January 30, 2009

No Doubt



It is one of the best I've seen and I say this not only because I'm a fan of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep.

John Patrick Shanley's "Doubt" does not disappoint. Hoffman, Amy Adams and Meryl Streep are brilliant--each is the foil to the other. Adams as the caring and compassionate teacher who starts to doubt Seymour Hoffman's intentions as regards a boy in her class and informs Streep of her doubt which, in turn, reinforces Streep who had no doubts about Seymour Hoffman's guilt and Seymour Hoffman's bewildered priest who, despite professing complete innocence, lends doubts as to his innocence by doing something unexpected. Each feeds of the other's doubt or absence of doubt and the result is an energy that propels this movie.

Great writing. Great acting. Great movie.

Seymour Hoffman is a great find for this role as Fr. Flynn who faces up to the inquisition, as it were. At first, you see him as one who is sure of himself, that he has done nothing wrong; his explanations to Amy Adams' Sr. James and to Streep's Sr. Aloysius are not implausible as they might have happened exactly that way but . . . there is something to what he is saying or how he says it that just lends that nagging, yes, doubt. Later, you see him trying to assert not just his innocence but his authority when he screams at Streep that she can't do what she's doing (meaning, putting him, a priest, essentially on trial and challenging him) because "you answer to us" (meaning, the nuns answer to the priests); to which he gets Streep's riposte that she would do what she's doing outside the church if needed. And there you get the full gravity of Seymour Hoffman's own doubt and Streep's immovable certainty.

Streep is, predictably, superb here. She is terrifying as Sr. Aloysius Beauvier who is steel through and through and is, like Hugo's Javert, unflinching, self-righteous and resolute. She is the teacher/nun/principal all of us, who went to Catholic school, hated and feared. She knows she is not loved but feared and she revels in this. This is her power--that she is feared. Yet, there is something about this that makes her, in a sense, incomplete; and that is why her puzzling relationship with Sr. James, a kind and kind-hearted nun who genuinely is loved and loves genuinely, comes in. Aloysius seeks James out in the same way that, all throughout the movie, Flynn's character seeks out the boy. And we are placed in a tableau within a tableau where Aloysius's absence of doubt is peeled away bit by bit by her need for Sr. James's affirmation. The consistency of her characterization all throughout makes the film's last scene a marvelous way to end this movie.

Amy Adams is perfect for the role. She is us in this movie--caught between Flynn and Aloysius. It is through her eyes that we see and through her thoughts that we judge Flynn and Aloysius.

The sexual abuse of a boy by a priest is only hinted all throughout and leads you to make your own conclusions--trying Seymour Hoffman's Fr. Flynn privately in your mind. The unravelling of information about Sr. Aloysius and Fr. Flynn is done subtly, deliberately and allows us to re-examine our own doubts about what we are witnessing. The film makes no judgments, it allows us to do that.

Seymour Hoffman's Fr. Flynn and Amy Adams's Sr. James are perfectly human; in the end, both are riddled with doubt. It is Streep's character, which all throughout is consistent in self-righteousness and resoluteness, that drives the movie. And then the last scene of the film comes along, making it perfectly clear that, yes, she too is perfectly human.

It is a small (if I may call a film with Academy Award Winners Streep, Hoffman and Shanley small) film with big themes--doubt, intolerance, isolation. But in the end, another big theme emerges--not doubt, not intolerance, not isolation, but faith.

January 22, 2009

Foot in Mouth Disease, Part 2

"First of all, our President is ahead of Obama and probably, I would think that if there's anything to be learned, it should be President Obama learning from President Arroyo."

These words came from Eduardo Ermita, the Executive Secretary to Gloria Arroyo (to push the analogy a little further, the country's Rahm Emmanuel).

I had to replay it quickly in my mind when I heard it because I couldn't believe it. Did Ermita really say that? And did he really say it that way?

Much later on, going through the online reports and hearing Mike Enriquez looping the sound bite almost every ten minutes over his radio show over DZBB, I confirmed that Ermita actually said it.

What is it about Gloria's subalterns that they all have this uncanny knack of putting their foot in their mouth, so to speak--especially when they're trying to curry favor from the Empress (the Filipino word for "curry favor" is so much more concise, direct to the point and pejorative--sip sip).

Recall Raul Gonzales, who apparently wakes up each morning and rehearses one-sentence insults to specific persons he plans to pan for the day, who called Philip Alston, only the UN Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial Killings, a mere "muchacho."

Recall Reli Fajardo, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson, whose main job apparently is to obscure and not clarify, who claimed Executive Privilege would be invoked over an investigation yet to be called and which merited a "stupid" from the administration's own Joker Arroyo.

Recall Jesus Dureza, now Gloria's Chief Legal Counsel, who prayed aloud, when he was Press Secretary, for an unconstitutional term extension for his boss (now in the book of James, it is said that the prayers of the righteous reach heaven--hopefully one part of that verse doesn't apply to Dureza, otherwise we are in deep trouble). For his efforts, he has now been kept out of the limelight and shunted into obscurity--bad for a politico like Dureza.

Now you have Ermita, as high up as you can get, with this ungrammatical but nonetheless hilarious gem.

Can't wait for the next FMD episode.

January 21, 2009

B for the first part, B+ for the middle and A for the wind up. . .

... would be the scores I would give the 44th President's Inaugural speech (cnn link here)

Unlike the campaign speeches, the tone was sober--at times, even somber--but the speech itself was filled with hope. As called for by the occasion, it had greater gravitas as befitted his new stature as the 44th President of the world's only superpower. Many have said it was long on eloquence, short on details--perhaps. But, again, perhaps that is what is needed at the moment.

Borrowing liberally from Shakespeare ("this winter of our hardship" echoes the first lines from Richard III's soliloquy "Now is the winter of our discontent..."), Lincoln ("a new birth of freedom", the theme of his inaugural comes from the Gettysburg address, and also "all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness", which also comes from Lincoln), John F. Kennedy ("a new generation of Americans" from JFK's 1961 inaugural address, as well as the references to other nations in relation to America) and from Obama himself (This portion, "On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics", is his in structure, tenor and tone), Obama more than acquits himself, considering the extremely high expectations of this speech alone.

The reference to Washington and his rallying cry was, for me, not only well-chosen, but also well-placed--"Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]." The reference to "hope and virtue" in the face of adversity and challenge set the tone for his great wind-up:

"America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back, nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

I'd give him a B for the first part, a B+ for the middle part and an A for the wind-up. That's for the speech, the jury's still out on the governance.

January 20, 2009

Sometimes People Just Need Inspiration

The 44th President of the only super power has aged since winning the election in November 2008. You see that in his face quite clearly. The weight of the world, literally, is now on his shoulders; add to that Dubya's dubious legacy of two wars without an exit plan, a recession and a country divided--not only along blue and red lines but also by cynicism, pessimism and seeming hopelessness.

What can one man do? What can Barrack Hussein Obama do?

Not everything. not immediately. Not even close to that.

Yet, at this moment, Obama fits the bill perfectly. Because he inspires and sometimes people need inspiration. Oftentimes, that's all that they need.

He is perhaps the most eloquent American President since Kennedy. His choice of words, the images they evoke, his cadence, the rhythm of his paragraphs and even his slow, deliberate delivery in that baritone--all have served him in good stead in preaching to the choir, in turning the hearts of unbelievers and even grudgingly the respect of hold-outs. Even the most rabid republicans on the Fox News Channel would have to concede that, in the inspiration department, no republican, save for Lincoln and Reagan, comes close to him.

Even now, before his inaugural, there already are Obama quotes from his campaign speeches. "E Pluribus Unum" (Out of Many, We Are One), for instance; "there is not a blue America, a red America, but a United States of America", to mention another. And, of course, that now very famous, "Yes, We Can." JFK, one of the best and most eloquent speakers, had to wait until his inaugural before his words were immortalized--"ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." (Which actually comes from Oliver Wendell Holmes). As a testament to how inspiring Obama is, his lines have been immortalized, as it were, even before he can speak the first sentences of his much-awaited inaugural speech-which would probably start with "My Fellow Americans. . . "

He may not be the best military tactician; he may not have the best grasp of foreign affairs; he may not be the best economist. But even now, I see what Obama is best at--moving people, inspiring people, practically forcing people to stand up and out of what they are complacent with and doing something. That is the power of inspiration.

Inspiration brings with it Hope and Hope brings with it the possibility, the probability and perhaps even the reality of Change.

But it starts with Inspiration and sometimes people just need inspiration.

January 14, 2009

The Eloquence of Silence

From my Trial Techniques blog:

Rule 130, sec. 32 of the Rules on Evidence provides that "an act or declaration made in the presence and within the hearing or observation of a party who does or says nothing when the act or declaration is such as naturally to call for action or comment if not true, and when proper and possible for him to do so, may be given in evidence against him." This admission is what is commonly referred to as an "admission by silence"

The reason behind it is quite simple and straightforward. It is based on human experience, as most of the rules on evidence are. The admission is premised on the natural and human instinct to defend oneself from any act or declaration that would be prejudicial to one's interest if made within earshot or in one's presence and when there is an opportunity to do so. If the act or declaration is such that it would have called for an automatic response and no response was made, then the silence is considered an admission of that fact.

A common analogy given is a bad joke that goes: Person A shouts at Person B, "Hey, you stupid jerk!" Person B retorts angrily, "Hey, I'm not stupid." As with most analogies, this one limps, though I think the point is made.

A more precise example, not analogy, perhaps would be Justice Ruben Reyes's initial silence to insinuations and loud hints that his office was behind the leak of the umpromulgated draft decision in the Limkaichong election case pending before the Supreme Court, which has led to a new controversy with certain quarters insisting on bringing in the Chief Justice.

One would think that Justice Reyes would have been so deafening in his protestations of innocence in the face of such serious insinuations. Yet, from all official and unofficial reports, his silence was the only thing that was deafening. It was only much later, ironically only when media started to pick it up, that Justice Reyes was loudly protesting his innocence (conveniently so, he hinted that any liability might have been from his staff; respondeat superior, Mr. Justice?)

Silence is often a good thing because it places many things in perspective. The eloquence of the silence that accompanied the press conference of Atty. Biraogo's announcement of the leaked draft--which naturally would have pointed only to Justice Reyes's Chambers--speaks volumes in this case.

January 13, 2009

Judicial Touch Move?

In 1990, retired Supreme Court Justice Abraham F. Sarmiento, in Misolas v. Panga, G.R. No. 83341, wrote:

"It perplexes me why this dissent should first of all merit what appears to be repartees from the majority. I am but casting a contrary vote, which, after all, is in performance of a constitutional duty.

I am also concerned at how this case has journeyed from ponente to ponente and opinion to opinion, which, rather than expedited its resolution, has delayed it-at the expense of the accused-petitioner.

I was originally assigned to write the decision in this case, and as early as June, 1989, I was ready. On June 14, 1989, I started circulating a decision granting the petition and declaring Presidential Decree No. 1866, as amended by Presidential Decree No. 1878-A, unconstitutional and of no force and effect. Meanwhile, Madame Justice Irene Cortes disseminated a dissent. By July 18, 1989, my ponencia had been pending in the office of the Chief Justice for promulgation. It carried signatures of concurrence of eight Justices (including mine), a slim majority, but a majority nonetheless. Five Justices, on the other hand, joined Justice Cortes in her dissent. The Chief Justice did not sign the decision on his word that he was filing a dissent of his own.

Subsequently, and as events would soon unfold quickly and dramatically, the Chief Justice returned my decision to the Court en banc, and declared that unless somebody changed his mind, he was promulgating my decision. Justice Edgardo Paras, who was one of the eight who had stamped their imprimatur on my decision, indicated that he did not want to "clip the wings of the military" and that he was changing his mind. This sudden reversement under the circumstances surrounding its manifestation, took me aback for which I strongly voiced my protest for a case (although the majority is very slim) that I had thought was a settled matter.

I am aware that similar events in the Supreme Court are nothing uncommon. The following are the ringing words of my distinguished colleague, Justice Ameurfina Melencio-Herrera, but they could just as well have been mine, as far as the instant controversy is concerned, and I could not have put it any better:

It has taken all of a year and four months to what, I hope, will see the final disposition of this case, notwithstanding periodic reminders for an earlier resolution. It is this delay that has caused me a great deal of concern. It is, to me, a crying example of justice delayed and is by no means "much ado about nothing," ... Nor is the question involved "none too important." ... The bone of contention is whether or not a criminal complaint, which is an offense against the State, may be dismissed on the basis of an amicable settlement between the complainant and the accused, who is a public officer.

As assigned initially, I was to prepare the opinion of the Court. My original "ponencia" annulling the Order of respondent Municipal Judge Eriberto H. Espiritu dismissing the criminal case against respondent Mayor Emiliano Caruncho, granting the petition for Certiorari and Mandamus, and ordering respondent Municipal Judge to reinstate and proceed with the trial on the merits of the criminal case against respondent Mayor without further delay, was circulated beginning July 30, 1982."

Justice Sarmiento proceeded to convert his original ponencia into a dissenting opinion, which he published in full as a dissent.

I recalled this case from law school when I heard of the Limkaichong case which has led to impeachment whispers again, this time of the Chief Justice.

The Supreme Court is--or should be--well known for its reclusiveness and its almost obsessive compulsion for privacy (although one may argue that cannot be the case where a photogenic and articulate PIO like Midas Marquez trolls the screens of our television sets). Very little is known about its internal processes and what little is known is not always confirmed.

That is why the leaked draft (being attributed to the newly-retired Ruben Reyes, controversial in his own right by virtue merely of being a Justice) in the Limkaichong election case pending before the Supreme Court is such a big deal.

The former Congressman, whose wife stands to benefit from the Reyes draft if promulgated, has been making the rounds saying that the Justices are presumed to know what they are signing and if they have signed it, then it can't be changed anymore. Something akin to judicial "touch move", to borrow a phrase from the sport of Kings.

The dissent of Justice Sarmiento in Misolas v. Panga (quote above) clearly shows that it has happened before--at least twice on record as his dissent quotes another Justice who experienced a similar reversal of fortunes, the venerable Ameurfina Melencio-Herrera in People v. Caruncho). In the Caruncho case, the new writer, Justice Abad Santos, made light of the circumstances by saying:

"This case is a good example of the saying: "much ado about nothing. And it serves as a reminder of the suggestion that we should relax, take it easy and not get unduly excited. For these reasons, a little whimsy is not out of place.

This case was originally assigned to Justice Ameurfina A. Melencio-Herrera who was an outstanding student of the Chief Justice. The facts which led to the filing of the case had attracted national attention so it was thought that Justice Melencio-Herrera would once again pen a significant opinion. Due solely to the vagaries of chance, according to the Chief Justice, the lady justice was writing the decisions in leading cases. At one time Justice Antonio P. Barredo remarked that despite his long service with the Court he had not penned a landmark case. But that was before the Federation of Free Farmers case (107 SCRA 352-490 [1981]) which competes with the McDougal and Feliciano tomes in their soporific effects.

Justice Melencio-Herrera in fact already had a ponencia to which nine (9) other justices concurred. But alas, before it could be promulgated some of the brethren changed their minds. No, they did not exactly flip-flop; they merely flipped. Justice Melencio-Herrera has "threatened" to write a separate opinion and hopefully she will tell it all
."

Not one to be intimidated or made light of, the Lady Justice from Cavite (direct descendant of Emilio Aguinaldo) quite pointedly replied to this:

"It has taken all of a year and four months to what, I hope, will see the final disposition of this case, notwithstanding periodic reminders for an earlier resolution. It is this delay that has caused me a great deal of concern. It is, to me, a crying example of justice delayed and is by no means "much ado about nothing" * Nor is the question involved "none too important." ** The bone of contention is whether or not a criminal complaint, which is an offense against the State, may be dismissed on the basis of an amicable settlement between the complainant and the accused, who is a public officer."

In Misolas, Caruncho and now Limkaichong, the Court changed its mind before promulgation of the Decision, which is the operative act for the effectivity of the Court's Decision. Anytime before the Court's Decision is promulgated, it may still be changed--as Justices Sarmiento and Melencio-Herrera and probably other Justices (who never told) discovered.

In all these instances, the Chief Justice was the determinative factor before a Decision could be promulgated. Does that indicate that the Chief Justice is partial, one way or the other? I do not believe so.

In discharging this function, the Chief Justice may be seen to operate on two levels--as an administrator and as a jurist. In the first role, he ensures that there is compliance with the number of votes so that the Decision may be promulgated. In the second role, he ensures that what the Court will be promulgating will carry weight.

That is apparently what Chief Justice Puno did in Limkaichong. While the number of votes was sufficient to indicate a ruling in favor of one party, the number of "in the result" votes cast sufficient doubts on the binding nature of the Decision for all future cases. It may be argued that the other Justices should simply have been polite enough to tell Justice Reyes that they could not go along with his reasoning; instead, they chose to do it with their votes. As Chief Justice, it was the role of Puno to ensure that what emerged from the Court would not be something that would apply only to a specific person in a specific instance but would be good enough to be a rule for many ages to come.

I am not an apologist for the current Chief Justice though I have written favorably about him. (I still cannot read the Gloria Arroyo legitimacy case without cringing at the triple hearsay rule adopted by the Court in that case.) But there is a line between legitimate criticism of the Court and its Justices and outright and outright political maneuverings. Right now, I do not see the legitimate criticism, especially of the Chief Justice because all I see are the political maneuverings.

Sounds greek to me, again

Some of the greek names that appeared in news stories the past months:

Utopia
Alpha Phi Beta
Upsilon Sigma Phi
Sigma Rho

1. Utopia is the fraternity that is common to Felisberto Verano and Ricardo Blancaflor. (Reference: PDEA-DOJ-ALABANG 3 controversy).

2. Alpha Phi Beta is the fraternity common to Chief Justice Reynato Puno, Senior Associate Justice Leonardo Quisumbing, Lyceum Law School Dean Pacifico Agabin. (Reference: Threat to Impeach Chief Justice Puno)

3. Upsilon Sigma Phi is the fraternity of Louie Biraogo and Jacinto Paras, the former Congressman, who blew the lid off an unpromulgated ruling mysteriously sent to him by a person he has yet to identify. (Reference: see above)

4. Sigma Rho is the fraternity of Sonny Marcelo, Justice Antonio Carpio, and former CA Justice Vicente Roxas, among many many others (Reference: Meralco-GSIS-CA Controversy). It is also the fraternity of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

Once again, things are sounding greek to me.

Strategic Dismembering

It is as if someone took a really dull knife and starting hacking away at parts of one's body--not to kill but to maim, perhaps temporarily but hopefully permanently. That is how I feel when I read and hear the news stories about the way that institutions in this country are being dismembered.

The kennel (este the House of Representatives) came first. The coup d'etat that replaced Jose De Venecia Jr. with Prospero Nograles. Then the Court of Appeals with the Sabio-Roxas-Villarama scandal involving Meralco and GSIS; this resulted in the suspension of Sabio, the dismissal of Roxas and the lid being blown off what was previously only an open secret within the trade, este the profession of lawyering. Then the Senate coup d'etat, replacing Manny Villar with Juan Ponce Enrile. Then the PDEA and DOJ bribery issue, with Gloria taking the side of PDEA and ordering preventive suspensions for one Undersecretary (looks guilty), the Chief State Prosecutor (looks innocent but clueless), several state prosecutors and once again, the lid being blown off what was previously only an open secret within the trade of lawyering--that if you're resourceful enough, you can get the decision you really want. Now, the Supreme Court, with the threat of impeaching the Chief Justice and the reality that Gloria will get to appoint seven Justices before 2010.

All through it all, the people are too numb to scream in pain as parts of this body, especially parts that insure accountability now and in the future (especially after Gloria leaves Malacanang) are strategically dismembered, discredited or simply disregarded.

The greatest danger now is not that Gloria still remains in power, it is that she might remain in power by proxy even after she leaves Malacanang.

January 09, 2009

No Joking Matter

Comedian Tito Sotto, Chair of the Dangerous Drugs Board, is asking for the death penalty for drugs. The problem with putting comedians in public office is that they start to think their jokes can actually become policy.

The proliferation of drugs in the country is a serious matter and should not be left to comedians--bad ones at that (if you don't believe me, watch Iskul Bukol: The Reunion). The death penalty for drugs is also not a joke and should certainly not be left to comedians like Tito Sotto.

I have witnessed personally two executions--that is why I know it is not a joke. I have gone to death row countless times, interacted with those on death row and their families and have seen their plight--that is why I know it is not a joke. I have also interacted with victims' families and have come to understand that their cry is not for death but for justice and that, because the system is not perfect, the line between justice sometimes bleeds into death. That is why I know that the death penalty is not a joke.

The country has been down this road before. In 1994, the death penalty was restored in the Philippines. From February 5, 1998 to January 4, 1999, seven executions were carried out and nine persons were executed (including a triple execution on the same day; which has to be a dubious record of sorts). In 2006, the death penalty was abolished by law.

Now the comedian Tito Sotto wants the death penalty for drugs back. As if it were some silver bullet that would stop the importation of drugs through ports where money could convince eyes to become temporarily blind, ears to become temporarily death and lips to become silent. As it the death penalty were some magic enchantment that would assure that no one would ever be victimized again by drugs.

I listen to the hearings on the PDEA bribery charges against the DOJ and marvel at the illogic behind the comedian Tito Sotto's conclusion--that the reimposition of the death penalty could have prevented the farce that is now going on.

Even with the death penalty for drugs, you will still have prosecutors who are willing to look the other way, lawyers who will be over zealous for their clients' cause to the extent of writing the decisions themselves, high ranking government officials who cannot be outraged enough at official and evident malfeasance to be trusted with holding sway over the administration of justice. The comedian Tito Sotto's proposal to reimpose the death penalty for drugs cannot answer the evident flaws in the justice system that has become so evident in the past few months--with the Court of Appeals Meralco scandal and the PDEA-DOJ bribery charges.

Death is such a final penalty. After seven executions, nine executed and an official finding by the Supreme Court in People v. Mateo that the judicial review process is not infallible and that, in fact, there is a high error rate in convictions, there is no place for such a final penalty in such an imperfect system.

If there is one thing that I have learned in almost 19 years of practicing law, it is that the facts can be changed, the evidence can be tampered with, witnesses can lie, but death will always be final. And if there is one thing that I have learned in watching comedians, it is that they are always joking but they are not always funny.

The death penalty is no joke and it is no laughing matter. The comedian Tito Sotto should stick to jokes.

January 05, 2009

1/3 isnt too bad

In the tenth installment of "Shake, Rattle and Roll", only the one with Marian Rivera as an Enkanto killer works.

It is whimsical, light, fun and funny. Marian Rivera is definitely one of the prettiest faces around but in the third installment, she shows great comic timing. She's no Tina Fey but her installment does save "Shake Rattle and Roll X."

The worst film showing during the MMFF2008 . . .

. . . was without a doubt that poorly disguised campaign video of Bayani Fernando "not campaigning" to be President. I caught some bad movies during the MMFF 2008 but Bayani's--short as it was--was without a doubt the worst. And I'm talking about going up against Iskul Bukol as well as Tanging Ina.

Someone should tell him that he does not have a face for tv nor a voice for radio. So he should stop inflicting himself on us. If he cares so much for this country, he should remove all of his tarps, ads and radio spots and simply work.