Bersamin: It was as if Leonen broke SC vow of silence
It was as if a vow of silence was violated in the Supreme Court when it came up with what is now regarded as a landmark decision citing humanitarian reasons for allowing Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile temporary freedom on a supposedly nonbailable crime of plunder.
The behind-the-scene workings in the high tribunal came into public view on Tuesday as a copy of Justice Lucas Bersamin’s rejoinder to the widely publicized dissenting opinion on the Enrile case penned by Justice Marvic Leonen was secured by reporters.
Bersamin’s retort on Leonen’s blast was supposed to be discussed Tuesday in the court sitting en banc but sources in the tribunal said this was delayed for next week.
The Supreme Court, voting 8-4, allowed Enrile to post a P1.4-million bail, citing humanitarian considerations. Enrile, 91, who has been detained for nearly a year, is facing a plunder charge in connection with the P10-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund scam allegedly perpetrated by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
The senator earlier obtained a ruling from the Supreme Court granting his petition for the issuance of a bill of particulars, which would compel government prosecutors to disclose specific details of the crime imputed to him.
Bersamin had asked Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno to include in Tuesday’s agenda his letter complaining against Leonen’s “unprecedented invasion” of the autonomy of the majority and “gross distortions” in Leonen’s dissenting opinion.
In a five-page rejoinder circulated to other justices, Bersamin, who wrote the ponencia, or the majority opinion, denied Leonen’s insinuation that the final version passed around for signature was not the one voted upon during the court’s session on Aug. 18.
Bersamin also said he had the “impression” that Leonen was blaming the majority justices for signing the final version despite having not known its contents.
Leonen, in his dissenting opinion, claimed that the final copy passed around by Bersamin “was not the version voted upon” during their earlier deliberation.
Leonen said the copy was “substantially” the Aug. 14 version that granted bail on humanitarian grounds which Bersamin had declared he was abandoning in favor of an earlier version that granted bail as a matter of right and based on the existing of two mitigating circumstances—health and voluntary surrender.
Bersamin described Leonen’s insinuation as “false and unreasonable.”
“First, he (Leonen) and other members of the minority cast their vote against the ponencia while eight of us (including myself) cast our vote in favor; and, second, he knew as much as any other member of the court voting on Aug. 18, 2015, that I have never substantially varied from the first large draft that I submitted for deliberations [for the session on] Feb. 24, 2015,” Bersamin said.
He added that Leonen should mind only the vote of the minority and should respect those in the majority.
“I wish to state that Justice Leonen overstepped the bounds of respect for the majority. Once the vote was taken he had absolutely no business implying anything against him the majority had voted, or how their consensus had been reached. He was a member of the minority; he should have stayed there. He should have confined himself to expressing his losing views. He should not fret, and assail the process that he could not control from his side of the vote. This is the context in which I view and regard his comments,” Bersamin said.
He also revealed that two other justices signed Leonen’s dissent even before the dissent was completed.
“If Justice Leonen should really insist that I was guilty of any irregularity in obtaining signatures on my final version without the rest of the majority seeing first that version, he should first look at his side because two of them signed in favor of his dissenting opinion days before the opinion he wrote for them was completed. But I do not question the wisdom of their having done so out of my sincere and genuine respect for minority,” he said.
Bersamin recalled that Leonen approached him during the court’s session in Baguio City in April “to suggest to limit the justification for granting bail to humanitarian grounds.”
Leonen, Bersamin said, violated the confidentiality rule on court sessions, as stated in Section 2, Rule 10, of the Supreme Court’s internal rules, when he disclosed in his dissent how the decision was reached.
Section 2 states: “Court sessions are executive in character, with only the members of the court present. Court deliberations are confidential and shall not be disclosed to outside parties, except as may be provided herein or as authorized by the court.”
Bersamin said he felt compelled to issue his rejoinder, in self-defense, “because the comments of Justice Leonen, if left without rectification, might be held to be the truth.”
“Obviously, such comments were not the truth, but were the result of a self-righteous mindset,” he added.
“I could have tolerated the unfairness, except that the comments were published and soon unavoidably became fodder for people of closed minds and clear biases to criticize my intelligence, regionalism, loyalty and what else. In this age of the Internet, I simply cannot be tolerant but must respond,” Bersamin said.
For the en banc session on Aug. 18, Bersamin said he submitted a “pruned-down version” of his initial draft which excluded those pertaining to mitigating circumstances raised by Enrile.
“Otherwise, the pruned-down version included nothing new,” Bersamin said.
However, during the session, Leonen called to his letter posing several questions and asked for time to circulate a draft.
“I saw this as a move [by Leonen] to delay the vote. It was in exasperation more than anything else that I said I would revert to the original version, and that the case should now be put to a vote. Much discussions followed. Then the vote was taken,” Bersamin recounted.
He said the majority was “well aware” that what was to be voted on was the pruned-down version simply because there was no demand from any of them to still first see the original version; while on the part of those who voted against, none, including Justice Leonen, demanded to first see again the older version before voting.
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