SENATE President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada lashed out yesterday against the appointment of former Supreme Court (SC) chief justice Hilario Davide Jr. as head of the Truth Commission.

In a privilege speech, for which he cannot be sued because of parliamentary immunity, Estrada called Davide “an opportunistic politician” who has “made a habit of disregarding the law and concealing the truth.”

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Estrada said he supports President Benigno Aquino III’s creation of the commission, but that his choice for its leader “poses the gravest moral contradiction to the mission and mandate of the Truth Commission.”

“His character is no different from the very subject of the truth commission, his best friend, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo,” the senator said.

In a text message to ABS-CBN, the former chief justice said he will defer interviews until the commission is completed. He declined to respond to Estrada’s accusations.

Interviewed separately, his son, former Cebu City councilor Hilario “Junjun” Davide III, said he was not surprised the senator questioned the former chief justice’s appointment.

He said the senator was one of those who wanted to impeach the former chief justice back in 2003.

Before his father retired as chief justice, Davide added, he submitted a booklet-length statement to Congress to answer the issues raised by some congressmen over the alleged misuse of the SC’s Judiciary Development Funds (JDF).

Estrada devoted two out of seven pages in his speech yesterday to revive questions on the use of the JDF by the Davide-led court.

Among others, he said, court employees should have received an additional P825 million from 2000 to 2002 as their share of the fund. Eighty percent of the JDF is supposed to pay for court workers’ allowances.

But Estrada said only P3.49 billion was disbursed in those years, when the JDF amounted to P5.4 billion, so the workers should have received P4.3 billion.

He also questioned the court’s disbursement of P64 million for the renovation of its session hall, as well as the appointment of Joseph Bryan Hilary Davide as vice chairman of the bids and awards committee.

Estrada said the chief justice committed nepotism in the appointment of his son, as well as the selection of his daughter, Norene Davide-Salas, as head of the SC’s uniform committee.

As to these allegations, former councilor Davide said his brother and sister occupied confidential positions. As such, the appointments are allowed under civil service laws.

He also challenged the senator to file charges against his brother and sister, if he found their appointments to be illegal.

“Instead of talking about it, why not take his grievances to court?” added Davide.

He corrected Estrada’s claim that the former chief justice acted alone in deciding to swear in then vice president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, after the Edsa 2 uprising that ended Estrada’s term in January 2001.

“It was a collective decision of the Supreme Court to swear in Arroyo,” said Davide.

Also yesterday, a professor of the Ateneo Law School agreed to join the commission.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima identified him as Carlos Medina, executive director of the Ateneo Human Rights Center and co-convenor of the election watchdog legal Network for Truthful Elections.

Aside from Davide and Medina, retired SC justice Romeo Callejo Sr. also agreed to join the body, said de Lima. It was Davide who recommended Medina, she added. (JKV/Sunnex)