The Manila Times - Caguioa must go

16 March 2018

By Jojo Robles | The Manila Times

THE irony, of course, is that the Supreme Court cannot find 50 people who will pass a totally unnecessary psychiatric examination that will qualify them to recount contested ballots in the 2016 elections. But the same tribunal is perfectly fine with having a chief justice who can’t even hurdle a similar test.

I cannot wrap my puny, unevaluated mind around it: the court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal in the election protest filed by former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. against Vice President Leonor Robredo, has had to once again postpone the recount ballots because of a requirement that the justice in charge of the proceedings has arbitrarily imposed.

Yes, Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, the ponencia in the Marcos protest case, first decided that the 50 court-appointed people who should recount the ballots must first pass a psychiatric examination. Since no electoral protest for the second-highest position in the land has actually gotten this far before, Caguioa must have figured that he is perfectly free to make up the rules as he goes along.

It’s unfortunate that Caguioa, who is more known in the Supreme Court as the former Ateneo classmate of Noynoy Aquino who is not the chief justice, had to decide that psychiatric evaluations for people whose robotic job it is to conduct the actual recount were necessary. The distinction of being the more judicially accomplished ex-Noynoy classmate on the court, of course, belongs to Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

And Sereno scored a failing grade of 4.2 on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being the highest) in her own psychiatric test, a standard requirement imposed by the Judicial and Bar Council on applicants to judgeships. (What’s with these Yellows and psychiatric tests anyway? And how did Caguioa score in his own JBC-ordered examination upon his appointment by Noynoy, who was famously and prophetically diagnosed for depression and other psychological problems in 1979 that would reappear during his stint as president?)

It seems pretty obvious that the psychological examination requirement imposed by Caguioa on the ballot counters, meaning no disrespect to them and the important job that they will perform, was just another dilatory tactic. This became perfectly clear after the PET could only find 42 people who could pass the evaluation, when the tribunal needed 50 to get the recount started as scheduled—and nearly two years after Marcos filed his protest, mind you—on March 19.

Now, according to the tribunal, it will have to postpone the recounting of ballots retrieved from Camarines Sur to April 2, more than 70 weeks after the original protest was filed. Hey, what’s a couple of weeks more when you’ve already waited this long, right?

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If you think about it, it’s not only Marcos who should be making a beeline to the Supreme Court in order to have Caguioa removed. Robredo, who has repeatedly denied Marcos’ accusations that she is delaying the recount by filing all sorts of dilatory motions, should be denouncing the associate justice as well.

Because it is now plain that these latest moves to prevent the recount from proceeding have nothing – on the surface, anyway – to do with Leni. It’s Caguioa who’s responsible for the delay.

After all, I’ve always believed that it benefits Robredo little to delay the recount. If Robredo truly believes that she won the 2016 elections fair and square, a quick and unimpeded review will uphold her victory and remove the cloud of doubt that hangs over her head and puts an asterisk on her legitimacy.

On the matter of having some other justice taking over from Caguioa, Robredo should actually be in total agreement with Marcos. (Of course, if Leni didn’t really win, then she should remain totally silent, as she has been lately.)

As far as Marcos is concerned, he should abandon his strategy of merely denouncing Caguioa as the worst possible justice to have been put in charge of his case and take his case to the next level: Bongbong’s lawyers must go to the high court forthwith and demand that Caguioa be removed or be forced to inhibit himself.

I am certain that Caguioa’s colleagues are very much aware of what Noynoy’s buddy has been doing as justice in charge of the Marcos protest. These are the same justices, after all, who became convinced that their titular head, Sereno, no longer deserves to lead the judiciary; for all we know, the justices are only waiting for a formal petition to remove Caguioa before they act against him in much the same way that they did against the chief justice.

Caguioa must go. And you don’t need a psychiatrist to help you come to that conclusion.