In a 9-6 vote, the Supreme Court, just a few minutes ago (Tuesday, March 25, 2008, 3:25 thereabouts) granted the petition of Romulo Neri, which sought the invocation of executive privilege in relation to three questions posed by the Senate, in its investigation of the botched 329US$ ZTE-NBN deal. This means that Neri cannot be cited for contempt or arrested by the Senate if he refuses to answer the three questions, which the plurality of the Court now considers to be covered by executive privilege.
The three questions are: 1. whether Gloria Arroyo followed up the deal with Neri; 2. whether he was told to prioritize the ZTE-NBN project and 3. whether Gloria Arroyo told him to go ahead with the deal after he told her about the massive bribe offer.
The decision was penned by the 2nd to the newest appointee to the Court, Teresita De Castro (of Erap plunder fame or notoriety, depending on which side you're on) and was concurred in by the following Justices: Quisumbing, Corona, Chico-Nazario, Tinga, Velasco, Nachura, Reyes, and Brion (the most recent appointee). Of those who voted in favor, only Quisumbing's vote is surprising; the others are expected as they are all Gloria appointees.
The 6 who voted against are: Chief Justice Puno (with a 100-page dissent), Justices Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Carpio-Morales, and Azcuna.
There is a surprising lack of becoming modesty in Brion voting on a petition where he did not participate and where popular sentiment held that his appointment was precisely to forestall the effects of a Velasco inhibition. There is also an uncharacteristic lack of becoming modesty in De Castro writing for the majority, where her appointment was clearly seen as a reward for convicting Estrada.
This vote, coming on the heels of the 10-4 vote in the Chavez decision, shows just how much headway the Gloria appointees are making in controlling the court. If she lasts until 2010, Gloria Arroyo would have appointed all but one of the Justices (Puno; but she would have appointed Puno Chief Justice, so technically she could be considered to have appointed all the Justices).
How's that for separation of powers? Checks and balances, anyone?