I have never been a supporter of Juan Ponce Enrile. He was the strong arm of martial law and he got away with it. While Marcos and his cronies had to flee the country after 1986, he stayed as a hero and managed to keep his loot intact. Even at the height of his popularity as Senate President and Presiding Officer during the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona, I was disappointed to find out that his seemingly erudite handling of the proceedings was because he was getting dictations from his junior associates through an ear piece. Simply put: I am not and have never been a fan of JPE.
But when media asked me a year ago about my opinion on the plunder charges filed against him, I opined that the evidence against him was very weak. Consider: neither Janet Lim Napoles nor any of her associates, ever testified that they had directly talked or dealt with JPE. Furthermore, JPE did not sign any document that would prove any illegal transaction that could qualify for plunder. At most, the evidence pointed to the culpability of his former Chief of Staff, lawyer Gigi Gonzales. Even then, I find it hard to believe that Gigi would profit from the public coffers or would leave evidence that would incriminate her. So my guess is that even the evidence against Gigi will not hold water.
I was therefore not surprised when the Supreme Court granted JPE bail. As a human rights advocate, I believe the right to liberty is such a cherished right that it can only be denied in capital offenses where the evidence of guilt is strong. Ergo, the presumption is that all accused are entitled to bail except when the evidence of guilt is strong.
While I have not followed closely this latest trial of JPE, I surmised that JPE’s position is that since the information filed against him is unclear as to how he allegedly broke the law, the Ombudsman should be compelled to specify the basis for his culpability. This is why he filed a “bill of particulars”, or a motion to compel the Ombudsman to be more specific in her allegations.
Apparently, the Supreme Court agreed with JPE with the additional reasoning that being 91 years old, he is not a flight risk and should be released on humanitarian grounds.
Critics of this decision, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen included, criticized the decision as deviating from the law and jurisprudence and amounted to special treatment for JPE.
Being the anti-Enrile person that I am, I submit the dissenting Justices are wrong.
The dissent substantially is that the grant of bail is because JPE is rich and powerful. Wrong. The majority decision, assuming that it is even solely on the ground of humanitarian reason, does not violate the equal protection clause. Simply put, this clause is a constitutional guarantee that persons similarly situated should be treated alike. Leonen et al say that the basis of distinction is because Enrile is a Senator and is rich. I submit that the correct basis of distinction is that he is 91 years old. To violate the equal protection clause, Justice Leonen et al should show that there are other 91-year-old individuals being prosecuted for a capital offense and denied bail. I am sure that no one as old as Enrile is detained for a non-bailable offense, or is in jail by reason of a final and executory conviction. Why? Because our penal system recognizes that senior citizens, and those who are sick, should be the first to be released from detention on humanitarian grounds. Every year, the DOJ’s Board of Pardon and Parole prepares a list of convicted felons for release on humanitarian grounds. Again, I am so sure that there is no 91-year-old felon that continues to be behind bars. So if convicted felons could be released because of their senior years as a humanitarian gesture, why should not a mere accused —enjoying the presumption of innocence—who is also a senior citizen, not be released from custody on humanitarian grounds?
Secondly, the minority is wrong when they opined that his release on humanitarian grounds is bereft of legal basis. Under our Revised Penal Code, a trial judge may recommend that a person 70 years of age or older should no longer serve the sentence of imprisonment on humanitarian grounds. Again, this has to do with convicted felons. So why can’t the Supreme Court, by analogy, the collegiate boss of individual lower court judges, release a senior citizen also on humanitarian grounds?
Perhaps, the minority’s error is in failing to recognize that all civilized societies recognize the laws of humanity as binding on all states. This finds articulation in the so-called “Martens clause.” This provides that in default of a specific legal basis, humanity shall continue to be protected by public international law, the dictates of conscience, and the laws of humanity.
I rest my case.