Judge Jesus Mupas furious over Abalos’s P100-M extort story
Suddenly the judge finds himself in the dock.
Detained former elections chief Benjamin Abalos pulled a surprise on Friday, turning a hearing into the electoral sabotage case against him into a full-dress airing of bribery allegations against the presiding judge, Jesus Mupas of the Pasay City Regional Trial Court Branch 112.
Abalos, who is charged with two counts of electoral sabotage for allegedly conspiring to rig the 2007 elections, on Friday sought Mupas’ inhibition from the case, claiming that the judge had sent emissaries to extort P100 million from him in exchange for a favorable ruling.
A stunned Mupas threatened to declare Abalos and his lawyer, Brigido Dulay, in contempt for the “malicious allegations” cited in their urgent motion to inhibit. He gave the 77-year-old former Comelec chief and Dulay until Monday to show cause why they should not be held in contempt of court.
The hearing began without incident at about 8.30 a.m. on Friday. A smiling Abalos entered the courtroom with members of his family—his wife, Corazon, who was carrying a bouquet of pink tulips as it was her birthday, and son Mandaluyong City Mayor Benhur Abalos.
Mupas was supposed to resolve that day two motions that Dulay had filed—a very urgent motion for house arrest and a very urgent motion to fix bail.
Drops a bomb
As Dulay began to present the defense panel’s case and sought a five-day extension to file a reply to the prosecution’s comment on their motions, Abalos’ smile disappeared and he looked dismayed.
“What is this again?” he said, striding to where his lawyer stood, two rows away.
After Abalos spoke to him, the lawyer changed his manifestation and said that he would file the reply within the day.
Dulay then dropped the bomb. “I want it placed on record that we are filing this morning an urgent motion for the honorable judge to inhibit himself from this case,” he said.
Mupas was visibly stunned, jerking forward from his seat, and quickly read through the motion.
After the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the complainant, reserved the right to file its comment on the latest motion, about 10 minutes into the hearing, Mupas called for a 15-minute recess and banged his gavel rather more forcefully and went into his chamber.
In the motion, Dulay cited incidents before and after the Dec. 13 issuance of an arrest warrant against Abalos, during which a woman claiming to be an emissary of Mupas allegedly approached Abalos and told him that “for [a] monetary consideration, the honorable presiding judge will assist and go easy on him leading to his eventual exoneration.”
Abalos reportedly rejected the initial offer. But he received several more calls from the emissary, the last of which was on Dec. 12. Abalos again rejected the alleged offers. On Dec. 13, Mupas issued the arrest warrant against Abalos “which he perceived to be a direct result of his refusal to come across [for] an immoral proposal.”
“Abalos began to feel the noose tightening. Even the refusal of the honorable presiding judge to sign his commitment order to the Southern Police District on the pretext of a 220 BP (blood pressure), when he was seen up and about and healthy-looking as he walked past Abalos’ counsels was an indication that he was going to make it difficult for the accused who steadfastly held on to his belief in his innocence,” Dulay stated in the motion.
The Inquirer has learned that Mupas’ pairing judge, Caridad Grecia-Cuerdo of the Pasay RTC Branch 116, had to sign the commitment order on the request of Mupas who said he was indisposed.
Dulay also cited possible pressure from the “very highly politicized” case where “the honorable presiding judge, sad to say, had shown indications of succumbing to this other pressure that betray bias against [the] accused.”
He said that under the circumstances of a government bent on persecuting former President and Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, “it is highly improbable for Abalos to expect a trial free from outside interference.”
Arroyo, who is similarly charged for the nonbailable offense of electoral sabotage, is being held on hospital arrest at Veterans Memorial Medical Center.
Thus, in the interest of fair play and to ensure that the proceedings remain above suspicion of partiality, Abalos was constrained to seek the inhibition of Mupas, the lawyer’s motion said.
“He needs the cold neutrality of an impartial judge, a role which the honorable presiding judge, with due respect, can no longer provide,” Dulay concluded.
Judge rebukes lawyer
When the trial resumed, Mupas rebuked Dulay for omitting the facts, particularly the identification of the emissaries he had allegedly sent to Abalos.
Dulay immediately offered to submit evidence to prove their claim, to which Mupas responded sarcastically: “You are asking for my inhibition, now you want to ask to submit evidence?”
“There are so many malicious allegations here (motion)… I am ordering you and your client to show cause or be cited for contempt,” the judge said.
Abalos, a former state prosecutor and judge, spoke out of turn and insisted that he meant no disrespect to the court and pointed out that he needed Mupas to inhibit to dispel his fear of a partial trial. He volunteered the names of the two emissaries that Mupas had allegedly sent, identifying them as lawyers May Mercado and Jojo Desiderio.
Dulay then offered to put his client on the witness stand to attest to his grounds for seeking the judge’s inhibition.
Abalos takes stand
In his testimony, Abalos claimed that he was reached by phone by a certain “Attorney Mercado” who introduced herself as an emissary of Mupas and that she had a message from the judge. Abalos agreed to meet her at the Dusit Hotel.
There, he claimed, he was “surprised and shocked” when Mercado said that the judge wanted P100 million from him. “I haven’t seen that kind of money in my life,” he told the court.
Asked what his reply was to Mercado, Abalos said he told her the judge was “stupid,” a moron and all sorts of bad words.
“You cannot extort from me. I know I am innocent of these charges and everybody knows that,” Abalos said he told Mercado, as Mupas listened impassively.
Abalos claimed to have received several more calls from Mercado after he walked out of that meeting. Then, an “Atty. Jojo Desiderio” called him and asked to meet with him because he allegedly had a message from the judge, Abalos said.
This time, Desiderio allegedly asked for P50 million for him to receive a favorable resolution on his motion for bail and another P50 million to be cleared of the charges.
“He must be the most stupid, most shameless judge. If I ever get an unfavorable treatment from him, I will have you disbarred too,” he recalled telling Desiderio.
After Abalos’ testimony, Dulay sought a reconsideration of Mupas’ show-cause order which the judge promptly denied.
The lawyer said that the denial was already a “prejudgment of the veracity of the testimony.”
Abalos flared up and shouted at Mupas: “What kind of justice do I expect from this court?” He was immediately escorted back to his seat while his wife tried to pacify him, repeatedly shouting, “Dad!”
Three other lawyers—Pablito Gahol, Roberto Bermejo and Jerushia Villanueva—also testified, attesting to Abalos’ claim about the emissaries.
Dulay asked the judge to issue a subpoena directing three hotels—the Dusit, the Legend and the Richmond—to submit closed circuit television (CCTV) footage that would show the meetings with Mercado and Desiderio.
Dulay said that based on Abalos’ testimony, his client had a well-founded fear that he would not get an impartial and fair trial. He also precluded the prosecution’s filing a comment on his motion, saying that the matter was between his client and the court.
Mupas approved a prosecution move to file a comment within five days on the motion to inhibit but left the question on the issuance of subpoenas for the hotels hanging.
Probe extort try
Mandaluyong Mayor Benhur Abalos has sought an investigation of the alleged extortion attempt by people claiming to be emissaries of the judge.
He said the attempt to extort money from his father occurred in at least three occasions in the three hotels mentioned, which all have CCTV cameras, and that it was witnessed by three lawyers.
The younger Abalos said they were not sure themselves if the people who were asking for money in exchange for a favorable decision were indeed the emissaries of Mupas.
“There are doubts and there are more than enough reasons for him to inhibit so as to dispel these doubts,” he said.
“These are factual events. Whether it’s true that they were sent by him, we don’t know. But there were instances when we feared that there may be some truth in that,” he said.
Commenting on the contempt threat, the mayor, who is a lawyer, said it was the first time he has encountered a judge seeking to have a detainee and his lawyers jailed for contempt.
“My father is already in jail and he wants him jailed some more. He has accused even the lawyers. This is very surprising,” he said. With a report from Niña Calleja