on December 5, 2019. He served as Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals for 13 years.

A few months before his appointment to the high court, Lopez penned a decision denying the writ of amparo filed by human rights groups Karapatan, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, and Gabriela.

At the time of the filing of the petition, 145 human rights defenders were already killed, and the petitioners sought protection from the high court. Karapatan assailed the CA’s ruling penned by Lopez as “tantamount to complicity on the attacks perpetrated against rights defenders.”

Karapatan pointed out that the CA did not allow the petitioners to present their evidence, issuing a decision with only a three-hour summary hearing.

In a statement following Lopez’s appointment, Karapatan said, “We doubt if the decision he penned has nothing to do with his appointment to the High Court.”

Lopez concurred in the SC decision to junk the petition to declare several provisions of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act unconstitutional. He also voted against the petition to reveal Duterte’s medical records.

Justice Edgardo L. Delos Santos

Delos Santos was appointed as Associate Justice in December 2019. He and CA Justice Lopez were appointed by President Duterte, following the retirement of Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza and Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, on Sept. 26 and Oct. 26, respectively.

Delos Santos prides himself as someone who “rose from the ranks,” having started as a legal researcher for a court in Manila in the late 1970s. He served as the executive justice of the Court of Appeals’ Visayas Station and the chairperson of its 18th Division. For many years, he served as Trial Court judge in Dumaguete City and Bacolod City.

In 2016, Delos Santos issued a Writ of Kalikasan which ordered the closure of the Inayawan sanitary landfill in Cebu.

Delos Santos concurred in the SC decision to junk the petition to declare several provisions of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act unconstitutional. He also voted against the petition to reveal Duterte’s medical records.

Justice Samuel H. Gaerlan

Gaerlan started his career as a private practitioner for various companies and associations. He later joined the Public Attorney’s Office for three years from 1990-1993. After PAO, Gaerlan became a presiding judge in different trial courts until 2009.

He was appointed as Court of Appeals associate justice in July 2009.

At the CA, Gaerlan was among the justices who concurred in the acquittal of alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles’ serious illegal detention case. This decision of the CA reversed the 2015 conviction of Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 150.

He also concurred with a local court’s decision to allow bail for 16 policemen allegedly involved in the Maguindanao massacre.

At the SC, Gaerlan concurred with the SC’s resolution denying the petition to compel disclosure of President Duterte’s health records.

Gaerlan was appointed by President Duterte to the Supreme Court in January 2020. He filled the vacated post of Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta.

Justice Ricardo R. Rosario

Rosario is the SC magistrate who started from the bottom going up. He was a working student in college. He once worked as a messenger in another company and later as a security guard for the Office of the Government Corporate counsel until he got promoted to a clerk position. He took up law at the Ateneo University School of Law from 1979 to 1983.

His first job as a lawyer is at the legal department of the National Bureau of Investigation where he served as a legal officer. He also worked for the Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System from 1986 to 1994 as corporate attorney.

He was appointed as assistant city prosecutor in Quezon City after his work at the MWSS. It was in 1997 when Rosario became a presiding judge of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Manila, Branch 19 and other regional trial courts until his promotion as an associate justice at the Court of Appeals in September 2005.
Rosario filled the seat vacated by Associate Justice Jose Reyes, Jr., who retired in September last year.

Justice Jhosep Y. Lopez

The newest appointee of President Duterte to the Supreme Court, Jhosep Lopez, is a former Manila City councilor and prosecutor.

He had stints as legal counsel for various government agencies, including the University of the Philippines – Manila, the Philippine General Hospital, and the Department of Health to name a few.

In 2012, he was appointed to the Court of Appeals, where he penned and concurred to several controversial decisions such as the validity of the retirement age for PAL flight attendants, the dismissal of the illegal detention charges against Janet Napoles, who was implicated in the pork barrel scam, and the junking of the plea of human rights victims under the Marcos dictatorship to compensation, saying that the 1995 Hawaii court decision was not binding.

Lopez took the seat of former Associate Justice Priscilla Baltazar-Padilla who retired due to health reasons last year. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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