Posts Tagged ‘DOJ’

The TRO Against the DOJ Watchlist Order: Will There Be a Constitutional Crisis?

DOJ defies TRO (Image from PDI)

Sabres have been drawn between the Supreme Court and the Executive Branch, under the banner of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Leila De Lima. Like most struggles in history, this clash is about a woman and the refusal of one of the zealous pursuers to let go.

Citing medical necessity and her constitutional “right to travel”, the former President sought judicial intervention against an Order of the Department of Justice placing her under a Watch List which effectively prevents her from leaving the country. That relief came on Wednesday (the 15th of November) in the form of a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) issued by what is popularly perceived as an Arroyo loaded  Court. Despite the TRO, the DOJ has instructed the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation (BID) not to allow GMA to board her plane until after the Supreme Court rules on its hastily filed Motion for Reconsideration.

In the meantime, the camp of the former Chief Executive has filed Contempt charges against De Lima.

So far, no one has blinked.

Leaving the constitutional issues (which warrant a more incisive discussion) for later, we focus our attention on the TRO issued by the High Tribunal and why I don’t believe that it will lead to a “Constitutional Crisis” as alarmists are presently claiming.

For the most part, the reasons why it should not have been issued have been discussed in the most lucid and convincing fashion by Justice Sereno in her dissenting opinion.  I just wish to add that in this case, a Temporary Restraining Order is severely misplaced.

The purpose of a TRO, or any injunctive relief for that matter,  is to preserve the status quo until the merits of the controversy can be heard (Rodulfa v. Alfonso, 76 Phil 225, citing Frederick v. Huber, 180 Pa. 572, 37 Atl. 90). The “status quo” (or more properly, the status quo ante litem) is not necessarily what the situation  is obtaining immediately preceding the filing the case. Rather, it refers to “last, actual, peaceable and uncontested status” before the litigation.

In other words, the status quo which is required to be preserved in this case is that government is poised to indict the former president for crimes committed during her office. That Congressman Arroyo was scheduled to leave the country is not “the last peaceable and uncontested status” because precisely her right to leave the country and the validity of the restriction imposed by the Watch List Order is the very lis mota of her petition before the Supreme Court. To allow her to leave and eventually avoid prosecution for her alleged offenses  would destroy or change the status quo rather than preserve it.

In the case of Yuquico v. Quiambao [GR No.191238], an intra-corporate dispute was filed by the stockholder’s group  led by respondents against those of petitioners. As part of their complaint, the Quiambao group contested the legitimacy of the corporate officers elected during a meeting held on 01 March 2004. Clarifying its earlier order to restore the status quo, the Supreme Court explained that the last, actual, peaceable, uncontested status of the parties prior to the filing of the case could not be the results of the election of officers on 01 March 2004 as this is precisely the meat of the controversy in the case.

In annulling the assailed RTC resolution, the CA. correctly opined, citing Mayor Garcia v. Hon.
Mojica,that the last actual peaceable uncontested status of the parties prior to the filing of Civil
(SEC) Case No. U-14 would not refer to the result of the election of officers held on March 1, 2004
since that election did not precede the present controversy; it is, in fact, the real controversy.
The last actual peaceable uncontested status of the parties prior to the filing of this case would be the
composition of STRADEC’s directors and officers prior to the March 1, 2004 elections, or that
obtaining during the 2003-2004 elections.

So for the most part, I hope that the DOJ secretary stands firm on her decision to keep GMA within reach of her department’s prosecutors. I certainly do not believe that her apparent insouciance to the Supreme Court directive would result in a constitutional crisis.

Indeed, this is not the first time, and it certainly would not be the last, that a branch of government has ignored and even defied another co-equal branch. On 11 June  1963, three African American students applied for admission before the University of Alabama following the landmark decision of the US Federal Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education which ruled in 1954 that the segregation policy in public schools was unconstitutional.  Then Governor George Wallace of Alabama blocked the entrance to the school auditorium to deny access to the African-American students in open defiance of the decision.  It took a direct order from the President of the United States and the intervention of the National Guard to resolve the standoff.  Had the federal government not agreed or supported the decision, it would be nothing but a victory on paper, largely ignored in application.

Even Marbury v. Madison (5 US 137) , the recognized progenitor of today’s concept of judicial review, stemmed from a refusal of the Secretary of State  (James Madison) to affix the seal of the United States on William Marbury’s commission after he was appointed as justice of the peace by the previous President John Adams. Keenly aware that the Supreme Court of the United States could not do anything if the Secretary of State disregarded an express directive issued by the Court, Justice Marshall refused to issue a writ of mandamus against the Madison on the ground that it had no power to do so in the exercise of its original jurisdiction. It ruled that Section 13 of the Judiciary Act which gave the Supreme Court such power of mandamus was unconstitutional. In so doing, Justice Marshall deftly avoided a conflict with the executive department but paved the way for general acknowledgement that the Court had the power to review an act of Congress.

An equally important aspect of that decision is often unappreciated. Nowhere is it mentioned in Marbury that the power of the Supreme Court to determine whether an act is unconstitutional is the exclusive province of the judiciary. Contrary to the general impression, all branches of government are duty bound to observe the Constitution. Hence, it necessarily follows that the executive and the legislative must have the authority to determine the constitutionality of official acts. The President is duty bound not to support a law which he strongly believes to be unconstitutional. By the same token, the Executive should also be free to disagree with the decision of the Supreme Court. In such an event, he is in fact under obligation by his own oath to bring the matter of their disagreement again to the Supreme Court for consideration.

 


The Acting Secretary of Justice: Error or Something Else?

Amidst a storm of public protests and faced with mutiny from his own lieutenants (the Department’s high level career prosecutors ), Acting Secretary Agra stands pat on his unpopular decision to move for the discharge of Autonomous Region of Muslin Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Zaldy Ampatuan and former Maguindanao Vice Governor Akmad Ampatuan from the criminal charges stemming from the Maguindanao Massacre.

The Resolution has been the subject of all manner of punditry from armchair lawyers to conspiracy theorists.  In essence, most critics decry both the unholy speed by which the Secretary issued his decision and the fact that he sustained the legally weak defense  of alibi over positive testimony of one of the witnesses.   Adding my own two cents worth to these, most litigators will tell you (as well as anyone else who has had experience petitioning the DOJ) that if there’s one thing that the Department is NOT known for, it’s promptness.  Setting aside the possibility that the Acting Secretary may have precisely chosen to break with this particular DOJ tradition, it is still puzzling that he would act contrary to what prosecutors have historically been inclined (even told) to do , which is to prosecute in the event of conflicting evidence.

Whether Secretary Agra (a former advocate of volunteer legal aid for the poor) deserves the vilification that he is receiving today depends on another question which has only been asked implicitly — whether the resolution to absolve two of the high profile principals in the massacre constitutes simple error which is arguably the Secretary’s to make or rather bears the earmarks of something more sinister.

During the earlier part of my legal career, I was part of the team of private prosecutors that appeared in the case of “People of the Philippines v. Hubert Webb.” Webb, the son of a Philippine Senator, was one of the accused in the brutal rape of Carmela Vizconde and the slaughter of the entire Vizconde household.

Immediately after Hubert Webb was indicted, he questioned the finding of probable cause against him by the DOJ Panel despite producing exculpatory evidence in the preliminary investigation consisting of, interestingly enough , alibi.  Specifically, he presented documentary evidence that would supposedly place him in the United States  at the time that the crime was committed.

The Supreme Court, in Webb v. De Leon [GR No. 121245 (23 August 1995)], ruled that faced with “conflicting pieces of evidence,” the DOJ correctly found probable cause to indict the accused. It also explained that probable cause was synonymous with “probability of guilt” and therefore required a LOWER QUANTUM AND QUALITY of evidence than that required for conviction, to wit:

Given these conflicting pieces of evidence of the NBI and the petitioners, we hold that the DOJ Panel did not gravely abuse its discretion when it found probable cause against the petitioners. A finding of probable cause needs only to rest on evidence showing that more likely than not a crime has been committed and was committed by the suspects. Probable cause need not be based on clear and convincing evidence of guilt, neither on evidence establishing guilt beyond reasonable doubt and definitely, not on evidence establishing  absolute certainty of guilt. As well put in Brinegar v. United States, while probable cause demands more than “bare suspicion,” it requires “less than evidence which would justify . . . conviction.” A finding of probable cause merely binds over the suspect to stand trial. It is not a pronouncement of guilt.

Considering the low quantum and quality of evidence needed to support a finding of probable cause, we also hold that the DOJ Panel did not, gravely abuse its discretion in refusing to call the NBI witnesses for clarificatory questions. The decision to call witnesses for clarificatory questions is addressed to the sound discretion of the investigator and the investigator alone. If the evidence on hand already yields a probable cause, the investigator need not hold a clarificatory hearing. To repeat, probable cause merely implies probability of guilt and should be determined in a summary manner. Preliminary investigation is not a part of trial and it is only in a trial where an accused can demand the full exercise of his rights, such as the right to confront and cross-examine his accusers to establish his innocence. In the case at bar, the DOJ Panel correctly adjudged that enough evidence had been adduced to establish probable cause and clarificatory hearing was unnecessary.

In other words, the Philippine Supreme Court directs that if the Secretary were to err in the exercise of quasi-judicial powers of determining probable cause, he should do so on the side of INDICTING the accused, instead of setting him free.

From all accounts, the Acting Secretary seems to be as astute as any individual who had previously held his position.  Thus, it becomes difficult to justify his decision on account of a mere catastrophic failure to appreciate the ruling in Webb v. De Leon.  Yet the other conclusion is simply too scary to contemplate.