SC & P. I.
At around 7 in the evening, the Supreme Court was like any government edifice after office hours except for the presence of the two media giants in the country, GMA-7 parked right in front of the gates of the Supreme Court and ABS-CBN across the street.
Unlike in the early part of the afternoon, where the anti Cha Cha progressive groups held rallies prompting the police and SC security to tighten the premises, I went in largely unnoticed and straight to the main chamber.
On my way up, Al Agra, my ’89 batchmate from the Ateneo Law School, and counsel for ULAP, an organization comprised of local government officials which was a petitioner alongside Singaw ng Bayan, was coming down the stairs.
We met halfway, asked how it went so far and if the Supremes asked him any questions. Al replied with relief that he was not asked since the topic assigned to him did not catch the interest of the justices. I had a feeling that all was not well with their side, borne out not only by his mien that night but also by the radio updates.
Upon entering the hall, Helga reserved a seat for me. The seating arrangement was interesting. The right side of the hall sat all the anti-Charter Change protagonists while the left side found all the pro-Charter Change advocates and supporters. Expectedly, the senators sat on the front right side of the aisle. Leah Navarro, Dinky Soliman, Butch Abad, Christian Monsod et al., and those who have made their voices one and so black and white against Charter Change sat behind the senators and were listening intently to Dean Pacifico Agabin’s turn at the lectern.
What was exciting to the audience were the questions posed by the justices which broadsides can take any form. Justice Puno grilled Atty. Joel Cadiz on the composition of justices in the Santiago case and as to whether or not the Santiago case can be considered doctrinal. One noticed the younger lawyers were quite serious in their answers while the older, more experienced ones like Rene Saguisag, Joker Arroyo and former Gov. Pablo Garcia argued on without hesitation with wit and sarcasm.
For the most part, Joker was his usual stuttering speech which actually did not hinder his arguments but made for effective pauses, allowing the justices to listen to his arguments more intently. What he had with him was not only his stock knowledge of the events but also the legislative history that he could mumble off at the top of his head. The justices simply could not marvel but listen. He even repeated the mantra which the justices heard earlier that Solicitor General Eduardo Nachura, then a congressman, filed a bill to enable the Initiative provision of the 1987 Constitution.
On the other hand, Gov. Pablo Garcia was rambling in his answers. For some odd reason, the justices kept on asking him questions. Of course, he responded with gusto and the fact that he was older than the justices and a known politician allowed him so much leeway to talk endlessly. On several occasions, either intentionally or not, Gov. Garcia kept on talking while the justices already said thank you. Age and partial deafness must have some virtue and provide tolerance to an otherwise strict set of lord judges.
But the funniest part always was when Rene Saguisag took to the floor. In every instance when he was called, he would inject comic relief, much to the laughter of the anti Cha Cha groups and much to the frustration of the pro charter change groups. He complimented ULAP as a cloudy organization, he admired Singaw ng Bayan, ULAP and the 6 million signatories with their knowledge of the contents of the proposed constitution, he spoke amendment as a removing a single strand of hair and revision being a heart transplant. But in all these times, never condescending, never insulting to the justices.
The younger lawyers came well prepared. Attys. Medina and Mendoza never withered under pressure although I sensed their youth and their hard accented English made them appear to be abrasive, though they were not. Atty. Joel Cadiz was having difficulty answering the question of Justice Puno but recovered under Justice Calleja when he told the justices that it was their golden opportunity to do the right thing and dismiss the petition.
On the justices, they came mostly prepared apparently having re-read Santiago v. Comelec. Their questions were for the most part, sympathetic to the anti cha cha groups, Justice Gutierrez of course, being the most visibly anti cha cha amongst them. But it was Justice Azcuna who gave the most difficulty to Atty. Medina when Mr. Azcuna posited the proposition that a change to a unicameral body is merely an amendment.
I think that there were only two instances that the anti Cha Cha lawyers faltered – first, on the issue of whether Santiago can be considered doctrinal which was asked by Justice Puno to Atty. Joel Cadiz, and second, on whether a change to a unicameral was an amendment which was asked by Justice Azcuna to Atty. Medina. But over-all, the lawyers all performed superbly and for an anti-Cha Cha advocate, it was a good day to die!
Of course, I need not elaborate on the performance of the other side. It was hardly defensible, their answers clearly clutching at straws, drawing on theoretical concepts rather than the pragmatic realities of how the initiative was secured. Frankly, after last Tuesday’s performance, it would be difficult for any of the justices to defend the position taken by ULAP and the petitioners. Rather than make them heroic, it would all the more appear inane and downright ludicrous to adopt the arguments of the pro-charter change.
And the audience? What can I say except that the left side of the aisle was all drowning in frustration, anger and depression as the night wore on. It was a long night for them. On the other hand, you see smiles, laughter, and hearty comments from the right side. To them, the night was young. The anti Cha Cha left the halls feeling that so much was accomplished that day. I hope we were not mistaken.
And as recounted to me by Helga, after the court adjourned, Butch Abad met up with his Liberal party mate who was counsel for one of the pro charter change petitioners and told him: “You are only good when you are on the right side.”
In closing, during the Japanese Occupation, the Japanese ran a propaganda radio station called PIAH. Of course, the typical Filipino could not help diss the acronym. In the ears of the Filipinos, PIAH became known as “Putang Ina Ang Hapon”. Two nights ago, the Supreme Court was confronted with a petition for P. I. I hope the justices would take a leaf from the Filipinos who lived during the Japanese Occupation and realized that the present P. I. is nothing more than the all too familiar vernacular curse which must not go unchallenged.
And that is the ultimate no-brainer!