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Justice accuses colleague of ‘gross distortion’

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Supreme Court infighting

Justice accuses colleague of ‘gross distortion’

/ 07:31 PM August 24, 2015
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Copy of the letter-request of Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin has asked the Supreme Court to tackle in its en banc (full court) session Tuesday what he claims is another justice’s “gross distortion” of the high court’s decision allowing temporary liberty for Senator Juan Ponce Enrile.

In a one-page letter dated Aug. 24, 2015, Bersamin requested Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno to include in the agenda Associate Justice Marvic Leonen’s “unprecedented invasion of the autonomy of the Majority in arriving at its main opinion.”

Justice Bersamin also wanted the high court to correct “the gross distortion contained in Justice Leonen’s dissent.”

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INQUIRER.net obtained a copy of the letter-request, as did other media organizations, through someone at the Supreme Court.

In his letter-request, Bersamin said Leonen’s words “have not only put me in bad light but worse also impugned the integrity of the seven members of the Court who joined my ponencia by claiming that they signed the ponencia without knowing the version they were joining.”

Leonen, in a strongly worded dissenting opinion, revealed that there was a surprising revision of the draft decision penned by Bersamin.

He said that in past deliberations, the debate had centered on two mitigating circumstances in Enrile’s plunder case – his advanced age at the time of commission of the alleged crime and his voluntary surrender – that would determine whether the penalty could be lowered.

Bersamin, according to Leonen’s dissenting opinion, “proposed the idea of dropping all discussion on legal points” on the bail plea and instead focus on humanitarian grounds during en banc deliberations on Aug. 11, thus revising his first draft.

The revision, which “centered on granting bail on the basis of [Enrile’s] medical condition,” was circulated to justices on Aug. 14, prompting Leonen to write a letter to his colleagues, seeking further discussion as several issues needed “to be threshed out thoroughly.”

However, Bersamin “did not agree to wait for a more extensive written reflection” on the points he raised in his letter, Leonen recalled. Instead, Bersamin pressed for a vote and told his colleagues that he was abandoning his revised draft this time, reverting instead to his first draft.

“Insisting on a vote, he thus declared that he was abandoning the Aug. 14, 2015, circulated draft centering on release on bail on humanitarian grounds for his earlier version premised on the idea that bail was a matter of right based on judicial notice and the judicial declaration of the existence of two mitigating circumstances,” Leonen said.

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It was thus the first version that the court voted on at 11 a.m. on Aug. 18: Eight voted in favor, four dissented, one inhibited, while two had no votes as they were on leave.

But Bersamin circulated a final copy of the majority opinion at 3 p.m. of the same day as magistrates heard the Torre de Manila case.

This copy, said Leonen in his dissent, “was not the version voted upon during the morning’s deliberation. Instead, it was “substantially” the Aug. 14 draft, which Bersamin had earlier said he was abandoning.

“The copy offered for signature was substantially the Aug. 14, 2015, circulated version granting bail on humanitarian grounds,” Leonen said, citing this as the cause for the delay of the release of the vote details, the full decision and his dissent.

“Ordinarily, the drafts of the dissents would have been available to all members of the court at the time the case was voted upon. But because the final version for signing was not the version voted upon, this member had to substantially revise his dissent,” Leonen said.

In his letter-request, Bersamin committed to circulating “after lunch today” [Monday, August 24] a rejoinder he was preparing, so it could be discussed in the en banc session on Tuesday. ASU/JN

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TAGS: bail, justice lucas bersamin, justice marvin leonen, Plunder, pork barrel scam, Priority Assistance Development Fund (PDAF), Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, Supreme Court
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