Duterte SC ‘brods’ under fire
Associate Justices Jose Catral Mendoza and Bienvenido Reyes should inhibit themselves from participating in any election case brought to the Supreme Court that could have implications in the presidential candidacy of their fraternity brother, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, supporters of his rivals said on Wednesday.
The two magistrates attended an exclusive meeting of San Beda College’s Lex Talionis fraternity on Friday during which OFW Family party-list Rep. Roy Señeres was urged to withdraw from the May presidential elections in favor of Duterte, according to those who attended the gathering.
Señeres, who cofounded the fraternity along with Mendoza and Reyes, sought to downplay the Inquirer report yesterday that the justices attempted to persuade him to give up his candidacy. “It’s not true that they joined the discussion on the possibility of giving way to Mayor Duterte. They were quiet,” Señeres told reporters. He said he rejected the overtures.
Former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, a senatorial candidate of the administration Liberal Party, said magistrates should exercise a “high level of restraint in public and social life.”
“Definitely the kind of intervention reported here would at the very least justify inhibition from participating in any court ruling that would involve any presidential candidate in order to remove any appearance that the court is already partial to a specific candidate,” De Lima told the Inquirer when asked for comment.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, an independent reelectionist who is supporting Sen. Grace Poe’s presidential bid, asked the two justices to confirm if they did try to coax Señeres to pull out of the race.
“If they would confirm the meeting, then they are expected to abstain from participating in all cases involving Poe and Duterte that would be brought to the Supreme Court,” Trillanes said in a statement.
Poe is currently fighting efforts to disqualify her from next year’s presidential race over allegations she is not a natural-born Filipino required under the Constitution. Duterte’s late submission of his certificate of candidacy for President as a substitute PDP-Laban standard-bearer also faces legal challenges.
Sen. Sergio Osmeña III said justices should be “neutral” since they would decide on cases that would be appealed before them. “I know justices are not supposed to be interfering in political matters,” Osmeña told reporters.
In an interview with reporters, Señeres confirmed that he and the two magistrates attended the lunch meeting hosted by their fraternity brothers from San Beda College of Law but dismissed suggestions that they coaxed him to withdraw from next year’s balloting.
Señeres said that two practicing lawyers from the group broached the idea of his withdrawal but this was not pursued any further after he flatly declared he was pushing through with his presidential plan. He identified only one of the lawyers—Vitaliano Aguirre, a member of the House impeachment team in the trial of then Chief Justice Renato Corona. Aguirre is Duterte’s lead legal counsel and head of the “Brotherhood for Duterte,” a multisectoral group which claims to have 2 million supporters.
Another fraternity brother, former Commission on Elections Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr., stayed quiet during the discussions on his withdrawal, Señeres said. Brillantes is supporting the Poe candidacy.
Señeres said that based on his personal review of Duterte’s case, the Davao mayor was unlikely to be disqualified.
“We will have to face each other next year,” he added.
“I was with my brods for just 30 minutes because I had to hurry to a TV interview,” said Señeres in claiming that the magistrates did not participate in the discussions of his possible withdrawal. He said Aguirre was looking for an alternative option for Duterte if his move to run for President as a substitute candidate gets derailed in the Comelec.
The Inquirer tried to get the side of the justices through the Supreme Court’s public information office but the staff said they were not authorized to issue any statement on the matter.
“Any statement from a justice must be cleared with the other justices since the court is a collegial body,” said a court official who asked not to be named for lack of clearance to speak to the media.
One of the justices, the source said, had already prepared a statement reacting to the Inquirer story and even gave advance copies to the media. However, the statement had not yet been cleared for official release at press time.
The Supreme Court held its final regular en banc session for the year on Tuesday. It will convene in a special en banc session on Dec. 16 to tackle several issues. With reports from Fe Zamora, Jerome Aning and Christine O. Avendaño
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