Wake Up, Philippines!

Cleaning house

Posted in Editorial, Judiciary by Erineus on February 25, 2009

WE welcome recent moves by the Supreme Court to clean House.

Just this week, it found Associate Justice Ruben T. Reyes guilty of grave misconduct for leaking a draft decision and fined him P500,000.

In agreeing with the conclusions of the investigating panel, the Court said a “breach of duty amounts to breach of public trust.”

“If only for reasons of public policy, this Court must assert and maintain its jurisdiction over members of the judiciary and other officials under its supervision and control for acts performed in office which are inimical to the service and prejudicial to the interests of litigants and the general public,” the justices said.

The Court added that any release of a draft decision infringes on the confidential internal deliberations of the Court.

Earlier this month, the Court also suspended Makati Regional Trial Court Judge Evelyn Arcaya-Chua for six months for receiving P100,000 in exchange for a favorable decision, even though she returned the money and the complaint against her was dropped.

In suspending Chua, the justices said the decision by the complainant to withdraw her complaint did not prevent the Court from conducting its own investigation and disciplining erring judges.

“The office of a judge is sacred and imbued with public interest. The need to maintain the public’s confidence in the judiciary cannot be made to depend solely on the whims and caprices of complainants who are, in a real sense, only witnesses therein,” said the Court.

The Court said “most telling of all the circumstances pointing to respondent’s guilt was the ‘unwavering stance’” of a witness that Chua solicited and received P100,000 in exchange for a favorable ruling in her cases.

With public confidence already shaken by scandals in the Court of Appeals, recent efforts to clean House can only be seen as a welcome development.

We wonder, however, if what appears to be a mild sanction in the case of the regional trial court judge might be seen as a mere slap on the wrist. After all, if the Court was convinced the judge solicited money in exchange for a favorable ruling, wouldn’t that be the ultimate betrayal of the public trust?


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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

Restoring trust in the majesty of law

Posted in Judiciary, Laws by Erineus on February 24, 2009

Amazing! The Puno Court did it again. Access to justice by our marginalized sectors has been institutionalized in the judicial branch through the Rule on Mandatory Legal Aid Service. The Supreme Court now requires “practicing lawyers” of the country to render 60 hours of free legal aid yearly, effective July 1. Sharing five hours of service a month for the poor and the underprivileged also earns for the members of the Bar credit units under the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education Program.

The mandatory pro bono legal service program is the latest in a series of unprecedented actions by the highest court of the land that truly “bridge gaps and remove roadblocks,” as the Supreme Court’s “Access to Justice” poster points out. It is a response to a major recommendation from the participants of the “Increasing Access to Justice” forum the Supreme Court spearheaded on June 30 to July 2, 2008, simultaneously in Manila, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro.

I am sure our fisherfolk, farmers, pensioners, children, women and men who suffer from injustices due to poverty and lack of knowledge of the law are ecstatic about this development. The rule of law will hopefully be reinvigorated with this program, with more lawyers serving the downtrodden and in public interest advocacy for the environment and women’s and children’s issues.

Because the pace of delivering justice is slow, there is the consequent erosion of trust in the justice system. It is unfortunate that our Supreme Court perennially receives the lowest share of the national budget compared to the executive and legislative branches. How can it operate effectively with meager financial resources? It has been saddled with clogged dockets and enormous challenges in attracting more lawyers to join the judiciary. There are many vacant courts nationwide.

This lack of resources gave rise to legally authorizing local government units to provide for the allowances of the judges. But crafty politicians have unfortunately used this as a tool to pressure judges to “toe the line – or else…” This prevailing arrangement is a big blow to the independence of the judiciary and has to be reevaluated. Giving the Supreme Court a bigger share in the budgetary appropriations is a better solution and detaches it completely from the dirty world of politics.

It is a tribute to the collective vision of the justices that, despite the constraints, the Supreme Court is creative in harnessing its expanded power of judicial review and rule-making power to change mindsets and transform society, not just the lawyers. It has evolved to become a key decision maker on human rights, social justice and in protecting the environment, which, in Tony Oposa’s words, translate to restoring “ecological sanity.”

The rules on the writ of amparo, writ of habeas data, establishment of the green courts and small claims courts, the Justice on Wheels program, the annual forum on prevailing social issues that bring together the stakeholders of society and now the Rule on the Mandatory Legal Aid Service undeniably restore the people’s trust in the majesty of the Law.

Amid rampant corruption and anomalies, earning the shameful label as the most corrupt country in South East Asia, the Philippines is on the alarm list of the most politically unstable nations of the world, ranking No. 59 (of 177 countries) in the 2008 Failed States Index. Culling from the data of the Worldwide Governance Indicators of the World Bank (1996-2007), we are in the 10th to 25th percentile in the bottom list in political stability and in the control of corruption.

Like firemen duty-bound to stop a “conflagration,” who else but the lawyers, as stewards of the law and as officers of the court, should lead in restoring the rule of law, exact accountability from public officials and colleagues in the wrong side of the fence, and narrow the justice gap – at this crucial times?

Hopefully, the members of the Bar will voice out their ideas and be part of the process in the formulation and adoption of the implementing regulations of the program.

On February 28, lawyers will choose the officers and members of the board of directors of their respective IBP chapters. The elections for Cebu and Cebu City Chapter officers will be from 8 a.m. to noon at the lobby of the Justice Hall. We hope for a wider participation from the lawyers in this election.

By Gloria Ramos
Cebu Daily News
First Posted 14:11:00 02/23/2009


Court of Appeals mess

Posted in Court of Appeals, Judiciary, Scandal/Expose/Mess by Erineus on February 18, 2009

The news headlines coming out lately undoubtedly confirm that the culture of corruption in public service has been institutionalized. But this is no reason for the citizenry to accept this as a fact of life in government. On the contrary the public should be more indignant in denouncing the anomalies being exposed.

To be sure, graft and corruption is already established for quite sometime in the executive and legislative department. Hence it is no longer shocking to hear and read about deals in these offices that are grossly disadvantageous to the government. The latest expose about the CHED (Commission on Higher Education) call center project and the Land Bank loan to QUEDANCOR have just further lengthened the list of the previous scams plaguing this administration notably the Joc-Joc Bolante fertilizer fund scandal and the huge commissions or “tongpats” in hundreds of millions of US$ paid to brokers with strong connections in this administration for the aborted ZTE-NBN Broadband project and the abandoned North Rail project.

Then there are also the anomalous mega deals in the Comelec particularly the Mega Pacific Consortium automated counting machines project that was declared null and void by the Supreme Court itself because of obvious violations of law; and the infamous “Garci” dagdag bawas scandal involving some military generals who reportedly received financial rewards and promotions.

Graft and corruption in public service are now deeply rooted obviously because of the government’s reaction to these anomalies that led to lack of clear and conclusive findings. Instead of actively and expeditiously pursuing the cases and digging deeper into the truth or falsity of the exposes, the government uses “executive privilege” in refusing to cooperate with the investigators.

Instead of initiating the moves to investigate the allegations and gather the necessary evidence to determine whether its detractors are telling the truth or not, the government assails its detractors for “making accusations without evidence and privilege speeches without accountability”. The move to suppress the truth about these revelations seems to be very evident in this kind of stance.

The lackadaisical attitude and delayed action of the Ombudsman is also a contributing factor. Since the time of the exposes up to now, the Ombudsman has not come out with any resolution on these anomalies. On the contrary it has even dismissed the complaints against the Comelec officials who were found indictable for violations of law by the Supreme Court itself.

More disturbing is that certain corrupt practices have penetrated even our Judiciary. What used to be mere unfounded but apparently plausible rumors concerning the shady deals in all levels of our courts of justice circulating in coffee shops and cocktail circuits are now being denounced by some of the magistrates themselves. Now, none of the three branches of government can still categorically claim that its offices are not tainted with corruption.

This is more unfortunate in the case of the Judiciary because it is supposed to be the last bulwark of democracy, the government department where people expect to be relieved from a kind of hunger more intense than their hunger for food — the hunger for justice.

The public exposure of the behind the scenes maneuvering and bickering among the justices of the Court of Appeals (CA) on the high profile case of GSIS vs. Meralco is really unfortunate. It has further eroded (hopefully not beyond repair) the trust and confidence in our courts of justice. It could have been avoided because the issues therein are not controversial enough to
necessitate the “lobbying” of the parties involved. In other words, it is not one of those cases where the decision could be and is actually subjected to outside pressure but still looks correct precisely because the facts and the law give enough judicial discretion for the court to “correctly” decide either way without being suspected of succumbing to pressure.

In this case, based on the facts and the law, the CA decision is the only correct one that could have been made. Had it decided otherwise, it would be glaringly erroneous as would easily raise the suspicion that it was pressure laden. Hence, if it were not for Justice Jose Sabio’s revelations involving internal administrative matters that do no affect the merits of the case, the  ecision looks unassailable. The justices concerned could have just threshed out among themselves this purely internal issue.

Nevertheless, Justice Sabio’s move to go public may after all be good for the country. It may, and it should trigger the needed judicial clean up that is long in coming. In going public, Justice Sabio is apparently motivated by a desire to put a stop to these undesirable behind the scenes practices in our courts. In fact, because of his bold move, Mr. Francis Borja, the unnamed businessman also had to come out and the SC had to step in.

Obviously Justice Sabio and Mr. Borja have their own version of what transpired especially on the question of whether there was a bribe offer or a bribe proposal coming from either of the contending parties to the case. This is not a question that can be decided by public opinion shaped by media on who has a better reputation for credibility. A statement coming from a credible person must also be inherently believable. Hence, since the Supreme Court is already investigating the case, it would be advisable for them to desist from further making press statements and instead show to the SC the inherent truthfulness of their respective versions.

In this judicial investigation, the SC should adopt measures that would lead to clear, credible and conclusive findings and really meaningful and lasting clean up of the judiciary. It must avoid the lack transparency displayed by other government departments without however jeopardizing the integrity of the process because of undue publicity and inaccurate reporting.

Note: Books containing compilation of my
articles on Labor Law and Criminal Law (Vols. I and II) are now
available. Call tel. 7249445.

*      *      *

E-mail at: jcson@pldtdsl.net

View previous articles from this author.

A LAW EACH DAY (Keeps Trouble Away)
By Jose C. Sison

Updated August 05, 2008 12:00 AM

SC: Ban on ‘short time’ unconstitutional

Posted in Constitution, Constitutional Rights, Hotel, Judiciary, Jurisprudence, Laws, Legislation, LGUs by Erineus on February 1, 2009

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional a Manila ordinance banning “short time” admissions in motels, saying it violates the rights not only of motel owners but also of married couples.

The high court decision, penned by Associate Justice Dante Tinga, also overturned a Court of Appeals ruling that voided the original Manila regional trial court verdict that City Ordinance 7774 violated constitutional guarantees on personal liberty.

The appellate court had ruled that the ordinance was a valid exercise of the local government’s police powers.

In its ruling, the high court said even if the Manila City government’s claims that motels had become dens of “prostitution, adultery and fornication” were true, banning short time admissions would curtail “legitimate sexual behavior among consenting married or consenting single adults, which is constitutionality protected.”

It also said other legitimate activities, such as those of families seeking temporary comfort in case of power outages, travelers needing a place to wash up or rest in transit, or other persons or groups who merely need private space, would be curtailed.

The Supreme Court ruled on a case originally filed by the Malate Tourist and Development Corporation (MTDC), owner and operator of the Victoria Court chain, with the Manila regional trial court soon after the Manila ordinance was enacted in 1992.

The complainant was later joined by other motel operators White Light Corporation, Titanium Corporation and Sta. Mesa Tourist and Development Corporation (STDC).

By Tetch Torres
First Posted 15:54:00 01/29/2009