Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, accused of pocketing P172 million from public funds, is out on bail, after a year in detention.
The Supreme Court set him free on 2 grounds: he is not a flight risk and his health is “fragile.” (Read the decision here)
In justifying the decision to grant bail to a senator charged with plunder, Justice Lucas Bersamin extolled Enrile’s virtues: “With his solid reputation in both his public and his private lives, his long years of public service, and history’s judgment of him being at stake, he should be granted bail.”
Why such accolades? Because, in Bersamin’s view – which 8 other justices shared – “his social and political standing and his having immediately surrendered to the authorities…indicate that the risk of flight…is highly unlikely. His personal disposition from the onset of his indictment for plunder…has demonstrated his utter respect for the legal processes of this country.”
The Court also stressed Enrile’s poor health as a “compelling justification” for his freedom, quoting extensively from a Philippine General Hospital doctor who conducted medical examinations.
The Court’s decision is unprecedented.
Philippine courts have always followed a long-standing procedure in criminal cases that the grant of bail is determined on the strength of the evidence, which takes place during bail hearings, not before. In Enrile’s case, the trial hasn’t even begun, the evidence hasn’t been assessed, yet he’s already free.
This opens the floodgates to all those accused of plunder. A beeline to the Sandiganbayan is likely.
Justice Marvic Leonen, in his eloquent 29-page dissent, said it clearly: “…it puts pressure on all trial courts and the Sandiganbayan that will…be deluged with motions to fix bail on the basis of humanitarian considerations… The lower courts…will have to decide whether this is applicable only to Senators and former Presidents charged with plunder…”
In essence, Leonen pointed out, the Court gave Enrile “special accommodation,” and it “may benefit one powerful public official at the cost of weakening our legal institutions.”
This case reminds us of the Court’s ruling to allow then President Gloria Arroyo to appoint a midnight chief justice in 2010, just before the May elections. Most of the characters are the same.
Bersamin is the justice who penned the controversial decision. He performed legal cartwheels, exempting the judiciary from the appointments ban during the election campaign period.
The lawyer who argued this point in his petition in favor of a midnight appointment was Estelito Mendoza, the same lawyer in the Enrile bail case. Mendoza is widely regarded as the “lawyer of last resort.”
The 8 justices who voted in favor of Enrile – Bersamin, Presbitero Velasco Jr, Arturo Brion, Mariano del Castillo, Disodado Peralta, Jose Mendoza, Jose Perez, Teresita Leonardo-De Castro – are all appointees of Arroyo. Most of these 8 justices also voted in favor of the midnight appointment by Arroyo.
It is not far-fetched to say that the detained ex-president could benefit from this decision.
All this comes at a time when the country is gearing up for the presidential elections next year. President Aquino’s successor will have the privilege of appointing 11 Supreme Court justices.
The Enrile case is a jolting reminder of the importance of electing a president who will appoint independent-minded justices and with impeccable integrity. – Rappler.com