Press Release
December 16, 2009

Transcript of Sen. Santiagos interview

On the hearing of the committee on foreign affairs of the Commission on Appointments

The committee on foreign affairs of the Commission on Appointments, and the plenary session, approved the confirmation of three ambassadors. But the commission did not recommend to the plenary session, and as a consequence, Rep. Antonio Cuenco, who was presented for nomination by Pres. Arroyo, has not been acted upon by the committee, meaning to say he was not acted upon by the plenary session either. The basis is that Sen. Jinggoy Estrada said if we recommended Cong. Cuenco to the plenary session of the CA, he would oppose. And under the rules, the dreaded Rule 20 of the CA, just one member of the CA whether congressman or senator is sufficient to exercise a veto over a nomination unless it is the last day of session of a certain congress, and that was not the case today. The main objection of Sen. Estrada to Cong. Cuenco was that 1) the government would spend P10 million just to have him replace the present ambassador in Rome who of course would have to have his own relocation allowance. Taken together, the relocation allowance for the nominee plus that of the incumbent ambassador total some no less than P10 million.

And as pointed out by the labor union of the DFA, who has objected to the nomination, that would be too much of an expense for the Philippine government considering these are political ambassadors, that is to say they are not career ambassadors from the DFA, would only spend at most as six months in office since we will have a new president in May, and every new president is always entitled to his own political ambassadors. So if these two gentlemen are not reappointed by the new president, whoever that might be, then the P10 million government funding would have gone to waste.

Plus, the labor union of the DFA also objected to the age of the nominees, but there is a question there because in the past the CA has confirmed the nomination of certain ambassadors who are way over sixty-five years old. So the question of age will have to be decided by the legislature. I will bring it up in the floor starting January.

The question of the expense could not be explained away except that in the case of Amb. Benedicto who is now ambassador to China on his statement that he never avails of a relocation expense whenever he moves from one appointment to another. Because of that explanation, the CA approved his nomination.

There is also one point that we brought up very heatedly. Apparently, there is a process in the VFA of issuing a document requesting the receiving foreign state to agree to the appointment of an ambassador. That is called an agrément. Apparently they already issued that kind of document even before the CA has confirmed the appointment. That is preempting the action of the CA, in effect therefore disregarding the eventual action of the CA on the nominee because you are already asking the foreign state if it would accept the person even if that person has not been confirmed by the CA. I have been delegated as chair of this hearing to write a formal letter to the president, through her ego the secretary of foreign affairs, to please not issue the agrément until after the concurrence by the CA.

We are still researching--the DFA people promised to give a report to me--on whether that has already been part of the practice in the past, except that we in the legislature did not notice or learn of it beforehand. It is a very strange situation. I asked the DFA representative if there was any other president he knew who issued six-month appointments in the DFA because eventually these people will be replaced by whoever the new president might be. Apparently in the memory of the DFA, there is no such occasion, so we have a problem with that threshold issue today. We'll first discuss whether this has ever been done because it gains so many complications, the expense of P5 million per ambassador for example. Apparently that has never been done before, so I hope these people will stop pressuring the president with the six-month appointments because it does not serve the public interest. And the president would not have done that if she had not been placed under extreme pressure.

Under the feared Section 20 of the Rules of the Commission of Appointments, just one member of the CA can object during plenary session, and that objection is not debatable. In other words, once he rises and says "I object to the nomination," the Senate President, who is also the chair of the CA is obliged to immediately suspend the proceedings, that is to say by-pass the appointment. Normally, whoever objected will continue his objection anyway. So there is no point in repeating it unless it is the last day of session before the entire Congress itself adjourns sine die.

Should there be a policy against the president nominating ambassadors near the end of his term?

First we will do it by means of a request. We will see what the response of the executive branch will be. If necessary, according to the sentiments of my colleagues today, then we will consider legislation. We will pass a law to prevent any president from appointing these six-month nominees--we'll call them midnight appointments.

On assigning the Ampatuan case to the Quezon City RTC

At the height of the martial law powers of President Marcos, a case was brought against him because he issued what was called at that time a Presidential Detention Order, which was nothing but a euphemism for an arrest order, against Ateneo and UP students who has staged an assembly. At that time, I was the youngest RTC judge in Quezon City, and I know for the fact that judges are simply afraid that they might alienate an incumbent president, and at that time an incumbent administrator of martial law. These cases are already subjected to lottery. In this case, I think they rigged the lottery so that it will go to me, the youngest member of the RTC judiciary at that time, and I never attended the lotteries, so it was assigned to me that way. I also, of course, hesitated, but I said to myself "This would be a shame if the taxpayers sent me through law school in UP and spent so much money to educate me, and for me to retreat from a duty just because I feared for the safety of myself." So I just went on. And I think that should be the attitude of every judge. You just have to go and discharge your duty. You accepted your appointment, so you have to take the good with the bad. In my case, I was supported by my students in the UP College of Law because when it was announced that I would be the presiding judge, I was met by an ovation from all the students in the UP College of Law who were attending evening session, so at least I got some affirmation. And I assure those RTC judges who are afraid of the Ampatuan case, that the public might be quiet, but eventually the public will uphold them, particularly if they show courage.

What would happen if, for example, every time there is a politically-sensitive case, an RTC judge would refuse to take jurisdiction on the ground, which could be valid, that there might be danger to himself or his family? You make that decision not in the course of the discharge of your duties as a regional trial judge, but in the course of deciding whether you will apply for it or whether you will accept a nomination. You make that decision beforehand. You make a threshold decision, but I do not think that it becomes an acceptable explanation in the course of the discharge of your judicial functions. It just goes without saying because then in that case, all the Ampatuans and all the other suspects should do is terrorize the prospective trial judge so that they will all inhibit themselves. That has been known to happen especially in Quezon City where I was an RTC judge. Everybody inhibits themselves so the case file goes around and around the judges and nobody wants to accept it.

In fact, he can very easily file a request for additional security forces from the police or the military. And if he wishes, he can make a written request to the Chief Justice or at least the court administrator and request for that kind of protection. But these judges should make these measures before the case comes up before them because it sets a chilling effect for all other RTC judges. They will all inhibit themselves, that's what would happen. It will have a domino effect.

If the judge inhibits himself for that reason, then one party could file a petition with the Supreme Court to order that judge to stay put there and it will depend on the Supreme Court. If none of the litigants take any action, then that will become a matter for the executive judge of that particular city. He will probably call a meeting with all the RTC judges there and have to make a stand because, otherwise, all the other judges in the same city will inhibit themselves on the same ground since once you grant that privilege to one you grant it to all. It is very rare for a judge to inhibit himself on that particular ground, his physical safety and those of his immediate family are endangered. That is part of the job. You'll want to dispel that notion that to try the Ampatuan case is going to endanger people's safety. You just have to, first, bring yourself in the line of fire. That is the job of a judge. That is why I think I won my TOYM award. In the first instance, you feel very alone and isolated and solitary in your job, but you will not hear public support until after the incident. So I assure that judge that you will be commended by the public, it's just they have no venue for expressing themselves. He just needs to apply the law. It's very easy to decide a case; you just read the law. You don't need to investigate the litigants, you just apply the law and nobody can complain. That is our basic training--dura lex sed lex.

If you were still a judge, will you accept the case?

I will be happy to try it, the same way as I've said accepted the anti-Marcos case.

On the Cabinet members snubbing the hearing on private armies

They have been infected by the Ampatuan disease, that is the irresistible urge to protect their physical safety as if it were an infection global illness. This virus is spreading, and I am doing my humble best to stop if from spreading.

They were citing E.O. 464, etc.

They are going through those technicalities, but in this case, there is no question of executive privilege. Executive privilege is in connection with the proclamation of martial law--what were the steps, conferences, or meetings held by the president so that she would impose martial law. In this case, this merely is a legislative hearing that does not involve the president's executive privilege, so I do not know why they have to invoke that SC ruling all over again. The SC is very clear; the general rule is if there is a plea of executive privilege it should be denied except what the SC enumerated as exceptions. I don't think that exception applies in this case.

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