Monday, December 31, 2012

Analysis on Impeachment of Chief Justice Corona

By Perfecto T. Raymundo Jr.

The Supreme Court, the country's highest judicial tribunal, was very much in the news in 2012 -- both in print and broadcast -- because of several significant events, topped by the impeachment trial and conviction from January to May of then Chief Justice Renato Corona.

After 43 trial days and hundreds of grueling hours of hearing, the Senate, sitting as impeachment court, declared Corona guilty as charged in three articles of impeachment filed by 188 members of the House of Representatives.

An overwhelming majority of senators, 20-3, voted for the removal of Corona from office, most of them noting that the top magistrate no longer deserved his post.

This made Corona the first government official and the first chief justice to be convicted by an impeachment court.

Two months before the end of 2012, the Supreme Court dismissed all the petitions questioning the validity of the impeachment complaint against Corona.

This was done through a three-page en banc resolution, where the SC said that there was no need anymore to discuss the constitutional issues as to the case, including the surrounding questions as to the legality of the signatures of the 188 congressmen who filed the impeachment complaint.

The SC said that since the new chief justice has been installed and Corona is no longer in power, thus, it is sound to dismiss the case on the ground the petitions have become moot.

"Indeed, the recent turn of events, including the appointment of a new chief justice, has rendered the petitions before us moot. Wherefore, we dismiss the consolidated petitions on the ground of mootness," the SC said.

Corona was convicted of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust on May 29, 2012 by the Senate Impeachment Court.

The SC noted Corona immediately accepted the verdict and without any protest vacated his office.

President Benigno S. Aquino III appointed on Aug. 24, 2012 SC Associate Justice Maria Lourdes P. Aranal Sereno as the 24th Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines.

Sereno is the first woman chief justice of the highest court of the land and will be the longest-serving one because her term will expire on Aug. 16, 2030.

Sereno was born on July 2, 1960. She was the first appointee of President Aquino in the Judiciary on Aug. 16, 2010.

She finished her A.B. from the Ateneo De Manila University in 1980, LL.B. from the University of the Philippines as valedictorian and cum laude in 1984 and LL.M. from the University of Michigan (United States) in 1993.

She was an associate professor of the U.P. College of Law from 1986 to 2006 and executive director of the Asian Institute of Management Policy Center from 2009 to 2010.

Sereno has so far maintained the policy of "dignified silence," stressing the justices will be known through the decisions they are writing.

In fact, she has declined all media interviews.

Other significant events that took place in the SC during the year include:

* SC stops Cybercrime Law implementation

On Oct. 9, 2012, the Supreme Court stopped the implementation of Republic Act No. 10175, otherwise known as the "Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012," after it received several petitions questioning the constitutionality of the law.

After the regular en banc session of the justices, the SC issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against R.A. 10175.

With a unanimous voting, 14 justices decided to vote in favor of the issuance of the TRO.

The petitioners are the National Press Club (NPC), Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance (PIFA) and Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Teddy Casino.

They argued the provision of the law on cyber libel is unconstitutional because it allegedly infringes on the right of the people to express their sentiment.

They questioned Sections 4 to 8 and Sections 11, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 21 and 22 of the Cybercrime Law.

They further argued that the said provisions are criminalizing libel on the internet, empowering the authorities to collect, examine, confiscate and block computer data, as well as authorizing the Department of Justice to block access to computer data with prima facie or with blatant violation of the provision of the law.

The SC has set the oral arguments on the case on Jan. 13, 2013.

* SC affirms the validity of Comelec's purchase of P1.8-B PCOS machines

On Oct. 23, 2012, the Supreme Court affirmed with finality the validity of the Commission on Elections' purchase of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines worth P1.8 billion to be used for the May 13, 2013 synchronized automated mid-term elections.

With a vote of eight justices out of 11 present, the SC affirmed the court's June 13 ruling and dismissed the appeal filed by the Automated Election System Watch.

Associate Justice Diosdado M. Peralta wrote the decision which was concurred in by Chief Justice Sereno, Associate Justices Presbitero J. Velasco Jr., Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro, Lucas C. Bersamin, Roberto A. Abad, Jose C. Mendoza and Bienvenido L. Reyes.

Associate Justices Arturo D. Brion and Estela Perlas-Bernabe joined Martin S. Villarama Jr. in the dissent.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio and Associate Justices Mariano C. Del Castillo and Jose P. Perez were absent during the deliberations. Carpio and Perez are on wellness leave, while Del Castillo is on personal leave.

* Aquino names Leonen as 172nd SC justice

On Nov. 21, 2012, President Aquino appointed government chief peace negotiator Marvic Leonen as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, the 172nd in the country's history.

With his appointment, Leonen takes the record as being the youngest to be appointed to the SC in the 21st century.

Leonen turns 50 on Dec. 29, 2012.

Prior to his appointment, the youngest to be appointed Associate Justice of the SC was Sereno, who was appointed in 2010 when she was 50.

Leonen filled up the position vacated by Sereno after Aquino appointed her as the Philippines' 24th Chief Justice.

He was credited for crafting the framework peace agreement between the Aquino government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Leonen is a law professor known in environmental activism and community organizing.

In 2008, he was selected as the Dean of the U.P. College of Law by the Board of Regents, serving as Dean until the appointment of incumbent Dean Danilo L. Concepcion in June 2011.

Leonen has inhibited himself from the petitions pending before the SC questioning the constitutionality of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement.

However, he was assigned as the ponente or the writer of the decision in the case involving the P366-milion plunder case against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and some former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) officials now pending before the SC.

* SC affirms junking of multiple murder raps vs. Lacson

The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court exonerating former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Panfilo Lacson of multiple murder charges pertaining to the Kuratong Baleleng rubout case.

In a ruling dated Nov. 13, 2012 but released only on Dec. 5, the SC said it agreed with Quezon City RTC Branch 81 Presiding Judge Ma. Theresa Yadao when she dismissed the murder case on Nov. 12, 2003 because documentary records, including the affidavits of the policemen-witnesses, failed to establish probable cause against Lacson and other police officials implicated in the case.

The RTC noted the police officers who stood as witnesses "took no part in the operations against the Kuratong Baleleng Gang members."

In its ruling written by Associate Justice Roberto A. Abad, the SC affirmed the Quezon City RTC's observation that witness Sr. Insp. Abelardo Ramos issued conflicting statements before the RTC and the Office of the Ombudsman, which originally heard the case before it got transferred to the Quezon City RTC Branch 81.

In his testimony before the Ombudsman, Ramos said he was not present during the arrest of Kuratong Baleleng gang members in ParaƱaque City and the succeeding shootout in Quezon City.

He added he was in Bulacan on the day of the shooting and was at his home the following day.

However, in his separate testimony before the Quezon City RTC, Ramos reversed his story and said that he belonged to the team that both arrested and "executed the plan to gun down" the Kuratong Baleleng gang members.

"The Court cannot be less skeptical than Judge Yadao was in doubting the sudden reversal after six years of testimony of these witnesses," the SC said.

The SC also noted how the prosecution "skipped" the Court of Appeals when it directly filed its petition for certiorari before the SC to question Judge Yadao's dismissal of the case.

* Gov't wins coconut levy funds case vs. Cojuangco

On Dec. 10, 2012, the government won its case against businessman Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco Jr. in connection with the coconut levy funds case.

This, after the Supreme Court ruled that subject shares in the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) are government-owned.

In a ruling of the SC en banc written by Associate Justice Presbitero J. Velasco Jr. dated Nov. 27, 2012, the SC denied the petition of Cojuangco questioning the ruling of the Sandiganbayan in July 2003 which declared that the subject shares as part of assets were illegally acquired from coconut levy funds.

With a vote of eight justices and six inhibitions, the government won its case.

"The UCPB shares transferred to defendant Cojuangco are hereby declared conclusively owned by the Republic of the Philippines to be used only for the benefit of all coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry, and ordered reconveyed to the government," the SC ruling said.

The government won the case, through the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), after the SC argued that by using the word "conclusively," the SC has declared incontrovertible the evidence presented in the case.

The SC said that the Sandiganbayan's ruling was tenable in nullifying the May 25, 1975 deal of the Philippine Coconut Administration (PCA), which transferred to Cojuangco by way of compensation 10% of the 72.2% First United Bank (now UCPB) shares of stocks that the PCA purchased from his uncle, Pedro Cojuangco, using the coconut levy funds.

Philippine Economy Excellent Despite Natural Calamities

The year 2012 saw Central Luzon hit by calamity when torrential monsoon rains triggered widespread flooding that destroyed crops, infrastructures and disrupted the lives of thousands of residents.

But the region's economy has proven its strength and resilience once again as boosted by vibrant tourism and industry sector that generated more employment opportunities and the continuous influx of foreign and local tourists.

Although the economic performance in the agriculture and fishery sectors slowed down due to the devastation brought by the monsoon rains last August, it managed to cope up with the challenges through the full support of the government.

Data from the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) in Central Luzon showed that total damages to agriculture was pegged at P1.095 billion; palay and corn, P371.36 million, livestock, P10.25 million; high-value crops, P22.27 million and fisheries, P691.63 million.

Central Luzon' economy has always exhibited resiliency despite devastating weather disturbance, NEDA regional director Severino Santos said.

Santos said government rehabilitation and recovery programs have been successful particularly for crop production.

Andrew Villacorta, regional director of the Department of Agriculture (DA) said the Central Luzon has played big part in the country's improved palay production.

"We have increased palay harvest in Central Luzon this year despite being hit by torrential rains," Villacorta said.

Records from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics showed that palay and corn production in Central Luzon in the third quarter of the year increased to 211,306 and 15,755 metric tons, respectively, which is higher compared to the same period last year with 171,334 and 12,212 metric tons, respectively.

Santos was confident that the continued collaboration between the private and government sector will continue its sustainable and moderate growth in 2013.

Investments/Job Opportunities

The impressive performance of the three freeports in the region, namely Subic, Clark and Freeport Area of Bataan stimulated the local economy.

Subic has grown into a premier logistics, tourism and investments hub, with over 1,500 locators doing their business in the Freeport and generating close to 90,000 jobs.

"Subic Bay Freeport is vibrant, a very exciting place especially now that a lot of attention has been focused on the Philippines because of reforms initiated by the administration," SBMA chairman and administrator Roberto Garcia said.

The number of workers inside the Clark Freeport continued to rise with more than 70,000 this year.

Clark Development Corporation (CDC) chair and officer-in-charge Eduardo Oban, Jr. said the improvement on the employment in Clark was an indication that the freeport zone is becoming an investment haven for multi-national firms.

Oban has expressed hope that the opening of other tourism-related projects in Clark will also increase employment opportunities, not only for the residents of the Metro Clark area, but also in the adjacent provinces of Tarlac and Pampanga.

Meanwhile, the Authority Freeport Area of Bataan (AFAB), has increased the number of its registered locators from 35 in 2010 to 73 in November this year.


Improved infrastructures, specifically the modern North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway led to hefty growth rates in tourist arrivals in Central Luzon.

Ronnie Tiotuico, regional director of the Department of Tourism (DOT) said the two expressways have contributed substantially to the growth of travel and tourism in the region.

Likewise, he said the SBMA and CDC have been strengthening their bid to become premier tourist destinations in the region.

The SBMA and CDC have been vigorously pursuing the tourism market due to numerous natural attractions to offer, aside from the modern amenities that are uniquely placed inside a peaceful and well-maintained environment, he said.

A phenomenal increase in the passenger volume at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) was also noted this year.

Clark International Airport Corporation (CIAC) president and CEO Victor Jose I. Luciano said the DMIA has achieved for the first time an unprecedented one million passengers in just 10 months of 2012.

Luciano said he expected "an increase and steady flow of travelers, tourists, balikbayans and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) this December in time for the holidays."

"At the rate we sre going, we expect to service close to 1.4 million passengers by year end," he added.

Peace and Order

Another significant aspect that the public and private sectors in the region feel proud of was the generally peaceful and orderly situation in the region.

Chief Supt. Edgardo Ladao, Central Luzon police director, described the overall peace and order condition prevailing in the seven provinces as conducive to development efforts.

Crime statistics from the Regional Investigation and Detection Management Division (RIDMD) showed the crime volume from January to October this year decreased by about 39.09 percent.

This was greatly attributed to the strong partnership among the police, the community and the local government units (LGUs).

Economic Outlook for 2013

The NEDA and the Pampanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PamCham) agreed that 2013 would be a good year for the region's economy.

The NEDA's forecast was due to an increase in investors' confidence as well as a rebound in agricultural production.

Jim Jimenez, PamCham president, said the anti-corruption efforts of the administration have boosted the confidence of investors in the government.

Likewise, PamCham vice chairman Rene Romero said the local economy is now getting healthier as projected.

LPG Price in Philippines Reduced in 2013

Despite the price increases on petroleum products, independent refillers grouped under the Liquefied Petroleum Gas Marketers' Association (LPG-MA) are rolling back their prices of the cooking fuel by P2 per kilo effective midnight.

"Owing to the sustained drop in the international contract price of LPG, we are further reducing prices by P2 per kilo, or by P22 for every 11-kilogram cylinder," the LPG-MA said on Monday.

"We see softer LPG prices in the weeks ahead. Hopefully, this will just be the first of our price cutbacks for 2013," the group said.

Independent refillers not aligned with the big oil companies tend to sell LPG at prices up to 20 percent lower than branded cooking gas.

LPG-MA party-list Rep. Arnel Ty said the international contract price of LPG has been steadily declining on account of weaker demand from the slowing economies of the United States and Europe.

"The stronger peso has also made it somewhat cheaper for Philippine importers to buy LPG in dollars overseas," he noted.

The peso-dollar exchange rate closed at P41.19 to a US dollar on the last trading day of 2012, up 6.21 percent from P43.92 a year ago.

Meanwhile, amid the rash of accidental fires, Ty renewed his appeal for the swift passage of a bill proposing to establish a one-time exchange program for the benefit of consumers possessing dilapidated LPG cylinders.

The 55-member of the House of Representatives' committee on trade and industry previously endorsed the bill for floor debate and approval.

"The bill is in the public's best interest, as it will surely promote the safe consumption of LPG," said Ty.

He said the LPG Cylinder Exchange, Swapping and Rehabilitation Program contained in House Bill 3976 would systematically remove and replace all defective and substandard drums in the open market.

"This will definitely minimize the risk of accidental fires that may be caused by unsafe cylinders," he added.

Ty said the cylinder exchange scheme is just one of the features of the bill, which basically sets the minimum fair standards of business conduct for all LPG industry participants, from importers and refiners down to neighborhood dealers.

The proposed measure ensures that every LPG cylinder coming out of a refilling plant has gone through rigorous safety tests. Cylinders damaged from normal wear and tear would be promptly detected, repaired and re-qualified, or scrapped, as the case may be.

Strong Philippine Economy No Longer Sick Man of Asia

President Benigno S. Aquino III called on Filipinos to continue fostering the spirit of "bayanihan" (cooperation) to improve the image of the Philippines as the former "Sick Man of Asia" into the revitalized tiger it is today.

In his New Year's message delivered Monday, the President said that only after two and a half years in Office, his Administration was able to achieve historic feats.

These included, the President said, building lasting peace through the signing of a Framework Agreement with the MILF, attaining rice sufficiency by plugging leaks and properly managing rice production in the agriculture sector, bridging the classroom gap, alleviating poverty by investing in social and infrastructure endeavors, bringing electricity to far-flung sitios and improving the economy which has now grown 7.1 percent to be the best performer in Asia.

He added by implementing reforms in the judiciary and improving the country's ability to respond to natural calamities, the Philippines has shown to the entire world the readiness of Filipinos to sacrifice and dedicate his entire self to achieve his dreams and ambitions.

The President's New year's message (full text):

"Kay bilis po talaga ng panahon: Ito na po ang ikatlong bagong taon na ipagdiriwang ng sambayanan sa tuwid na daan. At hindi po maikakaila na sinasalubong natin ang bawat pagpapalit ng taon nang may matibay na pag-asa at kompiyansang mas magiging makabuluhan, at higit na makahulugan ang mga susunod pang taon sa landas ng tapat at mabuting pamamahala.

"Kung dati, milyun-milyong tonelada ng bigas ang nabubulok sa mga warehouse dahil sa maling pamamalakad, ngayon, dahil sa tamang pamamahala, hindi na lamang rice self-sufficiency, kundi ang pag-e-export ng matataas na klase ng bigas ang habol natin pagdating ng 2013.

"Ang minana natin mula sa ating sinundan ---66, 800 na kakulangan sa silid aralan. Ang pamana ng tuwid na landas sa mga kabataan---sapat na classroom, sapat na mesa't upuan, sapat na aklat, para sa kanilang mas mayamang kinabukasan.

"Matagal rin po tayong binansagang 'Sick Man of Asia.' Subalit dahil sa pambihirang arangkada ng ating ekonomiya, sunud-sunod ang mga namumuhunan sa ating bansa. At mukhang magpapatuloy ang ganitong kompiyansa ng mundo sa atin ---ang 7.1 percent na pag-angat ng GDP nitong 3rd quarter, ay higit sa inaasahang target ng mga dalubhasa, at siyang pinakamataas sa buong Timog Silangang Asya.

"Hindi lang po rito nagtatapos ang pagbuhos ng mabubuting balita, tagumpay at biyaya sa bansa.

"Mula sa patuloy na pag-angat ng all time high ng Philippine Stock Exchange, hanggang sa pagpapanday ng pangmatagalang kapayapaan sa Bangsamoro; mula sa pagliwanag ng libu-libong mga sitio, hanggang sa pagkakapasa ng ilang makasaysayang batas; mula sa pagpapantay sa timbangan ng katarungan hanggang sa kahandaan at bayanihan ng sambayanan sa harap ng mga pagsusungit ng kalikasan, pinapatunayan natin sa buong mundo ---basta't handa tayong gawin ang tama't magsakripisyo para sa ating kapwa, basta't sumasagwan tayo nang sabay sa ngalan ng sambayanan, walang pangarap na hindi kayang abutin ang ating bansa.

"Simula lamang po ito. Sa totoo lang po, ang kaisa-isang limitasyon sa tayog ng ating mararating ay ang ating ambisyon.

"Nasa pagtutulungan at tiwala natin sa isa't isa ang susi ng tagumpay. Ang 2013 ay kritikal na yugto sa ating krusada ng pangmatagalang kaunlaran at tuwid na pamamahala. Ngayong bagong taon, mas maigting na pagkakaisa ang kailangan.

"Umaasa akong magiging mapanuri ang taumbayan sa pagkilatis ng mga itatalagang pinuno.

"Ang mga pinunong ito ang tutugon sa panawagan nating isulong ang dangal at katapatan sa paglilingkod-bayan. Ang mga pinunong ito ang aasahan nating didilig sa mga repormang ating ipinunla.

"Kaya naman mahalaga ang ating paninindigan at pagtitimbang kung saang direksyon tutungo ang ating bansa. Sabay-sabay ba tayong sasagwan patungo sa landas kung saan nangingibabaw ang kapakanan ng Pilipino, o hahayaan lang natin na muling matangay ang Pilipinas sa mga daluyong ng panlalamang, pagkakanya-kanya't kurapsyon?

"Ang aking hiling ngayong 2013 ---ituloy lang natin ang bayanihan. Kapit-bisig tayong humakbang tungo sa maliwanag at masaganang kinabukasan ng ating bayan.

Plane Crash in the Philippines Changes Government Leadership

By Jelly Musico

A plane crash that killed Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo last August 18 has led to a change of leadership at the Dept. of Transportation and Communication (DOTC).

But this hardly affected the reforms implemented by former DOTC chief Mar Roxas for year 2012.

New Secretary Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya lived up to his promise to continue the plans and programs that Roxas started in the DOTC to assure efficient, safe and convenient transportation throughout the country.

Before replacing Robredo in the DILG, Roxas launched major infrastructure projects in the DOTC in line with the 'Tuwid na Daan' (straight path) slogan of President Benigno Aquino III.

Topping the list of the major infra projects the DOTC bidded out was the much-awaited P60-billion Light Rail Transit Line 1 Extension to Cavite.

Once the Cavite extension is completed, the LRT Line 1 will increase the train's span from 20.7 kms to 32.4 kms, with approximately 10.5 kms of the extension elevated and 1.2 kms at grade.

Another P30 billion will be used to acquire up to 39 new light rail vehicles to avoid the need for raising fares.

Every day, more than 500,000 commuters use the existing Line 1 from Baclaran in Pasay City to Roosevelt in Quezon City.

The southern part of Metro Manila and neighboring Cavite province are home to nearly four million people.

Four companies have passed pre-qualification bidding.

These are DMCI Holdings Inc, Light Rail Manila Consortium, MTD-Samsung Consortium and San Miguel Infrastructure Resources Inc.

Abaya said the DOTC will announce the winning bidder by April next year.

Aside from the 39 new LRT Line 1 vehicles, the DOTC will also acquire additional 26 MRT 3 trains as part of the MRT to improve its services in line with the pending fare increase next year.

The DOTC also expects to bid out in the first quarter of next year another project extending the P9.76 billion LRT Line 2 Extension to Antipolo, according to Abaya.

The LRT 2 Extension Project involves adding 4.2 kms to the railway from the existing Santolan station at Marcos Highway, Pasig City, all the way to the intersection of Marcos Highway and Sumulong Highway at Masinag, Cainta.

The project, which will serve an additional 130,000 passengers from the current 240,000, is scheduled for completion before the end of President Benigno Aquino III's term in 2016.

The existing LRT 2 is a 13.8-km mass transit line that cuts across five cities in Metro Manila, namely Pasig, Marikina, Quezon City, San Juan and Manila, and passes the major thoroughfares of Marcos Highway, Aurora Boulevard, Ramon Magsaysay Boulevard, Legarda Street and Recto Avenue.

To reduce deaths due to road accidents involving motorcycles, the Land Transportation Office, in partnership with the Dept, of Trade and Industry, has finalized the implementation rules and guidelines of the Helmet Law.

Motorcycle riders have until December 31 to get their helmets validated with the proper sticker from the DTI.

In line with Aquino administration's effort to improve air transportation and to increase tourist arrivals, the DOTC has also bid out rehabilitation and construction of seven airports worth P303 million including one in San Vicente near the world famous Puerto Princesa Underground River.

The DOTC will also spend P341 million to construct and rehabilitate more than a thousand toilets in airports, seaports and train stations.

A total 111 toilets will be built in facilities managed by the Manila International Airport Authority; 63 in MRT3 stations; 63 in LRT stations; 54 in Land Transportation Office units; and 36 in Philippine National Railways stations – all in the National Capital Region.

Recently, the DOTC and DTI approved the Air Passenger Bill of Rights after series of public consultations with all stakeholders including airline companies.

The Air Passenger Bill of Rights aims to protect travelers from what are perceived to be abusive practices by local and foreign airlines.

It provides guidelines on several airline practices, including overbooking, rebooking, ticket refunds, cancelled and delayed flights, lost luggage and misleading advertisements on fares.

The untimely death of Robredo has prompted Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines to clean its house after some CAAP officers have been suspended for supposed conniving with Robredo's plane pilot Capt. Jessup Bahinting for issuance of a certificate of airworthiness without proper tests.