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The Misfortunes of VP Leni Robredo and Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio

The presidential election in 2016 yielded contrasting results for president and vice president (VP). Opposition candidate Rodrigo Duterte won the presidency while the administration candidate at the time for VP, Leni Robredo won. The losing VP candidate with the closest count was former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr who challenged the slim margin of less than 270,000 votes out of some 16 million votes.

Marcos identified three course of actions for his electoral protest. First was to question the integrity of the 2016 election and invalidate VP Robredo’s proclamation. This was denied by the Tribunal and went ahead with the second which is to declare massive electoral fraud in 36,000 plus precincts. To do this, PET looked at the ballots in three pilot provinces covering over 5,ooo precincts from the 36,000 plus precincts. The results of the canvassing showed that VP Robredo actually increased her lead.

While the canvassing of the pilot provinces was ongoing, protestant Marcos wanted PET to go ahead with his third course of action which is to nullify the results from Lanao del Sur, Basilan, and Maguindanao. PET ruled to hold on until the second course of action is resolved.

Earlier this month, the PET released the result of the count for the pilot provinces confirming that Robredo indeed gained more votes than Marcos. According to the Robredo side, Marcos electoral protest should already be dismissed outright based on PET’s Rule 65 that basically states they MAY dismiss outright if there is no chance of substantial recovery. PET did not dismiss the electoral protest based on an 11-2 vote and is now moving to towards Marcos’s third course of action.

Robredo’s lawyers and supporters are agog with yet more waiting. Robredo even quipped “How many times do I have to win?” But she might want to hold off on that thought for several possibilities. One, even those justices appointed by President Benigno Aquino III joined the majority “to allow for due process and fairness in the process.” That part of the ruling tells me that the Supreme Court is mindful about its own image. But proceeding to the third course of action can be a minefield being a new territory that could tarnish its image. Note that none of previous presidential electoral protests had even progressed to this point or were mooted because the protestant elected to run again instead of waiting for a verdict.

The point here is that this whole thing could boil down to a PET/Supreme Court vote that could be favorable to Marcos. Why? Reflect on the 11-2 vote that took place earlier this month. The dissenters were Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, member-in-charge of the case, and now retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio. Even if you peel off those Aquino appointed justices, they are still outnumbered numerically. Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta was just appointed Chief Justice by Duterte.

Peralta is from Ilocos Norte and a province mate of Bongbong Marcos. I’m not saying that that could be an automatic vote for Marcos but Justice Peralta voted for the burial of the late strongman, Bongbong’s dad, in the Heroes Cemetery. Don’t lose site of the dictum that “the Supreme Court maybe wrong with its ruling but it’s still the law of the land.”

Robredo and the Liberal Party need to find a winning strategy to impose the will of the people. If not extra-judicial, will a contrary verdict (i.e. Robredo is ousted) result in a massive uprising much like the 1986 People Power or something similar to the Hong Kong upheaval? That is a big “if,” considering the people’s reaction to the Marcos burial, Martial Law declaration in Mindanao, and of course the sacking of Aquino appointed Chief Justice, Maria Lourdes Sereno through a quo warranto.

Notably, this electoral protest and the estranged relationship between Duterte and Robredo came about as a consequence of a democratic exercise. Federalism cures this through block voting that a vote for the president is also a vote for the running mate. Thus having the top two officials from the same party will ensure comity at the Executive Branch.

The overwhelming majority of Duterte’s appointees in the Supreme Court is something that Justice Carpio harped about during his valedictory speech at his retirement ceremony. Carpio’s idea is to amend the Constitution to limit the presidential appointment power. He was suggesting that each of the co-equal branches ought to appoint a third of the total composition of the court to prevent one branch from packing the court.

This is perhaps Sisyphus lament on his part but Carpio is well respected by his colleagues and by intellectuals and certainly is a legal luminary. So his views and opinions carries a lot weight especially those involving his area and most certainly, Chinese provocations at the South China Sea. His erudite positions are well grounded. His colleagues at the Supreme Court even voted to award him the title of Chief Justice for retirement purposes.

The lingering question is if he was that good and highly respected, why then did he suffer the indignities of being passed over for such esteemed position? Retired Supreme Court Justice Arturo Panganiban opened us a window as to why Carpio never became one. He wrote in his column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer that Justice Carpio had five chances to be one. Three of those involved his own decision not to pursue it for personal reasons.

One chance that should have landed him the position was when President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino failed to appoint him after CJ Renato Corona was impeached by Congress, although he was already the acting chief and most senior. Apparently, Aquino succumb to pressure from his Senate allies and three prominent business leaders opposed to Carpio’s promotion. Aquino bypassed seniority in favor of a very much junior associate justice who was removed in 2018 by her colleagues at the Supreme Court.

He had another chance to succeed Sereno but again, he declined his nomination because he voted no and did not want to profit from Sereno’s downfall. It is admirable that there are still people in high places that has that sense of propriety. Admirers have accorded him such adulation in social media and in other venues. But Carpio should have recognized that during the times he was presented with the opportunity, that the function of the high court should have been his utmost consideration and should have trumped his delicate ego.

The Supreme Court is a co-equal branch and having him at the helm could have reinforced that independence. Sisyphus determination to push the rock uphill seems senseless given the gravitational pull he was up against that he had to keep pushing it over and over. There was something from the myth that Carpio could have emulated. In the Myth of Sisyphus, he learned to embrace the rock as his purpose in life, so despite the repeated setbacks, he persevered, worked harder and never gave up.

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