A few good men



“A few good men” was the title of the Hollywood movie in the nineties starring Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Jack Nicholson. It was about a military lawyer defending two US Marines charged with killing a fellow Marine in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The twist of the story unfolds when the lawyer further seeks the truth by uncovering a conspiracy that the commanding officer was behind the order of the killing.

Doesn’t this sound familiar in many of the cases where a commanding officer either from the military, the police force or any government/ non-government office tries so brush off or cover up his or her responsibility over a crime? The key people who can make a difference are the lawyers, the judges and the justices who seek the truth; where not even power nor money is necessary to achieve justice. Such is the persona exemplified by the highly respected Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio who retired from the Supreme Court last week.

After 18 years of distinguished service in the Supreme Court, retiring with zero case backlog and the unfailing guardian of our Constitution and Sovereignty. It is just but fitting to honor him for his patriotism, the elusive love of country amongst us – for his work with the High Tribunal and beyond that we only know too well.

We very well know that Carpio was a staunch advocate for our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea (WPS). Our victory with the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague on 12 July 2016 can be attributed to him. After consultation with Filipino and foreign experts, he initiated the filing of the case with Arbitral Tribunal in 2013 where the Philippines won the landmark maritime case against China. His advocacy in the WPS began in 2012 after China flagrantly occupied Scarborough Shoal. In 2017, Justice Carpio published his authoritative book, “The South China Sea Disputes: Philippine Sovereign Rights and Jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea.” This collectors’ item book contains the Philippine maps and the research work done that greatly helped win our case in The Hague a year earlier on 2016.

In his last five months in office, Justice Carpio wrote two important decisions – his “huling hirit” (last hurrah) – that will save MERALCO customers several trillions of pesos in the next two decades. Together with other ten justices, Carpio penned the Supreme Court decision (11-2) cancelling the seven Power Supply Agreements (PSAs) that Meralco entered for 20 years without the required bidding in compliance with the Competitive Selection Process (CSP). It was allowed by the super-corrupt Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) whose chairman was fired by no less than President Duterte for corruption in November 2017.

The second was the unanimous Supreme Court decision that nullified the ERC’s adoption of the current or replacement cost in the valuation of Meralco’s Regulatory Asset Base. In an en banc session, Justice Carpio wrote the decision that would effectively provide electricity to consumers in the “Least Cost Manner.” Thus, the High Tribunal decision championed the consumer rights of the many million Meralco customers by ordering the ERC to review its approval of Meralco’s unbundled rates.

As my friend Rick Ramos had quipped, “Being hailed as “the Chief Justice that we never had” is even better than being appointed as Chief Justice itself. Lawyers and non-lawyers alike, as well as judges and justices admire and acknowledge Carpio as a person of probity with the independence of a brilliant legal mind.

The glory of justice and the majesty of law are created not just by the Constitution – nor by the courts – nor by the officers of the law – nor by the lawyers – but by the men and women who constitute our society – who are the protectors of the law as they are themselves protected by the law – Robert Kennedy

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Last week, the country mourned the passing of former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel. He is the last of the Mohicans who led this country with utmost sincerity and integrity. Many public officials choked to tears as they shared their stories of the late senator and how they were pushed and challenged to do their best in every endeavor. Yes, Senator Pimentel was like a father to many of them. He had a charisma that not too many have today. He was there to help, to make a difference, to lead – regardless of public opinion. The purity of his convictions was what made him respectable. He died with dignity, self-respect, distinction, honor and grace.

Pimentel was a fierce critic of the Marcos dictatorship. He was arrested and detained three times – in 1973,1978 and 1995. He became known as a delegate of the 1971 Constitutional Convention. In 1987 he was appointed by then President Corazon Aquino as Minister of Local Government. In 1991, he authored the Local Government Code. Pimentel served as senator from 1987 to 1992, and from 1998 to 2010. He was Senate President from 2000 to 2001.

My father, the late Max Soliven once wrote, “Pimentel took adversarial positions against Estrada and Malacañang in the past. In the face-off regarding the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which the Senate approved and was upheld by the Supreme Court, Pimentel had voted a noisy “No.” He had also assailed before the Supreme Court – and won that time – an administrative order of President Estrada reducing the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) of local government units. In a decision penned by Justice Art Panganiban, the administrative order of the Chief Executive had been annulled for being violative (as Nene pointed out) of the Constitution.”

“In December 1998, Pimentel returned a Christmas “bonus” of P200,000 from the PAGCOR “gifted” to him by Malacañang. On that occasion, the senator wrote the President asserting that, since he is against gambling, he could not accept a gift from the PAGCOR. Earlier this year, he had immediately returned a brand-new “Montero” SUV issued to him by Malacañang, while some colleagues and Cabinet members had kept their Palace-issued luxury vehicles until the “hot car” issue made it too hot for them.”

Last July, I had my last chance of assisting the late senator as he entered the function room of Manila House to talk about his vision of Federalism during a symposium hosted by Akademyang Filipino. He was in a wheelchair, then stood up and walked slowly with a cane toward the sofa. He was frail wearing a white jacket complimented by his white silvery hair but very distinguished. When he started to talk about his dreams for our country, he suddenly lit up like a stallion with grit and might determined and persistent to share his vision for our country’s future.

Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace – Nelson Mandela

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Hear ye, hear ye! In the midst of the current water shortage, Manila Water, the east zone concessionaire plans to increase its rates by a whooping 780% if the Supreme Court will not reverse its ruling in imposing a fine of P921 million for not complying with the Philippine Clean Water Act. Senator Sherwin Gatchalian called this a highway robbery that government regulators should never allow. The consumers were not the ones who violated the law. Why should the consumers be made to suffer the consequences? Susmariosep!