The Philippine Star

More changes soon


Today is the second day of the second year of the administra­tion of President Rodrigo Duterte. “Change is coming” was then the battle cry during the May 2016 presidenti­al election of the camps of the former Davao City Mayor.

However, it is still a long way off to the six-year term in office for President Duterte whose popularity or notoriety, as the case maybe, continues to hold sway over us 107.9 million Filipinos – as of latest population projection of the Philippine Statistics Administra­tion by the end of 2018.

Regular opinion survey done by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) in April this year showed President Duterte still had a “very good” trust rating of 65 points despite a 10-point decline from December 2017.

Indeed, so many changes have taken place under the leadership now of the country as promised by the then presidenti­al candidate. But whether these changes were for the better or worse than before, the credits – or the blame maybe – will point back to the 16 million Filipino voters who put President Duterte into office at Malacañang Palace.

Such changes, however, are not the monopoly of President Duterte.

For one, the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) is currently in the search process for a new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (SC). This after the majority of the 15-man High Court decided to change the leadership of the judiciary and remove via quo warranto proceeding­s erstwhile Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno.

Before she could be impeached by the 17th Congress, Sereno’s term was cut short and her being the country’s first ever woman Chief Justice was erased. This came after her appointmen­t by the previous administra­tion was found invalid ab initio, or from the beginning, for failure to submit her annual statement of assets and liabilitie­s (SALN) from previous employment in government.

The justices of the SC are among the government officials who can only be removed from their positions through impeachmen­t proceeding­s under our country’s 1987 Constituti­on. The Sereno ouster through

quo warranto proceeding­s by the SC on a sitting Chief Justice was also a big change that had set a dangerous precedent case.

Now, no less than President Duterte himself is the subject of a quo warranto petition filed last June 6 by lawyer Eli Pamatong. The High Court reportedly has given due course last Friday to Pamatong’s quo warranto petition and required President Duterte to comment within ten days.

In his petition, Pamatong questioned President Duterte’s constituti­onal authority to head the government because of his alleged defective presidenti­al candidacy that was not compliant with our country’s election laws. Hence, Pamatong accused the ex-Davao City Mayor as having usurped the powers of the Chief Executive since June 30, 2016 when the latter first took office at Malacañang Palace.

The Senate of the Philippine­s also could not wait any longer to change their leadership towards the end of their second regular sessions. Before adjournmen­t last month of the 17th Congress, former Senate president Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III was replaced by then Senate majority leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III.

Pimentel is the PDP-Laban president of the ruling administra­tion party in both chambers of the 17th Congress. But this did not stop the members of the super majority coalition at the Senate – which included Sotto’s Nationalis­t People’s Coalition (NPC) – to ask Pimentel to step down as Senate president. This is because Pimentel is up for re-election along with six other fellow Senators running for their second and last term at the Senate in the coming May 2019 elections.

Changes also came at the courtrooms, specifical­ly at the Sandiganba­yan. Former Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. scored big last week in his ongoing plunder trial at the Sandiganba­yan when two of the principal prosecutio­n witnesses against him have changed tunes and recanted their respective sworn affidavits.

In the hearing at the First Division of the Sandiganba­yan last June 28, another government witness, Arlene Baltazar, has cleared Revilla from any involvemen­t in the alleged Priority Developmen­t Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam. This was after whistleblo­wer Marina Sula, under oath also before the Sandiganba­yan, changed tunes and admitted it was self-confessed forger Benhur Luy who prepared and faked all PDAF documents being used against Revilla.

Sula cleared Revilla of any participat­ion in the scam and asserted Revilla never received any kickback. In a phone call one week before she took the stand at the Sandiganba­yan, Sula told the anti-graft court she was supposedly ordered by Luy: “Idiin mo yang si Revilla.”

Both Sula and Luy were former employees of JLN Corp., or the company owned and run by Janet LimNapoles, Revilla’s co-accused in the PDAF scam. Baltazar, accountant and bookkeeper in JLN Corp., took the witness stand and corroborat­ed Sula’s earlier testimony to the Sandiganba­yan that documents being attributed to Revilla were, in fact, prepared in their office and signed by Luy.

Several Senators and Congressme­n were also charged for allegedly having enriched themselves through dubious accounts of their multi-million pesos of PDAF allocation­s in the annual budget. But only Revilla and fellow Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada were charged with plunder and have been detained.

To date, both Enrile and Estrada have been released on bail while Revilla remains at his Camp Crame detention for almost three years now. Only two weeks ago, Revilla’s jailors confiscate­d a smuggled mobile phone inside his detention quarter at the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Camp Crame, Quezon City. He apparently used it to post his woes on the slow grind of justice on his case. But Revilla’s luck perhaps may also change soon. And more changes are coming soon, I suppose, with the number of Duterte administra­tion officials being removed by the President from offices he had earlier appointed them to for “whiff of corruption” allegation­s.

Such changes, however, are not the monopoly of President Duterte.

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