The blunder of an Arroyo lawyer, Hitler fan
Ignoring a constitutional ban against making “midnight” appointments in the last months of her presidency, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) went ahead and appointed her personal manicurist, Nitz Carpon, as director of a government housing agency, and her personal gardener, Armando Macapagal, as Deputy Director of the Luneta Park Administration. For good measure and insurance, she also appointed her former legal counsel, Associate Justice Renato Corona, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
GMA had previously appointed Corona’s wife, Cristina, as CEO of the John Hay Management Corporation (JHMC), after firing all the other members of the JHMC Board who opposed Mrs. Corona’s appointment. According to a recent government audit of her JHMC income, Mrs. Corona received a monthly salary of 78,000 pesos ($1,857), in addition to 10,800 monthly representation allowance, 20,000 monthly communication expenses, and 40,000 pesos per board meeting appearance. In her last six months in office, Mrs. Corona received a total of 972,148.30 pesos ($23,146), down from the P1.915 million pesos ($45,595) she received the year before.
GMA’s choices were controversial before and after she stepped down. Her personal attorney, Ferdinand Topacio, for example, was featured in an ABS-CBN newscast on January 2, 2012 about his great admiration for Adolf Hitler.
ABS CBN news correspondent Chiarra Zambrano reported that Topacio “remains convinced that Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler was a good leader” and that “Germany became a modern nation under the Nazi strongman.” The telecast included an interview of Topacio standing in front of a large painting of Hitler that was prominently displayed in his law office.
In the interview, Topacio denied that Hitler was behind the mass murders of more than six million Jews during the Holocaust. He expressed his belief that Hitler just wanted to “segregate” and “exile” the Jews, not exterminate them. He added that “Hitler enjoyed the support of his people with regard to the treatment of Jews.”
It was a no-brainer for GMA to pick a lawyer who was willing to zealously defend Hitler against world public opinion.
Topacio’s legal skills were quickly put to the test. When GMA learned that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) was poised to file electoral sabotage charges against her by November 18, she made plans to go abroad for “a medical emergency”. But because Secretary of Justice Leila De Lima had issued a Hold Departure Order (HDO) barring her from leaving the country, GMA directed Topacio to file a request with the Supreme Court for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to void De Lima’s HDO.
Since GMA had appointed 12 of the 15 members of the SC, it was a foregone conclusion that a majority of the SC justices would grant the TRO and allow GMA and her husband to leave Manila on November 15, before the non-bailable criminal charges could be filed against her.
Topacio moved quickly to have his motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) heard by the Supreme Court “ex parte” – defined as a legal proceeding brought by one person in the absence of and without representation or notification of the other party, namely the government. As expected, the TRO was approved.
Even before the ink was dry on the Arroyo Court’s TRO, Topacio already had the 2 million pesos in cash ready to hand over to the SC as a condition for the TRO. At that point, GMA was already speeding to the airport in an ambulance, with her face mask and neck brace firmly in place, ready to leave Manila on the first available flight.
But GMA’s departure was thwarted by De Lima who ignored the SC’s TRO fearing that GMA would never return once she left. De Lima was not persuaded by Topacio’s personal assurance that he would have one of his testicles removed if GMA did not return as promised. De Lima was also not deterred by the threat of the SC to cite her for contempt.
As expected, the Arroyo Court justices summoned De Lima to appear before them posthaste to explain why she willfully disobeyed their order to allow GMA to leave the country. But, as it turned out, De Lima had a perfect defense – the SC’s TRO was not in effect on November 15 because the second condition required by the SC’s order had not yet been met.
It appears that in his rush to get GMA to leave immediately, Topacio had neglected to have GMA sign a Special Power of Attorney authorizing him to receive processes and subpoenas on her behalf – a specific condition for the issuance of the TRO.
When the SC met en banc on November 18, after a fierce debate, a majority of the justices led by Justices Lourdes Sereno and Antonio Carpio ruled in a 7-6 decision over CJ Renato Corona that since GMA had not complied with the second condition, the TRO was suspended until the condition was met.
Unfortunately for Topacio and his client, before Topacio’s error could be corrected and the second condition met, Pasay Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Jesus Mupas had already issued an arrest warrant against GMA charging her with electoral sabotage, a non-bailable offense.
In a press conference in Malacañang on November 18, De Lima said that with the issuance of the arrest warrant, the issue of the Supreme Court’s TRO allowing GMA to leave the country “has become moot and academic.”
GMA was then served with the arrest warrant and placed under hospital arrest at St. Luke’s Hospital. The next time Topacio appeared in the news was when he announced that GMA would be having breakfast at St. Luke’s while waiting for the Philippine National Police (PNP) to transfer her to the Veterans Memorial Hospital. “The PNP run the show here. They make the conditions,” Topacio told the press.
Before the PNP made the conditions, it was the SC that did so and Topacio blundered by failing to comply with one of them.
I wonder what Hitler would have done if his lawyer had committed such an egregious error.
(Send comments to Rodel50@aol.com or mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call 415.334.7800).
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.