MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago questioned Friday the competence of President Benigno Aquino III's legal advisers after Malacañang suffered another legal setback before the Supreme Court.
Asked how she would describe Aquino's legal team, Santiago replied: "His legal team is inadequate in legal education."
The feisty senator said the Palace's legal woes should not be shouldered entirely by Executive Secretary Paquito "Jojo" Ochoa.
"He’s not the gatekeeper of legal issues in the administration. That function is undertaken by the legal counsel or legal adviser of the president, or by the secretary of justice. But it looks to us that the secretary of justice is too engrossed with operational details," she said in an interview.
Santiago said the President should tap someone like former Supreme Court Justice Florentino Feliciano whom she described as "not only globally recognized as an expert in international law but is also the leading constitutional expert in our country."
The President on Thursday said he is beefing up his legal team after the High Court declared as unconstitutional Executive Order 1 creating the Truth Commission.
Aquino said he is tapping the services of his mother's former lawyer, ex-Court of Appeals Justice Magdangal Elma, to help former Chief Justice Hilario Davide and other members of the Truth Commission in ironing out Malacañang's legal strategy before the Supreme Court.
Elma is a former CA associate justice and served as a legal counsel for former presidents Cory Aquino and Joseph Estrada. He also served as chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) during the Estrada administration.
He recently took his oath as presidential assistant for special concerns for President Aquino.
The SC decision on EO 1 is the latest in a string of judicial setbacks for the Aquino administration.
In September, the high court halted the impeachment proceedings against Ombudsman Gutierrez. The proceedings were heavily backed by Aquino allies.
In October, the high court issued issued a status quo order in connection with the motion of Bai Omera Dianalan-Lucman, 1 of 4 who filed a petition questioning the constitutionality of Executive Order No. 2. The order revoked the so-called midnight appointments done by the previous administration.
Impeach moves vs SC justices
Meanwhile, Santiago thumbed down as a "bad precedent" a proposal to impeach the 10 Supreme Court justices who voted against Executive Order no. 1.
The senator said any move to impeach the chief justice can be seen as denigrating the judiciary and presumes that the adverse decision was politically motivated.
"You presume that he is politically motivated. But motivation is mental. How can you possibly cull into his head and charge him with political motivation? Even if you raise that issue with objective lawyers, they will tell you that the issue is properly decided in the sense that although the basis is equal protection, nonetheless, the real basis there is the tripartite system of government," she said.
"If you do that, one, you set a very bad example on how to get rid of an uncooperative or unsympathetic system. You will therefore be degrading the position of chief justice by equating him to ordinary politicians. Kasi ayaw natin ng politika niya, tanggalin natin. You cannot do that, you are violating the independence of the judiciary, which is a cardinal principle of our legal system," she added.
Santiago said the President cannot exercise legislative powers "independently of the will of the legislative branch of government."
She also denounced individuals who started the impeachment rumors against Chief Justice Renato Corona and the 9 other justices. "Those who initiated or espoused those rumors have decided for themselves for political favor. You cannot make decisions particularly fatal to their nature without backing this up by statistics or by actual analysis," she said.