Senate: No subpoena for 4 Supreme Court justices
The Senate impeachment court denied Wednesday night the prosecution’s motion to subpoena four associate justices of the Supreme Court to testify on Chief Justice Renato Corona’s participation in an October 2011 en banc session that led to a resolution favoring Philippine Airlines (PAL).
Explaining its ruling, the impeachment court presided over by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile cited among other reasons the separation of powers among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government; the confidentiality of the high court’s sessions and respect for its internal rules.
The resolution said the impeachment court could not subpoena Associate Justices Martin Villarama Jr., Ma. Lourdes Sereno, Bienvenido Reyes and Presbitero Velasco Jr. to testify on Corona’s participation and to bring documents pertaining to the Oct. 4, 2011, full-court session without “transgressing on the basic constitutional principle of separation of powers.”
“This court is bound to respect the internal rules of the Supreme Court, which is a coequal branch of government under the Constitution,” the impeachment court said in a resolution.
It added that the internal rules of the high court were promulgated in accordance with its lawmaking power, citing Section 5 of the 1987 Constitution.
The court said that the separation of powers demands a “prudent refusal to interfere.”
“Each department, it has been said, had exclusive cognizance of matters within its recognition, and is supreme within its own sphere. It is thus clear on matters affecting only the internal operations of legislature, the legislative’s formulation and implementation of its rules is beyond the reach of this court. If this is so, then this court has no authority to interfere with nor undermine the control of the Supreme Court over its internal rules,” it said.
The House prosecution had sought the subpoenas for the four justices in connection with its prosecution of Corona on Article 3, which refers to the culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust for his “failure to meet and observe the stringent standards of the Constitution that a member of the judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity and independence in allowing the Supreme Court to act on mere letters filed by a counsel, which caused the issuance of flip-flopping decisions in final and executory cases.”
The full-court session on Oct. 4, 2011, led to the tribunal’s issuance of a resolution recalling its earlier ruling reinstating 1,400 flight attendants and stewards and ordering payment of P2.3 billion in back wages.
The cabin crew members were retrenched by PAL after they went on strike in 1998.
Testifying on Day 14 of Corona’s trial, Roberto Anduiza, president of the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (Fasap), said the justices who, along with Corona, took part in the en banc ruling should also be held liable.
“If we find out that they did so, even they have a liability,” Anduiza said.
Senator Alan Peter Cayetano elicited the answer from Anduiza while propounding questions as to why he singled out Corona for prosecution on the third impeachment article over the full-court resolution of Oct. 4, 2011, that appeared to recall an earlier ruling against PAL in connection with the retrenchment.
“It should be clear to us, and to the whole country, that if we impeach the Chief Justice based on a decision, how different is the liability of the division or the en banc from the liability of one justice?” Cayetano said before returning to his seat.
Earlier, under cross-examination by lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas, Anduiza said he had no complaint against the other justices who consistently inhibited themselves from the case. He also said he had no knowledge if the decision was unanimous.
Called back for cross-examination by the defense, Anduiza maintained that Corona’s participation in the full-court session on the case in 2011, after inhibiting himself since the case was raffled off in 2008, led to the reversal of a July 2008 ruling of the high court reinstating the cabin crew members and ordering the payment of their back wages.
2 motions for reconsideration
The prosecution asserted that the 2011 resolution recalled the 2008 main ruling. But the defense argued that this only recalled the high court’s denial of a second motion for reconsideration filed by PAL, and that the main ruling still stood.
After the 1,400 cabin crew members were retrenched after going on strike in 1998, Fasap filed a case in the National Labor Relations Commission and won.
The case reached the high court 10 years later. In a July 2008 decision written by Associate Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, the high court ordered the reinstatement of the crew members and the payment of P2.3 billion in back wages.
The decision was final and executory.
PAL filed a motion for reconsideration (MR), which was denied. It filed another one, which was again denied.
But on Oct. 4, 2011, the high court issued a resolution on an administrative matter arising from the letter of PAL lawyer Estelito Mendoza, in effect recalling the earlier ruling. It said this was issued by the second division instead of the third division.
‘Odd man out’
Cayetano asked the prosecutor, Akbayan Representative Arlene Bag-ao, if her team had considered filing an impeachment complaint against the other justices who reopened the case.
“That was not part of our preparation,” Bag-ao said.
When asked why he singled out Corona, Anduiza said: “He’s the odd man out. He inhibited himself, then participated, and then inhibited himself again.”
Proof of this, he said, was the fact that Corona was not among the justices who were mentioned as having “no participation” in the October 2011 session, which meant that Corona had indeed participated. This was confirmed by Bag-ao.
Under questioning by Cuevas, Anduiza agreed that Corona did not take part in a later resolution on Oct. 18, en banc resolution also on the case, but maintained that he took part in the Oct. 4, 2011, resolution.
Anduiza, however, admitted he had no knowledge of the high court’s rules and regulations.
“No, sir. Those who inhibited themselves had consistently inhibited themselves all the way,” he said when asked by Cuevas if he had a complaint against other members of the division that revoked the earlier ruling.
Anduiza said he had no idea whether the recall order was unanimous. He said he was not seeking damages by appearing in the Senate impeachment court.
The prosecution said it would present more witnesses to prove its case in Article 3.
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