Sandigan Justice Ong dismissed
MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court dismissed Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Gregory Ong after he was found guilty of “gross misconduct, dishonesty and impropriety”.
Voting 8-5-2 or eight in favor of Ong’s dismissal, five against and two abstentions, the high court in a per curiam (by the court) decision said: The “totality of the circumstances of such association strongly indicates (Ong’s) corrupt inclinations that only heightened the public’s perception of anomaly in the decision making process.”
Those who voted for Ong’s dismissal were:
* Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno,
* Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio,
* Associate Justices Arturo Brion,
* Mariano Del Castillo,
* Martin Villarama Jr.,
* Estella Perlas-Bernabe,
* Marvic Leonen,
* and Francis Jardeleza.
Those who dissented were:
* Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin,
* Presbitero Velasco,
* Jose Perez,
* Jose Mendoza, and
* Bienvenido Reyes.
Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo De Castro and Diosdado Peralta inhibited from the case because they were former colleagues of Ong at the Sandiganbayan.
In its ruling, the high court said Ong was found guilty of “gross misconduct, dishonesty and impropriety” under the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary.
Aside from dismissal, the high court also ordered the forfeiture of all retirement benefits except accrued leave benefits. He can also no longer be appointed or be reemployed in any branch, agency or instrumentality of the government including government-owned or controlled corporations.
“The decision is immediately executory,” the high court said.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez led the investigation against Ong after a photo came out showing Ong with alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles and Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada.
Ong immediately wrote a letter to the Supreme Court and voluntarily submitted himself for investigation to Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
In his letter dated Sept. 26, 2013, Ong denied that he ever attended the party or any social event hosted by Napoles or her family at any time relevant to the disposition of the Kevlar Helmet case where Napoles was acquitted.
In her report with findings and conclusions, Justice Gutierrez said Ong visited Napoles at her office on two occasions after participating in the Kevlar helmet case.
The report added that Ong did not disclose in his letter that he visited Napoles’ office.
The report further stated that the testimonies of Benhur Luy and Marina Sula before a Senate blue ribbon committee inquiry implicating Ong were “instantaneous, clear, unequivocal and carried with it the ring of truth.”
Gutierrez said the two were consistent when she questioned them about Ong.
“The court adopted the findings of Justice Gutierrez…the testimonies of Luy and Sula showed that Ong was in contact with Napoles during the pendency of the Kevlar case and while the evidence was insufficient to sustain the bribery and corruption charges as both Luy and Sla did not witness Ong actually receiving money from Napoles, the court nonetheless found credible evidence of Ong’s association with Napoles,” the high court said.
“The court noted that the totality of the circumstances of such association strongly indicates (Ong’s) corrupt inclinations that only heightened the public’s perception of anomaly in the decision-making process,” the high court said.
The high court added that it also did not matter if the “improper acts” were committed after the decision of the case “because magistrates are under constant public scrutiny, the termination of a case will not deter public criticisms for acts which may cause suspicion on its disposition or resolution.”
This is the second offense committed by Ong. In 2011, he was fined by the high court for unbecoming conduct after holding a hearing on his own while the two other justices in his division were trying a different case.
Ong is the first Sandiganbayan justice dismissed by the high court. Prior to Ong, the anti-graft court indefinitely suspended Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Francis Garchitorena in 2001.
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