Ex-solicitor general Estelito Mendoza has gained a “victory” of sorts by impressing former Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban with his legal fortitude in handling former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s plunder case.
So wowed was Panganiban that he was left wondering how prosecution counsel Florin Hilbay will respond to Mendoza’s Kasparov-like maneuver to have Arroyo exonerated in the alleged plunder of P366 million worth of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) intelligence funds.
“Can Solicitor General Florin T. Hilbay—who by law is the SBN’s (Sandiganbayan) and the prosecution’s counsel—match the clarity, certainty and creativity of Attorney Mendoza?” Panganiban asked in his opinion article entitled “Going for the jugular” on the Inquirer, before adding “Indeed, nothing less is expected from the ‘People’s Tribune’.”
Earlier, Mendoza–who in the past had defended the likes of former president Joseph “Erap” Estrada–filed a petition for certiorari in the Supreme Court (SC) praying, for the reversal of the SBN’s denial of Arroyo’s plea for a “demurrer” and for her immediate acquittal.
This came as a surprise to the ex-chief magistrate as he believed that the logical next move for Mendoza would have been to push for the granting of bail for the old and sickly Arroyo especially after the latter obtained an 8-4 SC decision allowing temporary freedom to the equally aged and frail Senator Juan Ponce Enrile.
Enrile is also facing plunder before the anti-graft court, this time in connection with the Napoles “pork barrel” diversion scam.
“Mendoza asked the ‘Court en banc to act on the petition; and by way of interim measures: (a) to expedite the proceedings and to set the case for oral argument; and (b) to suspend further proceedings [in the SBN] … and finally … to render judgment annulling … [the SBN resolutions] denying Arroyo’s ‘Demurrer to Evidence’ … and ordering … the acquittal of … Arroyo…’,” Panganiban wrote in his Inquirer column.
“As a general rule, petitions for certiorari questioning the rulings of lower courts denying demurrers are frowned upon…But, allowing an exception, the Supreme Court—upon receipt of, and as prayed for by, the petition—swiftly acted, stopped the SBN trial scheduled on Nov. 3, and directed the SBN to comment on the petition,” he said.
In short, Panganiban said that the Arroyo lawyer was able to convince the SC of the “prima facie cogency” of the petition, which in the first place came out of left field.
“To my mind, these swift actions show that the high court was convinced of the prima facie cogency of the petition.
But to be fair, it should have also called for oral argument. Cases of lesser public importance have been orally argued for the enlightenment of the parties and the people at large,” noted Panganiban. (Randy K. Ortega)