Judge linked by Duterte to drugs dismissed due to ‘immorality,’ misconduct
Despite being cleared of involvement in illegal drugs, one of the judges publicly linked by President Rodrigo Duterte to the illegal drug trade has been dismissed from service because he was caught on video wielding an M-16 armalite rifle and because he fathered a child with a woman other than his wife.
In a 21-page per curiam decision, the high court found Presiding Judge Exequil L. Dagala of the Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) Dapa-Socorro, Dapa, Surigao Del Norte guilty of immorality and gross misconduct and perpetually disqualified him from re-employment in all public offices.
The high court also ordered the forfeiture of his retirement and other benefits except accrued leave credits.
Dagala was among the judges mentioned by President Duterte last year as involved in illegal drugs. The high court designated retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Roberto Abad to conduct an investigation.
In his recommendation submitted last March, Abad cleared Dagala, Adriano Savilla of Iloilo City RTC and Domingo Casiple of Kalibo, Aklan RTC after the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) failed to submit evidence against the three.
But in the decision made public Tuesday, Dagala’s dismissal stemmed from the 2015 anonymous letter-complaint submitted to the Office of Ombudsman. An unnamed resident of San Isidro, Siargao Island, Surigao Del Norte witnessed an altercation involving his neighbors and Judge Dagala over the ownership of his neighbor’s lot and trees. A video has been provided showing Judge Dagala shouting invectives while brandishing an M-16 armalite rifle.
The high court, citing the findings of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), said that there was sufficient evidence to hold Judge Dagala accountable for gross misconduct in connection with the September 29, 2015 incident, as recounted in the anonymous complaint. OCA identified the man brandishing the armalite in video as Dagala, who failed to deny or refute the allegations.
The high court further held that such finding of fact has various consequences, noting that a certification issued by the Philippine National Police (PNP) Firearms and Explosives Office also disclosed that Dagala was not a licensed/registered firearm holder of any kind and caliber.
The high court said Dagala’s actuations as recorded in the video “are unacceptable for a member of the bench and should merit a finding of administrative liability. This is without prejudice to any criminal action that may also be filed against him.”
Likewise, the high court agreed with OCA’s finding that Judge Dagala was guilty of immorality for siring a child out of wedlock during the subsistence of his marriage.
“Immorality is a recognized ground for the discipline of judges and justices under the Rules of Court. The record is clear as evidenced by the certificate of live birth, showing Judge Dagala was father of the child as shown by his signature in the affidavit of acknowledgement of paternity and the date of birth was during the subsistence of his marriage to his legal wife,” the high court said.
Dagala, in his comment to the Supreme Court admitted he was married but was separated and “without any remorse” has three children with three different women.
He also denied involvement in illegal activities but admitted to owning Sugba Cockpit in Del Carmen, Surigao del Norte, but added that he had sold its rights in 2008. In 2016, he submitted a letter of resignation but the Court rejected it as he was still under investigation.
The high court said that it does not “seek to interfere with a judge’s relationships” but nevertheless stressed that immorality is a valid ground for sanctioning members of the Judiciary because it (1) challenges his or her capacity to dispense justice, (2) erodes the faith and confidence of the public in the administration of justice, and (3) impacts the Judiciary’s legitimacy.
“We understand the undeniable sadness of a failed marriage….We understand that judges and justices are also human, and are naturally inclined to search for what is good and what gives meaning, including happy and fulfilling relationships….Nevertheless, choices are made within particular contexts and in consideration of duties and obligations that must be honored. More importantly, choices have consequences. Judge Dagala made his choice. He must now face the repercussions. Thus, as much as we commiserate with Judge Dagala, we remain a court of law with a mandate to dispense even-handed justice,” the high court stressed.
“…All who desire to be part of the Judiciary must first decide if he or she can live up to the highest standards of morality expected of judges and justices….[O]nce a lawyer joins the Judiciary, he or she should abide by the rules. We remind all judges that no position demands greater moral righteousness and uprightness from its occupant than the judicial office,” the high court added.
According to the OCA, while Judge Dagala may be excused for having sired two children prior to his marriage, the record was clear that he had his third child during the subsistence of his marriage with his legal wife. /idl
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