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Colleague even accused Sereno of plagiarism

I can understand former Associate Justice Florentino Feliciano’s doting defense of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno in his letter to this paper (Inquirer, 9/8/12).  However, facts should prevail over one’s fondness for a protégé.

Mr. Feliciano insists that Sereno was the government’s co-counsel in the case the German firm Fraport brought against the government at the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (Icsid). However, I refer Mr. Feliciano to three documents, copies of which he can acquire through Google.

Document 1: Icsid decision on Case No. ARB/03.25, dispatched to the parties 16 August 2007, which enumerates counsels “Representing the Respondent (Philippine Government)”: “Carolyn B. Lamm, Abby Cohen Smutny, Florentino Feliciano, Ms. Agnes Devanadera, Rex B Pascual, and Eric R. Panga.”  The name “Sereno” nowhere appears in the document nor any reference to a “co-counsel.”

Document 2: Icsid decision on the same case annulling the 2007 decision, 23 December 2010, which lists counsels representing the government: “Ms. Agnes VST Devanadera (until January 2010), Alberto Agra (until June 2010),  Jose Anselmo I. Cadiz (from August 2010), Florentino Feliciano, Carolyn Lamm, Abby Cohen Smutney, and Andrea Menaker.”  No Sereno.

Document 3: “Curriculum Vitae of Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno” which she posted in the Facebook account she set up in July with the name “Why Justice Sereno should be appointed as Chief Justice.” Nowhere there does Sereno claim that she was co-counsel, or even involved in the Fraport case. Why didn’t she, when she boasted about it when she was appointed associate justice in 2010?

Two possible reasons. One, she worried that this time around, her claim would be put to closer scrutiny by the Judicial and Bar Council. Two, she received compensation for whatever legal services she rendered in the case, probably directly from Feliciano’s fees, but did not report these in her income tax returns.

Feliciano goes overboard in his misty-eyed fondness for Sereno when he wrote that Sereno practically saved the country from being “put asunder” because of her persuasive, successful arguments before the Supreme Court to junk the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) that proposed a new political entity for Muslims in Mindanao.

Anybody who followed those proceedings would have doubled up in laughter at Feliciano’s claims, which not even Sereno dared boast about in her CV.

For good reason, Sereno, representing Liberal Party president Franklin Drilon, was just one of six lawyers who made oral arguments before the Court, and was largely ignored by the press then. After all, Sereno simply read her lengthy memorandum for nearly four hours, instead of making a persuasive speech, which demonstrated her misunderstanding of what “oral arguments” before the tribunal were. Worse, two justices were actually making fun of her for her ignorance of certain crucial details of the case.

The junking by the Court of the MOA-AD was actually a no-brainer, as even the administration had informed the tribunal that it had neither the intention nor the power to convert the memorandum into an agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. After all, it was merely an aide memoire of points agreed upon with the MILF, which the negotiators had not even cleared with the President.

In fact, seven of the Court justices dissented, not on grounds that the MOA-AD was unconstitutional, but because they thought the issue was moot and academic and shouldn’t have been deliberated on by the Court.

“Tiglao should have spent a little more time in examining the academic articles and statements written by Sereno,” Feliciano also wrote.

Well, I did. It wasn’t too difficult to do so since she wrote only seven short articles in the last 10 years, two of which actually had co-authors, one of whom (the principal author) was, who else, her mentor Feliciano. Her articles, like “Hyperbusiness in Cyberspace” or “Understanding Law and Economics: A Primer for Judges,” aren’t exactly brilliant legal treatises.

Worse, though, her colleague in the Court—Associate Justice Roberto A. Abad—accused her of plagiarism in several of her articles and in her memorandum to the tribunal in its MOA-AD hearings. She copied verbatim into her articles many sentences from other scholars, documents, and even US justices, without attribution, Abad claimed. (This is posted on the Court’s website.)

Abad’s accusations were not just bloggers’ claims (as in the case of Sen. Tito Sotto) but were in his “Separate Concurring Opinion” (7 Feb. 2011, posted on the Court’s website) in the tribunal’s dismissal of the plagiarism complaint against Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo. Abad even gave Sereno the chance to answer his allegations, which he incorporated in his “Opinion” but nevertheless debunked.

As to the letter to the editor of Carolyn Lamm of White & Case (Inquirer, 9/8/12), I know where she is coming from, although to her credit, she doesn’t repeat Feliciano’s false claim that Sereno was a “co-counsel” in the case.

Lamm’s law firm reportedly got the lion’s share of the total P2.3 billion that the government had spent on legal fees and other expenses in the Fraport case. Not only that. Even as it lost the case in its “second round,” White & Case was still retained by President Aquino as the counsel in the same case, in which Fraport’s damage claims would again be evaluated.

Furthermore, Mr. Aquino didn’t even bother to check out other international law firms (Allen & Overy, for instance, the country’s counsel in another case in the same tribunal) and immediately contracted White & Case to represent it in his new headache—a Belgian firm’s P4-billion damage suit against the government for unilaterally junking the Laguna Lake flood-control project.