Judges, court employees rally behind Chief Justice
Judges and their staff across the country declared a “court holiday” Wednesday to express their support for impeached Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, resetting hearings, including that of the Maguindanao massacre case.
They wore black or sported black armbands to sympathize with Corona, who will go on trial in the Senate on several charges, including being partial to former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
In Metro Manila, magistrates and employees of Regional Trial Courts trooped to the Supreme Court on Padre Faura in Manila where Corona delivered a defiant speech before a rally of some 3,000 court personnel.
“No rain will stop us,” Jerry Obispo, an aide at the Hall of Justice in Pasay City, said as he and other court employees waited for a taxi amid a sudden downpour.
Others went on foot. Mostly in black attire, judges and court employees of Manila’s regional trial courts, a short distance from Padre Faura, started their march at around 12:20 p.m. They arrived at the Supreme Court compound at 12:40 p.m., filling the grounds with cheers for Corona.
Manila RTC Judge Silvino Pampilo said the judges and staff of the courts were saddened at how fast the House of Representatives handled the impeachment complaint against Corona.
“We are behind the Chief Justice in this no matter what the cost,” said Antonio Eugenio Jr., president of the Manila RTC Judges Association.
The office of Supreme Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez allegedly initiated the court holiday. A text message was received by clerk of courts starting on Tuesday evening.
It read: “From the office of the court administrator: A court holiday is declared tomorrow, Dec. 14, 2011, in solidarity with Chief Justice Corona, who will be addressing the nation regarding the impeachment complaint filed against him. All judges and court personnel are therefore expected to suspend court sessions and office work the whole day tomorrow. For inquiries get in touch with OCA [Office of the Court Administrator]. Please pass.”
Marquez, who has administrative supervision over 2,000 judges of first- and second-level courts, denied reports that he had ordered a court holiday in protest against Corona’s impeachment.
Malacañang scored the Supreme Court for declaring a holiday. Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the court holiday was yet another example of how justice could be subverted to further the interest of one person.
Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez of Caloocan City criticized the court holiday, saying the work of court personnel was not for Corona but for the country.
The hearing of the Maguindanao massacre case was reset for next week after the court trying the case went on holiday. International media groups and the families of the 57 victims of the massacre have criticized the slow pace of the trial.
“It would have been better if the hearing proceeded because we were also ready with our witness who came all the way from Mindanao,” said private prosecutor Nena Santos.
Clad in an all-black attire, Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City RTC Branch 221, who is hearing the Maguindanao case, said she would join the rally at the Supreme Court “in support of the institution.”
Several court employees showed up in full force at the Caloocan RTC in support of Corona. Almost all staffers of Branch 122 under Judge Georgina Hidalgo wore black.
Confusion in Baguio
In Baguio City, confusion greeted lawyers at the Hall of Justice when they learned that hearings were suspended and that several courts would not entertain transactions.
Inmates were lined up for their scheduled trials as early as 8 a.m. and were confronted by empty courtrooms. Handwritten notices about a “court holiday ordered by the OCA,” were posted on the doors of at least 10 courtrooms.
Remedios Reyes, the Baguio RTC clerk of court, said court employees received text messages purportedly from the OCA at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, advising them of the court holiday.
Reyes said she contacted Deputy Court Administrator Raul Villanueva on Tuesday night, who disowned the order. “So I told my staff to ignore the text messages. We all showed up in black (shirts), however, to show our support for Corona,” he said.
Many lawyers said the court holiday was an inconvenience because some of them brought in witnesses from other places.
Two Baguio City judges, however, proceeded with their scheduled trials. Judge Roberto Mabalot, presiding judge of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) Branch 1, said he opened his courtroom because eight separate criminal cases pending in his sala were scheduled for promulgation.
Mabalot said he needed to clear his docket before the Christmas break.
“Had I not done that, seven people I acquitted today from criminal cases would not be spending Christmas with their families. I did convict one person today. But these people would have stayed in jail through the holidays had I decided to promulgate instead in January,” Mabalot said.
In Nueva Ecija province, Nelson Tribiana, executive judge of Sto. Domingo town, said the OCA confirmed the directive when he inquired on Tuesday.
Court sessions were suspended in the Pangasinan capital of Lingayen.
In Ilocos Norte province, court employees expressed support for Corona by holding a sit-down protest wearing black shirts, while three judges in Laoag City proceeded to hear cases on Wednesday morning.
In Pampanga province, work stopped on Wednesday for 200 court employees and the judges of Angeles City. In the City of San Fernando, courts at the regional, municipal and circuit levels were divided. Some courts held hearings, but most did not.
In Tarlac province, Judge Alipio Yumul, presiding judge of the Capas RTC Branch 66, proceeded with his day’s schedule consisting of 32 cases in the morning and 27 cases in the afternoon.
Court employees in Nueva Vizcaya and Isabela provinces went through their normal duties and did not observe the court holiday.
A text message supposedly from the deputy court administrator confused workers in the lower courts in Nueva Vizcaya, with a number of employees traveling to the Hall of Justice in Bayombong town for the observance of the court holiday.
RTC employees in Bayombong also did not join the holiday. It was also business as usual for employees of the RTC Branch 24 in Echague, Isabela province. Employees of the RTC Branch 34 in Banaue, Ifugao province, were instructed to wear black and stop all transactions.
In Batanes province, transactions and hearings at the MTC in Ivana town proceeded on Wednesday.
In Bulacan province, a group of court employees in the province went to the Supreme Court in Manila to show support for Corona.
Judges in Legazpi City and Masbate province confirmed receiving text messages from the OCA, which enjoined judges and court employees to declare a holiday.
At least 13 regional and city court judges in Legazpi City expressed “unequivocal support” for Corona even as they did not declare a court holiday, said a judge who declined to be named.
Civil Service warning
In Calapan City in Oriental Mindoro province, Judge Manolo Brotonel of the MTCC said they were “not on court holiday because the Civil Service Commission yesterday (Tuesday) warned all government employees to report to work today.”
He said court services were needed because motions and complaints kept coming and some people would need to file a bail.
In courts in Laguna and Quezon provinces, the forms of protests ranged from the wearing of black shirts or armbands to postponing or resetting hearings.
In San Pablo City, an eight-meter by one-meter black cloth draped the court veranda, while a poster, announcing “no hearing today,” was posted at the court’s entrance.
In Biñan, Judge Teodoro Solis of the RTC Branch 25 postponed a hearing to show support for Corona. The judge in RTC Branch 92 in Calamba City presided over a hearing in the morning, but went on holiday in the afternoon.
In San Pablo City, Judge Agripino Morga of the RTC Branch 32 said court personnel started wearing black arm bands on Wednesday. “This will go on until the end of the trial,” Morga said.
Court hearings in five cities in the Visayas were also suspended. Judges and employees in the cities of Bacolod, Iloilo, Tacloban, Maasin and Lapu-Lapu reported for work but all court session and transactions were suspended for the day.
Court hearings and transactions continued in Cebu, Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental, Aklan, Capiz and Antique provinces but the court employees wore black or sported black armbands.
Executive Judge Edgar Garvilles of Bacolod said he received a text message from Judge Franklin Demonteverde at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Demonteverde, president of the Philippine Judges Association, received a text message reportedly from the OCA.
Garvilles received another text message one hour later that read, “Latest advisory from Office of DCA (Deputy Court Administrator Raul) Villanueva: Judge, you will report to the office. Please pass to others. There will be no transactions. Please wear black.”
Garvilles said that after receiving the first text message, he issued a memorandum to all branches in the Bacolod RTC, quoting the text message.
Cebu City RTC Branch 13 Judge Meinrado Paredes and other judges in the Visayas who requested anonymity confirmed that they too received the text messages.
But Paredes disagreed with the action taken by his colleagues. “I don’t agree that we who have sworn to be public servants should stop serving the public because the Chief (Justice) has an impeachment case, which he intends to face. We took an oath to serve the people.” he said.
Executive Judge Danilo Galvez of Iloilo City said judges and around 300 employees of 18 RTCs reported for work but all court sessions and transactions were suspended.
In Cotabato City, court employees also wore black. In Cagayan de Oro, Regional Trial Courts for Northern Mindanao were closed on Wednesday. In Zamboanga City, court activities were also put on hold.
In Davao City, Judge Virginia Europa said she proceeded with the hearings because of conflicting text messages about the holiday. Reports from Jaymee T. Gamil, Norman Bordadora, Marlon Ramos, Jerome Aning, Nancy Carvajal, Kristine Felisse Mangunay, Niña Calleja, Philip C. Tubeza, Leila B. Salaverria, Tetch Torres and Karen Boncocan (INQUIRER.net) in Manila; Vincent Cabreza, Cristina Arzadon, Yolanda Sotelo, Melvin Gascon, Villamor Visaya Jr. and Juliet Cataluña, Inquirer Northern Luzon; Tonette Orejas, Anselmo Roque, Carmela Reyes-Estrope and Jo Martinez-Clemente, Inquirer Central Luzon; Mar Arguelles, Jonas Cabiles Soltes, Madonna Virola, Maricar Cinco and Delfin Mallari Jr., Inquirer Southern Luzon; Nestor Burgos Jr., Carla Gomez, Jhunnex Napallacan, Joey Gabieta, Rachel Arnaiz, Elvie Roman Roa, Jani Arnaiz, Florence Baesa and Felipe Celino, Inquirer Visayas; and Julie S. Alipala, Nash B. Maulana, Bobby Lagsa, Frinston Lim, and Germelina Lacorte and Dennis Jay Santos, Inquirer Mindanao
Originally posted at 01:59 pm | Monday, December 14, 2011
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