Calling a spade
Business World, 28 March 2012


There really is no basis for praising Palawan RTC Judge Angelo R. Arizala. After all, he was only doing his job when two days ago he issued orders of arrest against former Palawan governor Joel T. Reyes, his Coron Mayor brother Mario, and former provincial administrator Romeo Seratubias. Charges were filed in his court on March 14 (one day after a panel of DoJ investigating prosecutors indicted the above-mentioned for the murder of broadcaster-environmentalist Gerry Ortega).

He presumably read the charges, went over the evidence, and then rendered his decision within two weeks: the accused should be arrested and held without bail, because the evidence was strong. He followed the procedures with deliberate speed. But the urge to praise Arizala becomes very strong when one compares his behavior with that of his Pasay City counterpart, Judge Jose Mupas, in a case also involving a capital crime — that filed against Gloria Arroyo for “electoral sabotage.” Mupas also issued an arrest order, without bail, against the former president, but this was with the speed of lightning — within three hours of the charges against her being filed in his court — which implies that (it has been determined that he is not a speed reader, and in fact has reportedly gotten into trouble for, among other things, the slowness of his decision-making) he did not take the trouble to read the rather voluminous documents, and therefore had not a clue as to whether the evidence presented was strong (it is very weak).

Googling Arizala did not yield any significant information other than that he passed the bar in 1991. JBC records show that he was born in 1963, which means that he is young enough to be my son. He became an RTC judge only in late 2009, which therefore also means that he has another 21 years to go in the Judiciary. Tabula raza, so to speak, although I am still digging. I will keep the reader informed. The point is that how he handles this case will make or break his career as a jurist, even as it may, alas, bring him untold wealth.

Since I have given Arizala a pat on the back, it is only fair that I also give the DoJ panel — composed of Stewart Allan A. Mariano, Vimar M. Barcellano, and Gerard E. Gaerlan — a similar set of pats. In a high-stakes case like this one, it could not have been easy to stay the course — although let’s face it, when Joel T. Reyes and Bumar Edrad (the “nominal” mastermind) exchange 16 texts on the day of the murder, and on top of that the murder weapon was found to be owned by Reyes’s provincial administrator, and on top of that, money also exchanged hands between Mario Reyes and Edrad after the murder, all of which are incontrovertible, the becomes almost open and shut.

And DoJ Secretary Leila de Lima must also share in the back-patting. Considering that she used to be the election lawyer of Governor Reyes, it likewise could not have been easy for her to order the second preliminary investigation that was requested by the Ortegas — even if the logic used by the original DoJ panel in clearing the Reyeses was full of holes.

And since we seem to be on a back-patting roll here, PNoy deserves a pat on the back too — for resisting the pressure by certain groups for him to push for either removal of the VAT on petroleum products or the scrapping of the oil deregulation law. The provisional public utility jeep fare increase of 50 centavos is certainly a step in the right direction, which will remain only if it can be justified by the petitioners. One wishes that PNoy directs the LTFRB to either conduct or commission a study to determine what actual fares should be (including the impact of the notorious “kotong” system that is in place). The LTFRB should take a proactive, rather than just a reactive role in resolving the issue.

Perhaps we should all be reminded at this point that the transport and communication, plus fuel, light and water expenditures of the bottom 30% of families (based on the 2000 consumer basket) constitute about 10% of their total expenditures, whereas the average expenditure for all families on these items comprise about 14.5% — so let’s not get carried away about using the plight of the poor as an excuse for reducing taxes or subsiding oil prices. If we want to help the poor, let us target them properly instead of using a shotgun approach which will surely benefit those who can afford and should pay the taxes. The CCT program should provide a very good starting point for identifying the really needy.

He also deserves a pat on the back for finally zeroing in on removing the stranglehold the tobacco lobby has on our sin tax laws and the lawmakers who should be reforming those laws. It’s taken a long time, though.

Lest we end up feeling all warm and fuzzy about each other, let us again remind ourselves of the brickbats that should be swung at PNoy and his administration for straying — sometimes wildly — off the straight and narrow of his Daan naTuwid.

For starters, and the most dangerous of all, to my mind is what looks like the co-optation of the Commission on Audit. It is bad enough that there are strong suspicions that agencies under the Executive like the BIR are being sicced on those who have displeased PNoy in one way or another, even as his favorites are somehow spared from investigations or the results thereof. But when supposedly independent constitutional commissions — independent because their members have fixed, non-renewable terms — are similarly misused/abused, one has to draw the line. The Comelec (Brillantes was reportedly asked to leave his sickbed so the charges against Arroyo could be filed) was the first to be coopted. And now the CoA, with its resurrecting a case ELEVEN years after a transaction had been completed? Good grief. Please, Grace Tan and Heidi Mendoza — do not get involved in any political vendetta.

And please, PNoy. Laid-back, the country can take. Abusing vast powers to favor incompetent/corrupt friends and destroy incompetent/corrupt enemies is another matter altogether.