Philippines Supreme Court to probe leak of draft judgment in election case

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Supreme Court of the Philippines has started an inquiry into leaks of a draft of a still unpromulgated election decision by ponente Justice Ruben T. Reyes on the citizenship case of Negros Oriental Rep. Jocelyn Limkaichong of the 14th Congress of the Philippines.

Four justices were visibly absent at the En Banc ceremony of retiring Justice Ruben Reyes Thursday. Justices Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Alicia Austria-Martinez, Conchita Carpio-Morales and Renato Corona did not attend the traditional court proceeding. Newsbreak Magazine has reported that "Justice Ruben T. Reyes, who came to the SC under a cloud of doubt, is leaving the hallowed chamber under a cloud of doubt. The leakage scandal that has embarrassed members of the Court has further underscored the respect--or lack of it--his peers have bestowed on Reyes."

In a December 12 three-page en banc resolution, penned by Justice Ruben Reyes, the Court formed an Investigating Committee under Justice Justice Leonardo Quisumbing, “to investigate the unauthorized release of the unpromulgated ponencia ... to determine who are responsible for this leakage of a confidential internal document of the En Banc, and to recommend to the En Banc the appropriate actions thereon.”

A preliminary contempt of court citation order was also issued against the petitioner Louis Biraogo. The unpublished decision, “is part of the confidential internal deliberations of the Court. No copy of the unpromulgated ponencia can be released to any person outside of the En Banc. Any release of a copy to the public, or to the parties, of an unpromulgated ponencia infringes on the confidential internal deliberations of the Court and constitutes contempt of court,” the Court ruled.

In the 2007 Philippine congressional election for Negros Oriental’s first district, Limkaichong won over poll candidates Jerome Paras and Oliver Paras. Biraogo had filed a disqualification case against Limkaichong for allegedly being a Chinese. He distributed to local media copies of the 37-page July 15 Court decision duly signed by all of the justices except Chief Justice Reynato Puno. The unpromulgated judgment annulled Limkaichong's election victory.

In a two-page letter, Biraogo has revealed an “irregularity” in the High Tribunal. He told media, that "a law dean, who is a close fraternity brother of Chief Justice Puno and a junior assistant of the Solicitor-General, who is also Puno’s fraternity brother, argued for Limkaichong during the oral argument conducted on Aug. 26, instead of the counsel on record." CJ Puno is a member of the UP College of Law, Alpha Phi Beta fraternity. Biraogo accused Chief Justice Puno of delaying the release of the decision. “My suspicion is the Chief Justice may have a hand in this irregularity. These circumstances led me to believe the Chief Justice may have been dishonest in his dealings…and may prejudice the faith of people in the judiciary. I was likewise informed (by an unnamed SC) employee that (Puno) was the one who prodded the members to hold oral arguments,” Biraogo added. “The said decision was dated July 15, 2008 but what is irregular and maybe anomalous is that it was not promulgated until now. In fact what is questionable is an oral argument was conducted on August 26, 2008 despite a decision already made on July 15, 2008," he further said.

This is not the first time that the Philippine judiciary had been involved in massive corruption. In the recent GSIS-Meralco bribery case, the High Court dismissed Associate Justice Vicente Q. Roxas, punished Associate Justice Jose L. Sabio, Jr. with 2 months suspension, and reprimanded 2 other CA Justices. In September 2006, Atty. Romeo Roxas accused Justice Minita Chico-Nazario of issuing a ruling for certain considerations, and calling the Supreme Court a “dispenser of injustice”. Roxas said her decision ordering him and one Santiago Pastor to return more than P17 million to Antonio de Zuzuarregui Jr. was wrong and unjust. Roxas told Nazario: to “sleep well if you still can” and that she would be judged by the “Supreme Dispenser of Justice.” Roxas was cited for indirect contempt and fined P30,000.

In April 2007, Philippine Court of Appeals then Presiding Justice Ruben Reyes ordered an investigation and a regular auditing and inventory of temporary restraining orders (TROs) issued by the 69 CA Justices. Reyes stated: “I will order a monthly or quarterly inventory of TROs, for transparency and to watch the movements of the so-called Dirty Dozen [the 12 most corrupt CA justices].” CJ Reynato Puno said that Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez had not yet submitted the list and the Supreme Court was waiting for its delivery amid her formal investigation against the “Dirty Dozen.”

In September 2007, Lawyer Victor de la Serna accused Justice Dante Tinga of accepting a P10-million bribe in the Johnny Chan versus Carmelita Fudot lawsuit, regarding a land located in Doljo, Panglao, Bohol. De la Serna alleged that in the September 26, 2007 meeting, Chan, owner of Bellevue Hotel, paid Tinga P10 million in exchange for a favorable decision. On September 13, 2007, Tinga penned a decision in favor of Chan’s Cattleya Land Inc., over Fudot, client of De La Serna. The court, however, upheld Tinga, and fined De La Serna P 30,000 for indirect contempt.

In September 2007, Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago denied charges that she received P10-million (US $ 224,000) bribe money (as published by The Daily Tribune, Malaya newspaper's Amado Macasaet and Newsbreak, the previous week).

In January 2005, and December 2006, Philippines Social Weather Stations released the results of its 2 surveys on corruption in the judiciary. It reported that: a) "like 1995, 1/4 of lawyers said many/very many judges are corrupt. But (49%) stated that a judges received bribes, just 8% of lawyers admitted they reported the bribery, because they could not prove it. [Tables 8-9]; judges, however, said, just 7% call many/very many judges as corrupt[Tables 10-11] ;b) Judges see some corruption; proportions who said - many/very many corrupt judges or justices: 17% in reference to RTC judges, 14% to MTC judges, 12% to Court of Appeals justices, 4% i to Shari'a Court judges, 4% to Sandiganbayan justices and 2% in reference to Supreme Court justices [Table 15]."


Sources

Wikipedia Learn more about Supreme Court of the Philippines and Reynato Puno on Wikipedia.
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