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 Parañaque 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.