By Victor Avecilla | Daily Tribune
Twenty-four administrative employees of the Supreme Court sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) had a lavish swimming party on June 22 in a resort at the famous town of Pansol in Laguna. Pansol is popular for its hot springs.
The PET employees consisted of several revisors, ballot box custodians and a tabulator. A revisor is in charge of scrutinizing the disputed ballots in an election protest lodged with the PET. Each revisor does his work under the watchful eyes of private revisors hired by each party in the election protest.
All 24 employees are assigned in the manual recount in the election protest which ex-Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. filed against Robredo in the PET back in 2016.
Marcos is protesting the results of the 2016 vice presidential election, which ended up with Robredo supposedly winning over Marcos by a little more than 200,000 votes.
Robredo’s revisor in the PET is a certain Osmundo Abuyuan, who attended the swimming party supposedly as an invited guest of the PET revisors.
The Marcos camp learned of the swimming party on June 24, when PET head revisor Maria Katrina Rosales posted several incriminating photographs taken of the affair on her Facebook account on the same day.
Rosales later deleted her posts after she learned that the Marcos camp took screen shots of the online photographs.
About a week after the Pansol affair, Marcos formally asked the PET to investigate the Pansol outing. Through his lawyer George Garcia, Marcos questioned the propriety of Abuyuan’s presence in the affair. More specifically, Marcos assailed Abuyuan’s “fraternizing” with the PET personnel handling the election protest in which Abuyuan has a partisan interest. Marcos stressed that Abuyuan’s presence in the outing was in violation of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel as well as the Canons of Judicial Ethics, both promulgated by the Supreme Court.
The controversial incident, Marcos said, compromises the integrity of the on-going manual recount of ballots in the PET because its personnel appear to be in cahoots with the Robredo camp, as suggested by the photographs.
Surprisingly, the PET turned down the Marcos request for an investigation. According to news reports, the PET already took action on the incident. Details on how the PET resolved the matter, however, are not clear. It is also unclear if that outing was charged to government.
Prior to that, Robredo and her lawyer told media that there was nothing irregular about Abuyuan’s presence in the out-of-town swimming party because the PET personnel sent invitations to the outing to both Robredo and Marcos camps. Robredo and her lawyer suggested that the swimming party was simply an outing to afford the PET personnel an opportunity to unwind.
That’s a lame excuse by any standard.
Whether or not both camps were invited by the PET personnel to their swimming party is beside the point. The presence of Robredo’s revisor in what is supposed to be a private party undoubtedly compromises the PET’s neutrality. Correctly or incorrectly, the public is bound to get the impression that partisan interests have infiltrated the PET.
As a long-retired justice of the Supreme Court once said in a separate opinion in a decision involving the nature of an adversarial litigation that it is not enough that the adjudicating official is neutral; that adjudicating official must be publicly perceived as neutral.
Every law student is taught in law school that the foundation on which judicial decisions derive their strength and enforceability is in the trust and confidence the public affords to the people who render those decisions. It is also taught in law school that a losing party in a litigation cannot be expected to respect a judicial pronouncement made by a magistrate who may be neutral, but who does not comport himself with the requisite neutrality.
More important, the issue at hand is not just a matter of legality and neutrality but more so of propriety. The presence of Robredo’s revisor in that controversial party, with the manifest consent of Robredo herself, does not sit well with the “prim and proper” image Robredo is desperately but artificially trying to project to the electorate.
As a lawyer and despite her limited understanding of Constitutional Law, Robredo must have known that while it was perhaps lawful to let her revisor attend the PET outing, it was inappropriate for her revisor to attend it. In the same light, it was just as inappropriate for Robredo to permit her revisor to do so.
More revolting is the fact that Robredo publicly defended her revisor’s action.
At the end of the day, it is quite evident that Robredo does not truly comprehend the concept and importance of propriety.
The Pansol incident and the way Robredo defended it are clear indications that if Robredo were to become president, her government will not only be incompetent on account of her insufficient understanding of Constitutional Law but will also be morally bankrupt as seen in how she countenanced what happened there.