Lawyer challenges SC decision junking Duterte health disclosure plea

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 28 2020 12:57 PM

MANILA -- The lawyer who had sought the disclosure of President Rodrigo Duterte's health records is taking the Supreme Court to task for quickly dismissing his petition without requiring comment when the same body voted to oust former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno despite several procedural issues involved.

Dino de Leon filed on Monday a motion for reconsideration, with a motion to set the case for oral arguments, arguing that the case is too important for the high court to reject outright.

“…[I]t is respectfully submitted that the Honorable Court erringly shirked its bounden duty to allow the ventilation of issues and missed the opportunity to interpret a vital provision of the Constitution," he said in his 46-page petition initially filed by e-mail on July 24 and physically filed with the Court on July 27.

De Leon had anchored his petition for mandamus on 2 provisions of the Constitution: section 12, Article VII which requires that the public shall be informed of the state of health of the President in case of serious illness and section 7, Article III which guarantees the people's right to information on matters of public concern.
 

This is the first time the Supreme Court ever faced the issue on how to interpret section 12, Article VII.

The high court junked De Leon's petition in May, less than a month since it was filed, without requiring the Office of the President or the Executive Secretary to comment on the petition.

For De Leon, it would have been a "rare opportunity" for the Court to come out with a ruling, in the same way that it did not shy away from ruling on a number of novel issues, particularly the ouster of Sereno through the previously-unheard of quo warranto petition.

Prior to the May 2018 Sereno ruling, a sitting SC magistrate could only be removed by impeachment.
 

"It is clear that Justice [Noel] Tijam's ponencia points to the preference of the majority in Sereno to set aside several procedural issues, and to expand the doctrine of transcendental importance from the confines of locus standi to nearly every other procedural issue. Evidently, the majority, some of whom are still members of the Honorable Court, endeavored to prioritize the novelty of the constitutional issue raised over procedural matters," he said.

De Leon enumerated several other rulings such as those striking down President Benigno Aquino III's Truth Commission, the Judiciary's exemption from the midnight appointments ban, and the threat against releasing Hello Garci tapes.

“The duty of the President to disclose the status of his health is clearly of transcendental importance to the nation, as it involves no less than the public’s right to know if the President is still physically well and in possession of sufficient mental faculties to perform the arduous task of leading the country at a time of a global crisis. This is especially made crucial by the fact that in the same public cabinet meetings the Honorable Court cited to justify its decision to summarily dismiss the Petition, the President has repeatedly made incorrigible rumblings and, in numerous occasions, appeared unwell," he said.

Echoing SC Associate Justice Marvic Leonen's dissenting opinion that the outright dismissal undermines the Court's independence, De Leon said the high court's decision effectively made it appear that it "took the cudgels to defend the Respondents and acted as an advocate instead of as an impartial judge" and denied the people's right to hear the side of respondents.
 

The Supreme Court, voting 13-2, had said De Leon failed to establish a clear legal right to warrant compelling the President to release his health records, pointing out that deliberations of the Constitutional Commission show the Office of the President is left with the discretion how to disclose information on his health records.

The high court also rejected as hearsay news reports that De Leon quoted, where the President admitted his illnesses.

PRIMA FACIE CASE

In his motion, De Leon insisted the petition had sufficient basis because it was the President himself who admitted to having Myasthenia Gravis, Buerger's Disease, GERD, Barrett's Esophagus aside from "spinal issues" and "daily migraines", as well as reports on alleged psychological issues of the President based on court records.

"Contrary to the Honorable Court’s declaration that Petitioner just perceived the same from news articles, Petitioner actually based his statements from the official statements of the President, and the news articles just confirmed such declarations," he said.

“Indeed, one will have a difficult time appreciating the concept of a prima facie case if, for the Honorable Court, a) admissions by the party in interest himself, speaking in an official capacity; b) learned medical journals and scientific researches; and c) positive findings of a trial court on a particular fact, do not qualify as such,” he added.

De Leon faulted the SC for doing "research for the Respondents" when it cited quotations from the Constitutional Commission deliberations. He claimed "the isolated discussions lifted by the Honorable Court appears to be a misreading of the deliberations in its entirety" as other parts show the thrust is to inform the public when the President is "seriously inconvenienced in the conduct of his urgent duties" and the conclusion was to leave the interpretation to the Supreme Court.

The SC, he said, should have implemented the plain meaning of the provision which, in his view, imposes a positive duty on Duterte to disclose his state of health, a position taken by SC Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa in his dissenting opinion.

De Leon also said the court's decision to leave to the President the discretion to disclose his health records contradicts the its settled doctrines on the constitutional policy of full public disclosure of all transactions involving public interest.

DUTERTE HEALTHY?

The young lawyer accused the high court of "selectively appreciating the President's recent press conferences" to say that the President is healthy when it allegedly glossed over his "incoherent mumblings" and "barely lucid ramblings" backed by 4 pages of transcripts.

De Leon claimed that Duterte's health condition even deteriorated since the filing of the petition, citing more transcripts of his speeches and attaching a photo of his drooping left eye in his recent speech in Jolo, Sulu.

“[I]s the Honorable Court really prepared to say before the Filipino People and posterity that the President is perfectly physically and mentally well, considering his incomprehensible statements and admissions that he is afflicted with various serious illnesses? The emperor has no clothes, and it is time for the Honorable Court to call a spade a spade, if only to protect the Filipino People from a physically and mentally unwell leader," he said.

"This is even more important at a time of a crisis where the Chief Executive should undoubtedly be physically and mentally able to govern,” he added.