By Raïssa Robles
When then President Joseph Estrada faced a Senate impeachment trial, who defended him?
When former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo recently tried to skip the country ahead of an imminent electoral sabotage case, who went on her behalf to urge the Supreme Court to nullify a Watch List Order against her?
None other than Estelito Mendoza.
When cronies of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos needed to hold off government litigation, who helped them hang on to their ill-gotten wealth? You know the name.
Estelito Mendoza candidly conceded last year that he was always lawyering for “the wrong side”.
Still I find particularly rich in irony the sight of Estelito Mendoza standing up for the human rights of his client, Gloria Arroyo.
It’s ironic because during Martial Law, Mendoza was the dictator’s legal henchman who helped the regime trample human rights.
Here is what Mendoza recently told the Supreme Court about the Watch List Order issued against his client Arroyo. He said the WLO violated Section 6 of the Bill of rights which states:
Neither shall the right to travel be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health, as may be provided by law.
According to Mendoza, Arroyo –
is repeatedly being and continuously being subjected by the respondent DOJ Secretary (Leila de Lima) to successive WLOs, thereby unduly restricting and impairing her constitutionally-guaranteed right to travel indefinitely.
Mendoza wasn’t so solicitous and caring of human rights back in his Martial Law days. He was the solicitor general from 1972 to 1986. and he always won before the subservient Supreme Court.
That is to say, he won case after case which violated the rights of all Filipinos, except those in power of course.
His biggest landmark win was Javellana vs the Executive Secretary – where the Supreme Court ruled – as Estelito Mendoza had argued – that Marcos’ 1973 Constitution was ratified by the people through Citizens’ Assemblies. See my story entitled: Thank you Oliver Lozano for raising Supreme Court’s disgraceful past
Now, if you look at the Bill of Rights in Marcos’ 1973 Constitution, it looks as liberal as our present Bill of Rights.
But the truth was, we were not at all free during Martial Law.
On paper, we were free; but in reality our rights to travel, to free speech and press, to be secure in our persons and homes – were all restricted, thanks to Estelito Mendoza et al.
Estelito Mendoza was one of the top government officials who made sure to place legal handcuffs on our basic rights as a people.
One example: Ferdinand Marcos’ issuance of the Presidential Commitment Order (PCO) contained in Proclamation No 2045 “Proclaiming the termination of the State of Martial Law throughout the Philippines.”
This paper-lifting of Martial Law in 1981 had a section where Marcos gave himself the power to issue a “Presidential Commitment Order” or PCO – which in effect continued his Martial Law powers.
Simply put, the PCO allowed Marcos and his Martial Law machinery controlled by his military chief General Fabian Ver and his Defense Minister and Martial Law Administrator Juan Ponce Enrile to arrest without a warrant and detain indefinitely without charges anyone they believed was “thinking” of overthrowing the Marcos government.
Yes, they were mind readers. They believed they could enter people’s dreams and thoughts and if they thought you were about to commit subversion, you could be picked up so that you could be prevented from committing it.
This is contained in this book which I found in my late lawyer father’s possession:
As you can see, the book contains a piece by SolGen Estelito Mendoza vigorously defending the PCO after the Supreme Court had issued a landmark controversial ruling upholding the PCO in the case of Padilla and Morales.
The two were both detained using PCOs. By the way, Morales here is the same Horacio “Boy” Morales, Estrada’s former agrarian reform secretary, who was recently taken ill after a golf match.
In his piece, Estelito Mendoza argued that only the President who has full grasp of the national security situation can decide whose rights should be curtailed further. Estelito Mendoza concluded that:
Our Constitution wisely and with foresight reposed full faith and confidence on our Chief Executive in the matter of protecting our individual liberty, no less than preserving our national security.
What’s this? Back when the president was a thieving dictator, Mendoza argued that the constitution reposed full faith and confidence in his ability to protect Filipinos’ liberties? But now that the president is someone named Aquino, Mendoza is arguing that the president is, oh horror, violating the right to travel of his client, one Gloria Arroyo.
I’m a lawyer. I don’t choose what cases I have. Those in the wrong side are most deserving of having lawyers.
I’m just doing my job and that’s what I have been trained for I have been at this for many years. I find great satisfaction performing my duty because I contribute to the administration of justice. I can assure you that I win my cases because I work hard.
You may not be aware of it but Estelito Mendoza recently won for Gloria Arroyo a plunder case involving the 2007 alleged anomalous sale of the old Iloilo airport. Last month, this case was thrown out.
If Marcos cronies Lucio Tan and Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco are both on Forbes’ Rich List today, they have Estelito Mendoza to thank for it.
Mendoza – and for a long time with the help of lawyer Gilberto Teodoro – kept the government from getting back the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth which even the widow Imelda Marcos claimed was secretly entrusted to Lucio Tan and Eduardo Cojuangco.
What recently came to light was Mendoza’s reach and influence, which continues to extend all the way to the Supreme Court.
Last month, the Supreme Court recalled a “final” decision which had ordered Lucio Tan’s Philippine Airlines to reinstate 1,400 flight attendants. It turned out that the dramatic reversal occurred after Estelito Mendoza wrote the Supreme Court questioning the reinstatement ruling.
I wonder how many more Estelito Mendoza letters have swayed the Supreme Court in their decisions. They’re not telling.
Another Supreme Court landmark ruling that favored Estelito Mendoza and his big bucks client Danding Cojuangco was issued under Chief Justice Reynato Puno’s watch. Years ago, when I interviewed Chief Justice Puno I had the impression of talking to a very decent and upright man. He told me in passing then that he used to work under Estelito Mendoza when the latter was Marcos’ SolGen.
It was for this reason that I felt very sad when I read the Supreme Court ruling in 2009 allowing San Miguel Corporation to convert 24% of the sequestered common shares into preferred shares. By that act, the Supreme Court denied the coconut farmers who were claiming the shares their voting rights and their board seats. Puno had cast a vote favoring San Miguel.
I can think of two other instances when Estelito Mendoza has had an impact on national issues.
One was in 2009 when his opinion was sought on the Spratlys island dispute. As the only living member of Marcos’ team that negotiated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Estelito Mendoza advised Congress that the country should tone down its position on the Spratlys. He said those islands should not be made part of the country’s archipelagic base because the Philippines did not have the military might to defend such a position.
In the light of what’s happening today, I wonder if that kind of early capitulation was the right approach to the dispute.
Another time Estelito Mendoza played a significant role was early last year, when in his capacity as a “former Solicitor General”, he asked the Supreme Court to waive the ban on midnight appointments so President Gloria Arroyo could appoint her third Supreme Court Chief Justice even after a new President had been elected by the people.
It’s quite interesting that Mendoza used his being a “former Solicitor General” – a post he held 25 years ago – to insert himself in the issue. I wonder who his real client really was here – Gloria Arroyo or a member of the Judicial Bar Council.
Again, in this case, he won before the Supreme Court.
I’ve interviewed Estelito Mendoza, a Harvard law school graduate, several times. He’s suave, even-tempered and brilliant in oral arguments. He can make white look black and vice versa. Plus he has a grateful army of former students, colleagues and subordinates scattered far and wide in the Philippine judicial and legal system.
And that’s why he’s Gloria Arroyo’s lawyer.