Tag Archives: Reynato Puno

Column: “The father of EJKs”


I had forgotten all about this: In response to this column on Ferdinand Marcos and EJKs, some blowhard with a private Disqus account had some dark thoughts about the columnist: me. (Note: “bulagta” means sprawled, lifeless, on the street.)

In which I offer a definition of “extrajudicial killing,” and traced its practice to Ferdinand Marcos. Published on September 12, 2017.

Benigno Aquino III, the former president, was wrong to say last month that the killings that have characterized the Duterte administration’s campaign against illegal drugs could not be called extrajudicial. His reasoning is pedantic. “If you say there is extrajudicial killing, then it means there is judicial killing. But I remember, we do not have the death penalty, so there is no judicial killing. Therefore, there is no extrajudicial killing. No judicial, no extrajudicial,” he said in Filipino.

He was not ignoring the bloodbath that is drowning the country; he was merely trying to be precise about terms. But I’m afraid his understanding of judicial killing is too narrow. The “judicial” in extrajudicial does not refer to capital punishment alone, but to the legal exercise of the violence that, in modern societies, is supposed to reside with the state alone.

The troops fighting the Maute Group in Marawi, the police units involved in the raid on Mamasapano, the National Bureau of Investigation agents pursuing kidnap-for-ransom gangs — they and others like them had or have the legal sanction to kill, if necessary. (The more accurate term then is “extralegal.”) Continue reading


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Column: “Shadow of Doubt”: Concurring opinion

The second of a two-part review of the must-read book of the year. Published April 6, 2010.

Last week, I outlined some of my reserv-ations about the must-read book of 2010, Marites Vitug’s “Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court.” My attempt to sketch a fuller picture was part of a two-step process. “I thought, borrowing the conceit of legal language, I might devote much of today’s column to a dissenting opinion, as it were,” I wrote then. “Next week, the concurring opinion follows.”

Herewith, the second step. Continue reading

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Column: “Shadow of Doubt”: Dissenting opinion

The first of a two-part review of the must-read book of the year. Published on March 30, 2010.

On the copyright page of “Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court,” Marites Vitug’s must-read book-length investigation of the Supreme Court, we find an inadvertent change in the subtitle. SHADOW OF DOUBT, we read, and underneath it: PROVING THE SUPREME COURT.

I think the case can be made that typographical errors are publishing’s equivalent of movie-making’s continuity gaffes, which Graham Greene, in a previous incarnation as film critic, and channelling Jean Renoir (I think it was), referred to as part of the unconscious poetry of films. I certainly like the accidental, new subtitle. It tells us what we need to know about the book: it “proves” the Court, in the sense of trying and testing it. Continue reading

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Column: Bias in surveys, etc.

A manufactured crisis; the conventions of opinion writing; coping mechanisms for survey laggards. Published on January 12, 2010.

Yesterday’s editorial piqued my curiosity. “Not least, the history of the Court itself belies [Rep. Matias] Defensor’s contention that the office of Chief Justice had never been vacant, not even for a day.” Good thing the Supreme Court maintains one of the better government websites.

On sc.judiciary.gov.ph, we can find a list of the country’s chief justices, going all the way back to Cayetano Arellano. There are a few mistakes on the list that even a non-lawyer can spot and which can easily be remedied, such as Manuel Moran’s date of retirement (May 29, 1951, not 1966) or the order of Roberto Concepcion’s successors (Querube Makalintal came before Fred Ruiz Castro). But in it too, Defensor can find the perfect rebuttal to his arguments. Continue reading

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Column: Between Puno and Puno

Published on July 7, 2009. The links to the stories about the dinner with Secretary Puno can be found here. The main part of Chief Justice Puno’s speech can be read here.

Two weeks ago, over a 12-hour period, I found myself exploring the opposite poles of political discourse. On June 23, I was among several journalists who sat down for a freewheeling interview with quite possibly the most successful political operative since the Edsa restoration, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno. The following day, I was among many who heard the country’s leading moralist, Chief Justice Reynato Puno, thunder against the “epidemic of ignorance” threatening that same restored democracy.

I found the contrast most instructive, in large part because I happen to believe that public morality—the standards of conduct and performance we must expect from our public officials and from those who take part in public affairs—requires both competence and character. Good intentions are never enough.

Regardless of what I personally thought of Secretary Puno and his role in some of the political scandals of our time, I came away impressed by his political acumen, his strategic way of thinking about politics. And despite sharing many of Chief Justice Puno’s faith-based principles, I came away determined to measure him according to the lawyer’s standards—none of them faith-based—that he is sworn to uphold.

Between Puno the agent of pragmatism and Puno the prophet of the moral life, I found yet another confirmation that, in truth, morality is pragmatic.

* * *

Continue reading

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Earnest like a prophet

On June 24, Chief Justice Reynato Puno served as the keynote speaker at the Araw ng Maynila rites. His speech touched on the history of the country’s first city and praised the Outstanding Manilans honored that day. Then, in two lengthy paragraphs, he thundered against the most pernicious threats to our democracy:

We look up to our honorees today for inspiration, as guiding lights as we face problems that threaten the existence of our democratic and republican character as a nation.  Without doubt, a primary threat to our democracy is the lack of truth in a lot of the ongoing political, social and economic discourses. With the coming electoral exercise, our people need the truth and nothing but the truth from those who govern us and like to govern us; for the people cannot exercise their sovereign judgment at the polling places if what is foisted to them are half truths, if not falsified facts.  Electoral exercises are meaningful only if the voters, especially the less cerebral masses, are well educated on the hot button issues of the day and are not waylaid by misinformation. Given our penchant for the cult of the popular, the cult of conformity, we cannot afford any impoverished debate on such issues as rule of law, good governance, corruption, poverty and environment. We are happy that three of our awarders are from media and one comes from the academe.  It is the media and the academe that can separate the reel from the real; it is the media and the academe that can lift the iron curtain of wrong information that is fed to our less literate people; it is the media and the academe that have the highest intolerance to falsehood; more than the swine flu, we should dread the epidemic of ignorance for, as the Scripture reminds us, it is truth that will set us free.

Without doubt too, the other problem that will not let go our eyeballs is the problem of poverty. We are facing the inevitability of recession; no ifs and buts about it, the number of our people sinking below the poverty line is not decreasing for we see the rising number of clenched fists belonging to the least, the last and the lost.  If that is not enough, we behold the worst kind of poverty – the poverty of spirit, the spirit of greed of the few that devastates the many which is most unfortunate for history teaches us that when the reign of greed begins, the rule of law ends.  We are thankful that we are honoring awardees  who have lived lives that prove we can have fathomless faith on the assurance that hard work can break the chains of poverty; that poverty need not be the perpetual prison of the poor; that honesty in business is rewarded and ought not to be a matter of moral generosity.  The rags to riches stories of our honorees should inspire our poverty stricken people; they should serve as antidote to their antipathies; and they should encourage them to resume their journey to hope.  We thank them for the message done through philanthropy that the few cannot flourish at the expense of the many.

I have heard the Chief Justice speak several times; I thought this speech, in particular these two paragraphs attacking the “lack of truth” in contemporary politics, the “epidemic of ignorance,” and, worst of all, the “poverty of spirit” that results from the “greed of the few,” was his best.

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Column: The diminishing of Alex Magno

Blair compared; St. Paul dissed (sort of); Alex Magno deconstructed. Published on March 31, 2009 (with the print version hiding a head-slapping typo–“stringest,” instead of “stringent”–that makes me cringe. I am reminded of my five-year-old son quoting from his favorite cartoon show: “I … was weak.”)

One more word about the Tony Blair speaking tour. It may have been the most complete triumph by a British dignitary on Philippine soil since, well, Brig. Gen. William Draper landed unopposed, somewhere in Malate, in 1762. Of course, two and a half centuries ago, the British easily conquered the capital but faced great difficulty in the periphery. Continue reading

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Column: Legal ‘barok’

Published on February 3, 2009

Of the many basketball teams I have rooted for, perhaps my sentimental favorite is the Magnolia team of the 1985 Open Conference. Carrying the colors of the San Miguel franchise in the Philippine Basketball Association (at that time, there was only one), the team was probably the weakest ever on paper. Aside from playing coach and import Norman Black and Marte Saldana, once a Rookie of the Year, there were no other top-tier players (or at least none that I can remember). Oh, there was the hard-working Gerry Samlani, who flustered history one unforgettable night when he converted a rebound into two points—-in the opposing team’s goal.

And yet the team ended up dueling with the impossibly talented Great Taste team (coached by Baby Dalupan, led by sweet-shooting MVP Ricky Brown, backstopped by All-Defensive stalwart Abe King) for the conference championship. Great Taste, with its superior firepower, won in six games; Magnolia finally surrendered after Dalupan launched yet another new weapon: Jimmy Manansala’s three-pointers from nowhere. But what a ride for a team with no prospects. As a team, Black’s warriors weren’t destined for anything; they created their own fate.

I was (improbably) reminded of the team after watching the great Roger Federer lose to Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open finals the other night. Don’t ask me why. Perhaps something to do with the difference between destiny and fate. Continue reading

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