Solicitor General Antonio Nachura has made it to the short list of five nominees to the vacant slot in the Supreme Court. He probably has a pretty good change of inheriting the coveted position, considering that he is the chief government lawyer and there is a need to beef up the number of justices in the bench who are “friendly” to Malacañang.
Nachura’s bid for a seat in the highest tribunal is bound to provoke objections from people who are unimpressed by his handling of government cases before the courts. With him as solicitor general, the government suffered successive losses in major political cases before the Supreme Court, such as those pertaining to Executive Order 464 banning Cabinet members from appearing in congressional inquiries without presidential clearance, the Calibrated Preemptive Response dealing with street protests, Proclamation 1017 placing the country under a state of national emergency and the petition for people’s initiative to amend the Constitution.
Now here comes a private citizen, Ricardo Quintos, who believes that Nachura does not in any way deserve a seat in the high tribunal. Quintos, a former congressman of Mindoro Occidental, is the father of Paul and Michael Quintos, who were murdered by gunmen in a neighbor’s house in Mamburao town on Dec. 13, 1997.
Seven persons, led by former Mindoro Occidental Rep. Jose Villarosa, Quintos’ political archrival, were found guilty in the twin murder case and meted out a death sentence by Judge Ma. Theresa Yadao of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court-Branch 81 in March 2006. The decision came after more than eight years of trial.
The others who were sentenced to death by execution—who came to be known as “Mamburao Six”—included Josue Ungsod, Manolito Matriciio, Mario Tobias, Ruben Balaguer, and Gelito Bautista. Villarosa and his fellow accused were convicted on the strength of the confession of Eduardo Heromoso, one of the gunmen, who was caught by the police two weeks after the murder.
But there is a possibility that the guilty verdict on Villarosa, Balaguer, Bautista and Tobias handed down by Judge Yadao may be reversed by the Court of Appeals. The Office of the Solicitor General has filed a manifestation with the CA recommending the acquittal of the four. The OSG cited a supposed retraction by Hermoso on his sworn statement.
The OSG said the statement made by Hermoso “was not voluntary,” and cited his allegation that he was subjected to torture and coercion by his police handlers. It said Hermoso’s extra-judicial confession was “inadmissible as evidence,” and could not be used against his other co-accused.
Naturally, Quintos was outraged by the action taken by Nachura in recommending the acquittal of Villarosa and the overturning the lower court’s verdict. Quintos and his lawyer contended that the position adopted by Nachura on the case “is a clear breach of its legally mandated duty to act as counsel of the People of the Philippines in call criminal proceedings before the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.”
“It should be borne in mind that a criminal offense against the People of the Philippines and the State, by reason of its inherent duty to protect its people, acts as prosecutor in all criminal cases. This duty to prosecute criminal case is delegated by the state upon the Office of the Public Prosecutor in the lower court, and in the Office of the Solicitor General in the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court,” the complainant said.
The complainant also presented the following arguments:
The law specifically mandates the OSG to act as the lawyer of the government or state in all criminal proceedings before the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. Thus, the law created a system for the prosecution of criminal cases in the higher courts. It therefore leaves no discretion to the OSG to act in any other capacity than to stand for the cause of the government or the state, which is to prosecute the accused in the case.
“With the OSG taking the side of the accused, the People of the Philippines was effectively left without any counsel to advance and/or argue its position with the Court of Appeals. The proceedings before the Court of Appeals would center both on questions of facts and law. In the absence of counsel then, the people would have nobody to explain to the Court the factual antecedents of the case, as well as the legal implications of the same, and would be left totally at the mercy of the defense.”
With the manifestation, the OSG was attempting to substitute its judgment with that of the lower court judge. This is improper, considering its duties and responsibilities as defined under the law.
The complainant pointed out that Matricio and Hermoso were acknowledged political followers of Villarosa. He said the execution of the sworn statement by Hermoso was voluntary, as shown by the records of the case, and was taken with the assistance of a counsel. He said no proof was offered by the defense to show that Hermoso was tortured coerced into giving his testimony that incriminated Villarosa and his co-accused.
Former Rep. Villarosa’s wife is the incumbent congresswoman of Mindoro Occidental. Amelita Villarosa, a delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention, is perceived to be very close to Malacañang. Quintos, also a delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention, suspects that the congresswoman flexed her influence with the powers-that-be so that the OSG would take a position favorable to her husband. Quintos, by the way, has no plans of running for any public office in the May polls.
Quintos and Amelita Villarosa faced each other during the 1998 congressional race in Mindoro Occidental. Villarosa was proclaimed winner by the Commission on Elections, but Quintos claimed he was cheated and filed his protest before the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal. The tribunal in 2000 ruled that Quintos was the legitimate winner over Villarosa. Villarosa appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which subsequently upheld the tribunal’s ruling.