Wake Up, Philippines!

Ex-Supreme Court justice fined P.5 million for leaking court decision

Posted in Judiciary, Supreme Court by Erineus on February 25, 2009

MANILA, Philippines – Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruben Reyes was fined P500,000 and barred from holding public office after the High Tribunal adjudged him to have leaked the draft decision on the citizenship case of Negros Oriental Rep. Jocelyn Limkaichong.

Lawyer Jose Midas Marquez, SC spokesman, said the P500,000 fine will be deducted from Reyes’s retirement benefits, which reportedly amount to some P4.45 million.

However, Reyes told reporters he is innocent, and that he is considering filing a motion for reconsideration.

“I don’t see any reason why the blame should be put on me,” he said.

“I have the least reason to do that and the least motive (since I was retiring already).

“I’m totally innocent. I served government for almost 35 years, and I really did my best to serve so I would not want a single centavo deducted from the pay I deserve.”

He has yet to receive a copy of the decision, he added.

In the unprecedented decision, all SC justices voted to punish Reyes for gross misconduct for violating the rule on confidentiality of court documents.

Two pieces of circumstantial evidence showed that Reyes had leaked the draft decision upholding the disqualification of Limkaichong from being elected to the House of Representatives due to questions on her citizenship, according to the SC.

Based on the decision, these are:

• Reyes’s move to have the draft decision promulgated despite agreement among justices to withhold promulgation until the decision of nine justices who concurred with the ruling only “in the result” have been clarified; and

• The “evident undue interest of Justice Reyes to circulate a draft ponencia (decision) of the case soonest even before the memoranda of all the parties fell due…

Reyes had written the decision on Limkaichong’s case.

The SC decision was based on the findings of an investigating committee comprised of three senior justices.

Reyes’s judicial staff head counsel Rosendo Evangelista and his court stenographer Armando del Rosario were fined P10,000 and P5,000 for simple neglect of duty.

Limkaichong defeated the wife of former lawmaker Jacinto Paras in the 2007 elections.

In December last year, a certain Louis Biraogo circulated copies of the decision upholding the disqualification of Limkaichong. – Edu Punay

Updated February 25, 2009 12:00 AM

Overstepping its bounds

Posted in Complaints, Congress, Court of Appeals, Judiciary, Supreme Court by Erineus on February 20, 2009

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If there is a complaint against a court decision or the conduct of a judge or justice, the complaint should be brought to the Supreme Court, which has disciplinary powers over members of the judiciary. Summoning those members to a congressional inquiry to explain a judicial act may be entertaining to watch, especially when there are suspicions that justice might have been sold to the highest bidder, but Congress will be overstepping its bounds. This is a slippery slope that members of Congress would do well to avoid.

The issue cropped up amid reports that the House of Representatives is planning to summon Court of Appeals Justice Apolinario Bruselas and members of his division as well as Judge Nina Antonio-Valenzuela of the Manila Regional Trial Court. A year ago the judge had issued a temporary restraining order on the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, which had planned to institute action that would have protected depositors from the collapse of rural banks belonging to the Legacy group of companies. As BSP officials have explained, quick intervention would have averted disaster.

When the case went up the Court of Appeals, the BSP’s hands were tied further, with the CA upholding the lower court’s TRO. Lawmakers have pointed out that this violated the New Central Bank Act of 1993, which prevents the courts from blocking BSP investigations of fraud. The law also gives the BSP a free hand to move immediately in cases where banks face insolvency.

It is not surprising to learn that there might be members of the judiciary who do not know the law, since too many people have joined this branch of government based chiefly on the right connections rather than capability. The public has long suspected that there is big money to be made in the issuance of TROs, especially in cases involving business transactions.

But if the Manila judge and CA justices have erred, a complaint must be filed against them with the Supreme Court, possibly by the BSP. The high tribunal can then determine guilt and impose the appropriate punishment. This task does not belong to the legislature, whose members might see a precedent and decide to have a say in every controversial judicial decision, the way they are already interfering in decisions on the implementation of development projects. What lawmakers can do is to strengthen the regulatory environment and prevent a repeat of the Legacy mess.

SC rules on tax exemption for electric co-op

Posted in Cooperatives, Supreme Court, Supreme Court Decisions, Tax by Erineus on February 11, 2009

The Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed a Court of Appeals (CA) decision that ordered the Davao Oriental Electric Cooperative, Inc. to pay the Davao Oriental provincial government some R1.8 million in real estate taxes, excluding penalties and surcharges, from the time the government lifted the tax exemptions of electric cooperatives in 1984.

In a decision written by Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, the SC affirmed the Nov. 15, 2005 CA decision that reversed the ruling of the regional trial court (RTC) that dismissed the collection suit filed by the province of Davao Oriental.

At the height of the economic crisis in 1984, the late President Ferdinand Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 1955 that withdrew all exemptions from the payment of duties, taxes and other charges granted to private business enterprises engaged in any economic activity, including electric cooperatives.

Two years later on Jan. 8, 1986, Marcos issued PD 2008 that required the then Ministry of Finance to immediately restore the tax exemption of all electric cooperatives.

But after Marcos was replaced by then President Corazon C. Aquino, the latter issued Executive Order No. 93 that withdrew all tax and duty exemptions granted to private entities effective March 10, 1987.

The implementation of EO 93 for electric cooperatives was suspended until June 30, 1987.

On July 1, 1987, the government restored the tax and duty exemption privileges under PD 269, the law that created the electric cooperatives.

While the tax exemption was suspended, the Davao Oriental provincial government assessed the value of the province’s electric cooperative.

The assessment became final and executory after the cooperative failed to protest the assessment before the Board of Assessment Appeals.

In May, 2000, the Davao Oriental provincial government filed a collection suit before the RTC which dismissed the case.

On appeal, the CA reversed the RTC and ordered the cooperative to pay the provincial government some R1.8 million in realty taxes, excluding penalties and surcharges, from 1985 to 1989.

The cooperative elevated the case to the SC. The cooperative told the SC that it was exempted from the payment of real estate tax from 1984 to 1989 because the restoration of tax exemptions under Fiscal Incentive Review Board (FIRB) Resolution No. 2487 “retroacts” to the date of withdrawal of said exemptions.

In resolving the issue, the SC said that the CA was correct when the appellate court ruled that FIRB Resolution No. 24-87 “bares no indicia of retroactivity of its application.”

“A claim for exemption from tax payments must be clearly shown and be based on language in the law too plain to be mistaken. Elsewise stated, taxation is the rule, exemption therefrom is the exception,” the SC stressed.

At the same time, the SC said that when the electric cooperative failed to exhaust administrative remedies by appealing the assessment of its properties, it cannot assail the validity of the said assessment before the courts.

“Petitioner is deemed to have admitted the correctness of the assessment of its properties. In addition, Section 64 of PD No. 464 requires that the taxpayer must first pay under protest the tax assessed against him before he could seek recourse from the courts to assail its validity,” the SC pointed out.

“In view whereof, petitioner’s appeal is denied. The Nov. 15, 2005 decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 67188 is affirmed,” it ruled.

Justices Antonio T. Carpio, Renato C. Corona, Adolfo S. Azcuna and Teresita J. Leonardo – de Castro concurred in the decision.

Source: http://www.mb.com.ph/archive_pages.php?url=http://www.mb.com.ph/issues/2009/02/07/MTNN20090207147541.html