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Supreme Court clears Corona in PAL case

Chief Justice did no wrong, says court
By: - Reporter / @JeromeAningINQ
/ 12:52 AM March 22, 2012

Chief Justice Renato Corona PHOTO BY RICHARD REYES

The Supreme Court has cleared Chief Justice Renato Corona of wrongdoing in the recall of the tribunal’s controversial decision on a labor case filed by the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (Fasap).

The Fasap case was cited as one of the court’s “flip-flopping” decisions allowed by Corona and made a ground for his impeachment for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust.

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In a 30-page resolution dated March 13 but released only Wednesday, the court, voting 7-2, ordered the reraffling of the case after dismissing the allegations of impropriety over the tribunal’s entertaining four letters from Philippine Airlines lawyer Estelito Mendoza.

Fasap had complained that Mendoza’s letters prompted the recall by the court en banc of the Sept. 7, 2011, resolution by the court’s Second Division which had declared with finality that the retrenchment by PAL of 1,400 Fasap members in 1998 was illegal.

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“The recall was made by the court on its own before the ruling’s finality pursuant to the court’s power of control over its orders and resolutions. Thus, no due process issue ever arose,” the court held.

Corona inhibited

The high tribunal said Corona had no role in the recall as he had earlier inhibited himself from the case.

The court said Corona “acted only on the recommendation of the ruling division, since he had inhibited himself from participation in the case long before.”

“The confusion on this matter could have been brought about by the Chief Justice’s role as the presiding officer of the court en banc, and the fact that the four most senior justices of the court inhibited from participating in the case,” it said.

“In the absence of any clear personal malicious participation, it is neither correct nor proper to hold the Chief Justice personally accountable for the collegial ruling of the court en banc.”

Roberto Anduiza, Fasap president, testified last month before the Senate acting as an impeachment court. He claimed Corona  “meddled” in the recall of the resolution that would have decided with finality the 13-year-old labor case.

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Proper and legal

In the majority decision penned by Justice Arturo Brion, the court en banc said its Sept. 7, 2011, resolution “was a proper and legal move to make under the applicable laws and rules, and the indisputably unusual developments and circumstances of the case.”

Concurring with Brion were Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Roberto Abad, Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza and Bienvenido Reyes.

Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno wrote a 52-page dissenting opinion, which was backed by Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe.

Apart from Corona, five other justices took no part or had inhibited from the case: Antonio Carpio, Presbitero Velasco Jr. Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Mariano del Castilo and Martin Villarama Jr.

With the administrative questions resolved, the court said the case should now be raffled either to Justices Bersamin or Peralta—the remaining members of the Special Third Division that originally ruled on the case—so that the second motion for reconsideration filed by PAL may be resolved.

The court said the matter involved questions of jurisdiction and interpretation of conflicting provisions of the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court which was complicated by the successive retirement of three justices (in a five-member division), the series of inhibitions in the case, the reorganization of the divisions, and the timing of Mendoza’s letters, made after the division issued its ruling on Sept. 7, 2011, but before the parties received their copies.

Mendoza, in his letters, pointed out a “misapplication of the rules,” citing Section 4(3), Article VIII of the Constitution, which states that “cases or matters heard by a division shall be decided or resolved with the concurrence of a majority of the members who actually took part in the deliberations on the issues in the case and voted thereon, and in no case without the concurrence of at least three of such members…”

‘Flipping’

In her dissent, Sereno said the majority’s view had “opened a Pandora’s box full of future troubles for Philippine judicial decision-making.”

She said the majority’s ruling “opened for review a decision on the merits that had been unanimously agreed upon and affirmed by at least 10 justices sitting in three differently constituted divisions of this court for a staggering third time.”

“This extreme  ‘flipping’ was prompted not even by a formal motion for reconsideration by the losing party, but by four letters from its counsel addressed not to the court, but only to the clerk of court. The circumstances under which this flipping was made are so curiously strange where the five justices who voted to deny the second motion for reconsideration themselves initiated moves to prevent their promulgated decision from ever becoming final,” she said.

Sereno said the court en banc should revoke the recall of the Sept. 7, 2011, resolution and return the case to the Second Division, for reinstatement and finality of the ruling that declared the retrenchments illegal.

She said Mendoza’s letters should have been simply “noted.”

“The recall produced the very effect or perception that Justice Brion, speaking for the majority, wanted to avoid—flip-flopping on cases decided with finality on account of a prohibited second motion for reconsideration and personal correspondences by a party’s counsel. There can be no surer indication of flip-flopping than the subsequent and sudden denial of the petition in the main Fasap case on a second motion for reconsideration, despite the grant of the petition in three rulings by at least 10 justices,” she said.

Fourth review?

Rather than write finis to the Fasap case, the majority, Sereno added, has opened the floodgates anew for a fourth review of the main case.

“If this court is to adhere to its character as a court of last resort, it must stop giving never-ending refuge to parties who obstinately seek to resist execution of our final decisions on the sole ground of their counsel’s creativity in re-labelling a prohibited second motion for reconsideration, or the changing composition of the three divisions of this court. Otherwise, the court might as well lay to rest in the sepulcher the founding judicial principles of immutability of judgments and res judicata,” she said.

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TAGS: Corona Impeachment, Fasap, Judiciary, Labor, PAL, Renato Corona, Supreme Court
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