Senators ask SC to define Senate’s role in treaty abrogation

Robie de Guzman   •   March 9, 2020   •   567

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III and five other senators on Monday, March 9 filed a petition urging the Supreme Court (SC) to rule on whether or not the Senate’s concurrence is necessary in the abrogation of a treaty previously concurred in by the upper chamber.

In a 56-page petition for declaratory relief and mandamus, Sotto and Senators Juan Miguel Zubiri, Ralph Recto, Franklin Drilon, Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon asked the SC to declare that a treaty previously concurred in by the Senate should require the concurrence of at least two thirds of its members upon its withdrawal.

The lawmakers also requested the SC to order the executive branch to send the withdrawal notation to the Senate for votation.

The petition was filed after the Department of Foreign Affairs on February 11 notified the United States of its intention to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement, which was signed between Manila and Washington in 1999.

The deal outlines the guidelines about the treatment of their troops when visiting the US or the Philippines. It includes provisions on visa and passport policies for US troops and the American government’s right to retain jurisdiction over its personnel, among others.

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the final termination of the VFA following the US’ move to cancel the visa of his ally, former National Police chief and now Senator Ronald Dela Rosa. Duterte has also repeatedly criticized the US for its ‘disrespectful’ actions including meddling in the country’s internal affairs.

The military pact will be effectively terminated on August 9 or 180 days from the US’ receipt of the notice of termination.

Named respondents in the petition were Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

“As such, the Senate has until August 9, 2020 or the 180th day from the Notice of Withdrawal within which to question the unilateral withdrawal by the President from the VFA,” the petition stated.

“(The) Senate brings the present petition before the Honorable Court to fully and finally settle the issue of the requirement for concurrence by at least two-thirds of all members of the Senate in cases where the Philippines, through the executive department, decides to withdraw from, or terminate a treaty that was duly concurred in by the Senate,” the petition stated.

The senators, however, clarified that they do not intend to undermine the President’s prerogative of implementing the country’s independent foreign policy.

They added that the petition “merely seeks” to subject the notice of withdrawal to the proper deliberative process by the Senate, as required by Section 21, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution.

“Specifically, the petition seeks to address the issue of whether the foregoing constitutional provision requiring the concurrence of at least two-thirds of all the members of the Senate also applies to termination of or withdrawing from treaties that have been validly ratified by the President and concurred in by the Senate,” the lawmakers said.

They cited the petition filed by members of the Senate minority bloc in May 2018, urging the high court to review the constitutionality of the executive department’s unilateral revocation of the Rome Statute.

“The recurrence of the issue in such a short period of time highlights the urgency for a definitive ruling on the matter for the demarcation and constitutional limits of the fundamental powers of government,” the senators said.

“The unilateral revocation by the executive of any treaty or international agreement without Senate concurrence violates the principle of checks and balances and separation of powers enshrined in the 1987 Constitution,” they added.

Last week, 12 senators voted in favor of adopting Resolution No. 337 which seeks to ask the SC to rule on the issue. Seven senators abstained from the petition.

Application for SC, Court of Appeals posts now open – JBC

Robie de Guzman   •   May 25, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) has announced the opening of applications or recommendations for positions at the Supreme Court (SC) and the Court of Appeals (CA).

In an announcement posted on SC Public Information Office’s Twitter account, the JBC said applicants who will be selected in the process will occupy the position to be vacated by SC Associate Justice Jose Reyes Jr., who will retire on September 18, and former CA Presiding Justice Romeo Barza, who retired on August 2, 2019.

In its advisory, the JBC said interested applications must visit its official website, and access the online application scheduler.

After filling out the computer-generated letter of intent, they must submit it along with the documentary requirements to this JBC e-mail on the selected date and time of appointment in the online application scheduler.

The JBC emphasized that the digitized versions of the letter of intent they will submit must be “complete” and “accurate.”

“The documentary requirements should be in Portable Document Format (PDF) and e-mailed in a single file only, following the order of documents as enumerated in the Announcement posted on the JBC website,” it said.

“The date of actual receipt of the complete documentary requirements (sent through e-mail) shall be deemed as the date of filing,” it added.

The JBC further said that applicants are also required to submit two complete sets of the documentary requirements through courier service not later than 4:30 p.m. of July 7, 2020 to its office along Padre Faura Street in Manila.

It warned that applicants who will fail to comply with the requirements of online and physical submission of the documentary requirements will not be considered for nomination.

The JBC likewise announced it has set on May 28 at 10 a.m. an online public interview of candidates for the SC Associate Justice position vacated by former Associate Justice Andres Reyes Jr., who compulsorily retired on May 11, 2020.

The candidates are as follows:

  • Ramon Bato Jr.
  • Priscilla Baltazar-Padilla
  • Edwin Sorongon
  • Nina Antonio-Valenzuela

The JBC said that the following are also candidates for the said judicial position, but whose previous interviews are still valid:

  • Manuel Barrios
  • Amparo Cabotaje-Tang
  • Ramon Cruz
  • Japar Dimaampao
  • Jhosep Lopez
  • Jose Midas Marquez
  • Eduardo Peralta Jr.
  • Pablito Perez
  • Rizardo Rosario

The JBC is a constitutional office that accepts, screens, and nominates appointments to the judiciary.

It will then submit a list of nominees to President Rodrigo Duterte for selection, and whoever is appointed will complete the membership in the SC composed of 15 justices.

SC directs NTC, Congress to answer ABS-CBN vs closure order

Robie de Guzman   •   May 19, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday ordered the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and Congress to comment on the petition filed by the ABS-CBN Corporation, challenging the cease and desist order that forced the network to go off the air earlier this May.

In a statement, the SC Public Information Office (PIO) said the magistrates gave the NTC 10 days from receipt of the notice to respond to the petition.

The NTC was named as the only respondent to ABS-CBN’s petition but the SC said it separately impleaded the Senate and the House of Representatives as parties to the case and required them to comment on the petition, stated the press briefer posted by the SC on its Twitter account.

The High Court also gave the NTC five days to reply to the comments to be filed by the Senate and the House.

The SC PIO said these actions were unanimously approved by the 14 SC Justices during an En Banc session on Tuesday.

The SC did not issue a temporary restraining order, as requested by the ABS-CBN in its petition, against the implementation of NTC’s closure order which it claims was issued without notice and hearing.

The NTC issued a shutdown order against ABS-CBN after its franchise expired on May 4.

In its petition, the media company argued that the NTC acted with grave abuse of discretion and violated its rights to equal protection and due process by issuing the order.

The company claimed that the NTC should have deferred to Congress that have earlier sent a formal letter asking the agency to allow ABS-CBN to continue operating while bills seeking for its franchise renewal remain pending in the House of Representatives.

It also asked the SC to nullify and set aside the cease and desist order which directed the network to stop the broadcast operations of its television and radio stations on May 5.

The SC PIO also confirmed that the High Court denied the motion of lawyer Lorenzo Gadon to consolidate his petition – which sought for the NTC to be prevented from issuing a provisional authority to ABS-CBN – with the plea of the network.

Senate OKs bill seeking stiffer penalties for perjury

Robie de Guzman   •   May 18, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Monday, May 18 approved on third and final reading a bill that seeks to impose longer prison sentences and larger fines for individuals, especially public officials, who will commit perjury.

Voting 20-0, senators passed the Senate Bill No. 1354, which proposes to amend Article 183 of the Revised Penal Code and increase the current penalty on perjury from a range of the minimum period to medium period, or from six years and one day to 10 years of imprisonment.

Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights and sponsor of the bill, said the proposed higher penalties were meant to deter people from committing perjury as they testify under oath in proceedings, such as legislative hearings, and to create a culture of truth-telling in government.

“In other words, you lie, you pay… Do not trifle with the truth,” he said in a statement.

Perjury, he explained, is committed by a person when he “knowingly makes untruthful statements and not being included in the provisions of the crimes of false testimony under judicial proceedings, shall testify under oath, or make an affidavit, upon any material matter before a competent person authorized to administer an oath in cases in which the law so requires.”

Under the existing law, persons guilty of perjury are only sentenced from four months and one day to two years and four months of imprisonment.

For public offcials or employees who would commit perjury, the penalty of imprisonment will be imposed in its maximum period, along with a fine of P1 million, as well as perpetual disqualification from holding any appointive or elective position in government, Gordon said.

Gordon believes that the bill would help address the issue of low conviction rates for people charged with perjury.

“As we uncovered during our committee hearing, a factor for the low cases is the low penalty imposed on the crime of perjury. The current penalty for perjury is subject to probation and the bail imposed is also low, roughly Php6,000 only. Given the high costs involved in prosecuting a crime, there is no motivation to prosecute the crime of perjury,” he said.

The bill was co-authored by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Senators Panfilo Lacson and Leila de Lima.

Its counterpart bill at the House of Representatives remains pending at the committee level.

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