Thursday, January 29, 2009


The story about Chief Justice (CJ) Reynato Puno being egged on to run for President in 2010 looks like a bold attempt to transplant a fruit-bearing tree beside running water into the middle of a vast desert. Time alone will tell whether the tree will survive.

But it shows how totally barren the political landscape is; how truly dysfunctional the political system; and how absolutely distorted our appreciation of the crises gripping the nation and the world.

Otherwise, nobody would have thought of prompting a self-effacing jurist to consider seeking the highest office.

The obvious question is: what crime has Puno done to deserve a six-year sentence to hard and brutal labor as the next president? Assuming he wants it, what terrible affliction makes us believe We the People should risk it?

Puno has had a long judicial career. Numerous are the Supreme Court (SC) decisions from his pen. But many are likely to remember only the most controversial. Vide his 2001 ponencia in Estrada vs. Arroyo, which has left constitutional law in tatters.

In that decision, Puno wrote that President Joseph Ejercito Estrada had “resigned constructively,” even without a formal letter of resignation. He boldly asserted that the Justices had “an authoritative window on the state of mind of Estrada,” and needed no formal letter of resignation to declare that he had, in fact, resigned.

That decision not only permanently deprived Estrada of three and a half years of his six-year presidency. It also bequeathed to President Arroyo a nasty legitimacy problem, which has hounded her ever since. And it made the teaching of constitutional law on presidential succession quite a chore in any decent law college.

What would have happened had the Court, through Puno, simply declared that Estrada had been ousted by direct popular action, just as Marcos had been so ousted in 1986? Would it not have spared the nation of the agony, to which his admirers now propose Puno to be the special cure?

But Puno’s real problem does not begin or end here. How far can he go, or will he go, to seek political power while disclaiming any interest in it? He claims to be not interested, but his body language says otherwise. And many see it. That seems to be his real problem.

In October 2007, when the Kilusang Makabansang Ekonomiya (KME) suggested the creation of a caretaker junta to be headed by Puno, one expected a roar of thunder at those who were publicly trying to involve him in an extra-constitutional project. KME was not simply asking him to accept the position of caretaker; rather it was asking the public to support a caretaker regime headed by him.

But no such thunder came. The CJ said absolutely nothing. Malacanang itself pretended not to have heard it. Instead, the SC spokesman simply declared that “the news reports, if accurate, are humbling, and the trust confided in Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno is appreciated. The Chief Justice, however, would rather stay out of politics and remain in the judiciary, which he has committed to ensure its independence and strengthen its integrity.”

Puno’s name came up again during the Nov. 29, 2007 Manila Pen incident. Again, no outrage was heard. Now, the extra-constitutional project appears to have morphed into an electoral one. Yet the same dance remains.

But here’s the rub. Supposing Estrada decides to run again and someone asks the SC to rule on his bid, how will Puno act, assuming he still sits? As an impartial jurist or as an embryonic presidential candidate?

Puno is due to retire from the SC in 2010. He would make a damn good senator after that, assuming our people want to restore pride and glory to the present Senate. But it doesn’t seem fair to propose him for the frightening and mind-blowing job that awaits the next President.

These are stormy days. We need a leader for the storm rather than one for the calm. The yawning political desert cannot permit us to lay the burden of the presidency on the shoulders of the first political virgin or the first showbiz demagogue that materializes. The job calls for character, integrity, patriotism, courage and experience. We need a just and righteous man with a firm grasp of the world as it revolves on first principles, one who has been tested by crisis, and belongs to the people rather than to any special interest group.

I do not mean anyone who is already campaigning for the office, in violation of the rules, with the full support of some endemic propaganda pollsters. We need to find a man who is totally prepared for the job, but who may not wish to be part of a bogus national election which the venal manipulate to favor the corrupt, and the vacuous try to turn into a mindless search for the “most populat” among popular incompetents.

We have to find such a leader, even at the risk of discarding our non-performing presidential system, or coming up temporarily with our own Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus who, in the fifth century B.C., was called from the plow to save Rome from crisis, and returned to his farm as soon as the crisis had ended.

(More on the political desert in my next piece.)

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26 January 2009

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