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Palace bows to CA ruling

Palace bows to CA ruling

Brion says court now has last say in nursing case

By Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Armand Nocum, Cynthia Balana
Last updated 02:21am (Mla time) 10/15/2006

Published on page A1 of the October 15, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

MALACAÑANG is leaving the cheating scandal involving the nursing licensure examination entirely in the hands of the courts, specifically the decision on who among the examinees who had registered with the three implicated review centers should be subjected to a retake.

“Now that the courts have spoken, it is up to the courts to decide the whole matter,” Labor Secretary Arturo Brion told the Inquirer yesterday.

On Friday, the appellate court ruled that those who passed the exam conducted outside Metro Manila and Baguio and those who did not attend the “final coaching” sessions at the three review centers blamed for the leak may immediately take their oath as professional nurses.

But it ordered a retake of Tests III and V for 1,687 examinees whose names were added to the list of some 17,000 passers following the PRC’s recomputation of the test scores.

The court also ordered that the 1,186 examinees whose names were removed from the list of passers following the recomputation be returned to the list.

It also said that even if they had taken their oath and been issued licenses to practice, those found guilty of benefiting from the leak would have their licenses revoked.

Brion said he was to have submitted his plan of action to President Macapagal-Arroyo yesterday morning following the release of the National Bureau of Investigation’s findings on Wednesday, but that he shelved the move after the Court of Appeals issued its decision on Friday ordering a partial retake for those who had benefited from the leak.

He said Ms Arroyo would no longer be compelled to decide who among the examinees should take the exam again.

“The President had ordered me to make a decision on the matter but with the CA ruling, the matter is now entirely for the courts to decide and the PRC (Professional Regulation Commission) to implement,” said Brion, a former appellate justice.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said he had ordered the NBI to start identifying the examinees who had benefited from the leak.

In places where it would be hard to prove how many examinees benefited, such as Baguio City, each one may be subjected to a retake of Tests III and V, he said.

Gonzalez also said Ms Arroyo was not likely to order a national retake in deference to the court decision.

“She has always been observing court decisions even if it is a bitter pill for her to take,” he said in a phone interview.

Final word

Brion said there was no need for Malacañang to reconcile the NBI findings with the court ruling.

The NBI findings also limited the cheating to Manila and Baguio and showed that the cheating covered only Tests III and V.

“The NBI is just a police investigating body; what the courts will decide will still be the final word,” he said.

But he said the question of whether the issue would be resolved swiftly or be allowed to drag on further would depend entirely on how the parties involved would react to the court’s decision: “If all the parties involved just agree to the CA decision and do not file an appeal, we can set this issue aside and move on.”

Earlier in the day over Vice President Noli de Castro’s radio program, “Para sa Iyo, Bayan,” Brion said he had been informed that those unhappy with the decision would file a motion for reconsideration before the appellate court and, eventually, a petition for review by certiorari before the Supreme Court.

Brion said that while the court decision allowed the oath-taking of most of the board passers, such a move might still be stalled in the event of a motion for reconsideration.

“It is beyond the executive department because there is already an order from the court. Only the parties involved—in this case, those aggrieved by the decision—can move,” he said.

No closure

Brion said that if the case reached the Supreme Court, the latter may either issue a temporary restraining order to stop the oath-taking or allow it to proceed while deliberating on the petition.

But those who took the oath may still be stripped of their licenses if the high court reversed the lower court’s ruling, he pointed out.

According to Brion, the issue was still quite contentious and nowhere near closure: “May kaguluhan. Magulo. Magulo pa rin, kaya nga sabi ko, wala pang closure ito. Wherever we are right now, we have to move on.”

He said the first step to addressing the problem would be the immediate reconstitution of the Board of Nursing (BON), considering the seven vacancies there, and another licensure examination scheduled on Dec. 2 and 3.

He also said there was a need to monitor the prosecution of those to be charged before the Ombudsman, particularly the officers of R.A. Gapuz Review Center, Inress Review Center and Pentagon Review Specialist Inc., as well as the BON members.

Brion said he had submitted a list of possible replacements to the BON.

Malacañang’s search committee will draw up a short list from which the President will make her choices.

Brion reiterated that the cheating scandal had tainted the image of Filipino nurses here and abroad.

He said the president of the Philippine Nurses Association in the United Kingdom had informed him that other countries that also send nurses there—like India—were capitalizing on the Philippine scandal.

Difficult to pinpoint

Also over “Para sa Iyo, Bayan,” NBI Director Nestor Mantaring and Commission on Filipinos Overseas Chair Dante Ang admitted that it would be difficult to pinpoint who among the examinees had actually benefited from the leak.

Mantaring cited the case of an examinee who admitted having benefited from the leaked questions for Tests III and V but still failed the 5-part exam.

He said this was probably because the examinee got low marks in the other tests.

To implement the court decision, Gonzalez said he had ordered the NBI to subpoena the list of examinees who undertook review sessions at Gapuz, Inress and Pentagon, those who attended the final coaching sessions at those review centers, and those in Baguio who had received photocopied documents containing the leaked questions and answers.

“That is what should be done now. We should already implement the CA decision,” he said, adding:

“Once we identify these examinees—whether they passed or failed the exam—they should retake Tests III and V. That is the order of the CA.

“If they reviewed there, they should retake because the presumption is they cheated.”

Overtaken by events

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Malacañang action on the cheating scandal had been “overtaken by events.”

He said the Palace was “glad” about the appellate court’s decision, specifically on allowing the majority of the board passers to proceed with their oath-taking and ordering a partial retake.

“The ruling jibes with the President’s mandate to punish the guilty but spare the innocent. We all know that the President is sensitive to the concerns of the parents of these nursing examinees,” he said.

Brion’s report was to have been the basis of the administrative order on the retake that Malacañang had planned to issue on Monday.

He was earlier assigned by the President to decide on the controversy, the Department of Labor and Employment having been directed by her to take direct supervision of the PRC.

Brion had openly advocated a retake for all examinees nationwide of the parts of the exam in which questions and answers had been leaked. His position had been in direct contrast with that of PRC Chair Leonor Tripon-Rosero.

Brion had also criticized Malacañang for deciding to wait for the court decision, and said the President had sufficient powers to resolve the controversy.

BON resignations

Ermita said in an interview over dzRH radio that Malacañang would not accept the resignation of any BON member until investigators had proven their culpability.

“Some board members have submitted their resignation out of delicadeza, but we have not accepted any because we have not yet determined whether they are liable for any administrative liability. If we allow them to resign, any administrative action we might take against them would be useless,” he said.

Ermita said that should the courts proceed with the retake of the board exam, the government has to have the replacements in place at the BON to administer the retake.

The BON members are Eufemia F. Octaviano (chair), Remedios L. Fernandez, Letty G. Kuan, Estelita T. Galutira, Virginia D. Madeja and Anesia D. Dionisio.

The PRC has recommended Madeja and Dionisio for dismissal on grounds of their purported involvement in the leak of test questions. With a report from Jerome Aning


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