The Arroyo TRO: What happened behind the scenes

The Supreme Court's issuance of a TRO that favored former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo shows a divided Court.

Purple Romero

10:12:23am February 22, 2012

11:44:36am February 22, 2012

Supreme Court

Supreme Court

MANILA, Philippines - Central to the allegations that Chief Justice Renato Corona showed partiality toward his former superior, ex-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, is the Supreme Court's deliberations on the temporary restraining order (TRO) it sustained in favor of Ms Arroyo in November 2011. 

Justice Secretary Leila De Lima testified on Wednesday, February 22 on the TRO that the SC issued on Nov.15, 2011, which stopped her from implementing the watchlist order she issued against Arroyo and her husband, lawyer Jose Miguel. De Lima barred the Arroyo couple from leaving the country because they were under preliminary investigation for their alleged involvement in the reported cheating in the 2007 senatorial polls.

The former president, who is now Pampanga representative, wanted to meet medical experts on bone disorder abroad; she underwent spinal surgery thrice in 2011.

On Day 22 of the impeachment trial, De Lima spoke on the following: the alleged inconsistencies in the request of Arroyo for clearance (Arroyo cited different countries of destination in her letters) and Corona's return to the country (he was reportedly in the US then) after Arroyo sought the TRO. Corona allegedly cut his vacation short and flew back to the Philippines on Nov.10, 2011.

The SC issued the TRO in the following en banc session on Nov.15, 2011.

If Corona's alleged partiality toward Arroyo is the issue, however, the evidence that speaks of this allegation the strongest is the discussion that transpired among SC justices after Nov. 15, 2011. 

The 7-6 vote  

But these deliberations could not be presented to the impeachment trial against Corona following the Court's resolution on February 14,  which barred the SC magistrates from testifying on the internal discussions of the High Tribunal.

The SC also ruled that it could not furnish the impeachment court with documents - including the dissenting opinions of Associate Justices Lourdes Sereno and Antonio Carpio - because they mentioned deliberations of the SC. The Court also stressed that the case involving Arroyo is still pending.

There is no question that the SC issued a TRO on Nov. 15, 2011.

Sereno's dissenting opinion on Nov. 18, 2011 and Dec. 13, 2011, however, raised questions if the SC suspended it pending Ms Arroyo's non-compliance with one of the conditions attached to the TRO. The Arroyos were directed to post a P2-M bond, assign a legal representative who would receive documents for her, and report to the Philippine consulate in the countries they went to. 

On Nov.18, 2011, SC spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez told a press conference that the SC voted 8-5 that the TRO was still in effect. The voting was similar to what transpired in the Nov.15, 2011 ruling, when the SC issued the TRO.

The justices who voted for the issuance of the TRO are: Chief Justice Renato Corona, Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Presbitero Velasco, Lucas Bersamin, Roberto Abad, Martin Villarama, Jose Perez, and Arturo Brion.

Associate Justices Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Sereno, Carpio, Bienvenido Reyes, and Jose Catral Mendoza dissented.

On the same day, however, Marquez called for another press conference and clarified that the SC, by a vote of 7-6, ruled that Arroyo had yet to fully meet all the conditions attached to the TRO. While she was able to post the P2-M bond on Nov.15, 2011, she had not submitted a special power of attorney designating her legal counsel "to receive summons.”

Marquez said though that the SC, also by a vote of 7-6, ruled that even as Arroyo did not meet one of the conditions, the TRO shall remain in effect.

Sereno, in her dissent, stressed that Marquez wrongly interpreted the Court's action. She went on to tell the SC spokesman "not to go beyond his role in such offices, and that the Dissenting Opinion 9 G. R. Nos. 199034 and 199046 has no authority to interpret any of our judicial issuances, including the present Resolution, a function he never had from the beginning."

Corona's 'distortion'    

Carpio, in a letter to Corona dated Nov. 24, 2011, reminded the Chief Justice that the SC voted on Nov. 18, 2011 that the TRO was suspended.

Carpio said that the 7 who voted that the TRO was suspended were, aside from him: Abad, Villarama, Mendoza,Sereno, Reyes and Bernabe.

The SC voted again, however, if there was a need to directly state in their ruling that the resolution was considered suspended pending Arroyo's compliance with all of the conditions.

And, Carpio told Corona, this was how the voting went: Corona, Velasco, Brion, Peralta, Bersamin, Abad, and Perez voted that there was no need to explicitly state it in the resolution.

A second round of voting was conducted, Carpio said, after Abad remarked that the TRO suspension need not be stated because "common sense" would show that the TRO is suspended unless all the conditions were met.

The resolution on Nov.18, 2011, however, did not state that the Arroyos failed to comply with all of the conditions. Hence, the SC decided to issue another resolution on Nov.22, 2011 to "clarify" this.

But Carpio said the resolution again did not reflect the 7-6 vote, which categorically stated that not all conditions were met.

But the final resolution that was issued on Nov.22, 2011 was Corona's version. Stated in the resolution were:

1.     There was substantial compliance with condition (ii) for the issuance of the TRO;

2.     The TRO was not suspended and continued to be in force pending full compliance with the condition (ii).

This is why Carpio wrote Corona.

He said in his letter that "the attached clarificatory Resolution compounds the error of the Resolution dated 18 November 2011In fact, the attached clarificatory Resolution states the opposite of what was approved by the En Banc in its meeting of 15 November 2011, and what was agreed in the En Banc meeting of 22 November 2011."

Carpio asked Corona if the promulgation of the Nov.22 resolution could be "held in abeyance" until the SC tackles his letter in their succeeding en banc meeting on Nov. 29, 2011.

The SC voted on Nov. 29, 2011 that the TRO was still in effect. This was after Abad changed his vote and sided with the majority, which included Corona, Velasco, Brion, Peralta, Bersamin, Perez and Abad. 

Marquez held another press conference where he said the SC voted 9-4 that the TRO stays. But the resolution stated a voting of 7-6. 

Unpromulgated dissent

Sereno included Carpio's letter in her dissent dated Dec. 13, 2011. Her dissenting opinion on Dec. 2, 2011 was not promulgated, allegedly upon Velasco's order, which was reportedly confirmed by Corona. Sereno then wrote Corona on Dec.6, 2011:

Dear Mister Chief Justice:

My office was informed by Atty. Enriqueta E. Vidal, Clerk of Court, that you had confirmed the instruction given to her by Justice Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr. that the Dissenting Opinion as described above that I submitted last December 2, 2011, should not be promulgated. I attach my signed Dissenting Opinion for your reference.

Inasmuch as your instruction constitutes a prevention of my exercise of my constitutional duty as a member of the Court, please apprise me of the legal basis for such instruction.

Thank you very much. 

Sincerely,

MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO (Sgd.) 

cc: Associate Justices; Clerk of Court

Why disclose?

Sereno said that she was asked by a fellow justice why she disclosed their internal deliberations in their dissent. Sereno said she did not believe that the internal discussions have to be revealed all the time, but on this particular case, she believed it was necessary to do so.

"I do not believe that a disclosure of the internal deliberations of the Court is warranted in each and every case. My 18 November 2011 Dissenting Opinion, as well as my unpromulgated 2 December 2011 Dissenting Opinion which has now been superseded by this Dissenting Opinion − finalized and signed this 19th of December 2011 − made the disclosures only because (1) the promulgated Resolution of 18 November 2011 did not reflect that day’s voting and the reasons for that vote; and (2) the Acting Chief of the PIO continues to misinform the public," she said. 

Abad, however, disagreed with Sereno.

In his separate opinion, Abad said that it is not true that Corona declined to have Sereno's dissenting opinion promulgated. Sereno, he said, promised to submit her dissenting opinion on Dec.1, 2011 but failed to do so.

Promulgating it on Dec. 2 , 2011- a "late and separate promulgation" - is considered a departure from established procedure. Thus it was calendared for the next en banc session instead. - Rappler.com