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Supreme Court under fire over recall

High court ‘teetering on the abyss of incredulity’

SHOCK AND HOPE Some 70 members of the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (Fasap) stage a rally on Tuesday outside the Supreme Court building in Manila to protest the court’s recall of its September 7 ruling. The protesters express hope the high court will do what is just and right. NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

Brickbats fell on the Supreme Court Tuesday from its two coequal branches, after the high tribunal recalled a supposedly final decision on a plea by letter writer Estelito Mendoza.

Fearing a reversal of fortune, the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (Fasap) urged the court to explain the “compelling reason” behind the recall on October 4 of its ruling reinstating 1,400 of its members after a 13-year legal battle against Philippine Airlines (PAL).

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The court’s spokesperson, Midas Marquez, said on Monday the ruling should have been handled by the Special Third Division instead of the Second Division, a technicality which he said was pointed out in a letter by Mendoza, PAL’s blue chip lawyer.

“I think the Supreme Court owes us an apology for this shameful act,” Fasap spokesperson Dennis Ortiz said during a protest action outside the tribunal by scores of employees wearing black armbands who were sacked by PAL after a strike in 1998.

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“What compelling reason justified the Supreme Court recall?” Fasap said in a statement, pointing out that the Constitution provides that “no decision shall be rendered by any court without expressing therein clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based.”

Annabelle Lesaca, one of the dismissed employees, said she could not help but think that PAL owner Lucio Tan had “already bought the entire Philippines.”

“The Supreme Court must be sure not to make the same mistake again if ever this time the technicality was overlooked,” presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda told reporters. He described the ruling as “something out of the ordinary.”

Internal rules violated

Senator Miriam Santiago, a former Quezon City judge, called the reversal “extremely unfortunate,” pointing out that the tribunal apparently violated its own internal rules.

In an ambush interview, Santiago warned the court was “teetering on the abyss of incredulity” for acting in favor of PAL after receiving a “mere” letter from Mendoza.

“According to the internal rules of the SC, no second motion can be filed without prior permission from the Court. First, one has to file a motion pleading with the Court to allow the filing of a second motion. Only then can one file a second motion for reconsideration. Was there an order by the SC allowing the second motion? It was not even a motion but a mere letter,” she noted.

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The court’s internal rules, Santiago said, dictate that there shall be no second motion “except when the original decision is legally erroneous, patently unjust or will probably result in irreparable damage or injury.”

“I am angry because I fear citizens would turn (their) back against the bulwark of civil liberty.  It would be impossible to regain it once it loses it this instant,” she fumed.

Flip-flopping

Senator Franklin Drilon said the recall of the decision was not surprising because the court had also “flip-flopped” in decisions giving 16 towns the status of cities.

“There was already an entry of judgment yet the court also reconsidered and had a new decision. I am no longer surprised at the rate it is flip-flopping,” said Drilon, a former justice secretary.

Senator Francis Pangilinan warned that the reversal could result in a serious backlash against the tribunal.

“The ruling is a cause for serious concern.  Regardless of the parties involved and the arguments given, the public perception it creates casts doubt on the image and reputation of the SC as a court of last resort and a bulwark of democracy,” he explained.

“How can the public know for certain that a case will be decided with finality when its decisions can so quickly be recalled? The uncertainty it brings is a cause for concern especially for countless of petitioners who have pending cases before the highest court of the land,” Pangilinan said.

Court of injustice

Anakpawis Representative Rafael Mariano said this latest court decision was “highly condemnable.”

He said it showed a pattern of successive antifarmer and antiworker decisions favoring business tycoons like Lucio Tan, Eduardo, “Danding” Cojuangco and the Cojuangco-Aquinos.

Mariano noted that the decision on the PAL cases followed the loss of workers in the coconut levy case and the Hacienda Luisita agrarian dispute.

“What happened to (the saying that) ‘those who have less in life should have more in law?’” Mariano asked.

He said the high tribunal was fast becoming the “high court of injustice” with the series of antipeople rulings it had issued on high profile cases of national concern.

“In the hierarchy of employees’ rights, the right to security of tenure is high, if not the highest. The paramount value of that right is recognized and guaranteed under the 1987 Constitution. The other complementary rights are meaningless to an unemployed worker,” he stressed.

Nothing to explain

Sought for comment, Marquez said: “I’ve explained everything there is to explain regarding the issue at this time. I don’t see the necessity to react to that anymore.”

Lucio Tan and his companies have been getting favorable decisions in its legal battles.

Last month, the Court of Appeals allowed PAL to proceed with its P730-million damage suit against its former pilots who staged a labor strike that crippled the flag carrier’s operations in June 1998.

On September 29, the National Labor Relations Commission junked the unfair labor practice case filed by the flag carrier’s ground crew union in connection with the airline’s alleged refusal to start negotiation for a new collective bargaining agreement early this year.

Last week, the appellate court awarded P68 million to Tan’s Asia Brewery Inc. regarding the damage suit it had filed against rival San Miguel Corp.

The appeals court also granted PAL’s petition questioning the excise tax levied by the Bureau on Internal Revenue on its imported jet fuel.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court approved the P491-million tax refund claim of Fortune Tobacco Corp., also a member of Lucio Tan Group of Companies. With reports from Norman Bordadora, Cynthia D. Balana and Tina G. Santos

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TAGS: Estelito Mendoza, Fasap, Government, Judiciary, Lucio Tan, PAL, Senate, Supreme Court
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