Pimentel to SC: Look into ‘phenomenon’ of inhibiting judges
MANILA, Philippines — Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III on Monday asked the Supreme Court to look into the “phenomenon” of judges inhibiting from specific cases, stressing that the move is unfair, especially to those deprived of liberty.
Pimentel raised the issue during the Senate’s plenary debates on the proposed 2024 budget for the judiciary.
Pimentel also brought up the pending case of detained former senator Leila de Lima, who has been jailed over her alleged involvement in the illegal drugs trade.
“The case of [former] Senator Leila de Lima. It has been pending for six years [and nine months] in the regional trial court. Is this normal?” asked Pimentel.
Senator Sonny Angara, sponsor of the judiciary’s 2024 budget, pointed out that two of de Lima’s three cases have already been disposed of, while one is still on trial.
Angara’s remark prompted Pimentel to urge the Supreme Court to closely look into the practice of some judges of inhibiting from selected cases.
“Siguro tingnan na rin ng Supreme Court yung phenomenon of judges inhibiting from cases. Dapat strikto ‘yun eh. Judge ka nga eh, pumasok ka nga sa ganyang job description, dapat kaya mo ‘yung mga maiinit na kaso kahit na politically loaded,” said Pimentel.
(Maybe the Supreme Court can also look at the phenomenon of judges inhibiting from cases. That should be strict. You are a judge. You must be able to deal with controversial cases even if they are politically loaded.)
In June 2023, Presiding Judge Abraham Joseph Alcantara of Branch 204 voluntarily inhibited himself from presiding over the remaining drug case against de Lima.
He was the second judge to inhibit from de Lima’s final drug case, the first one being Presiding Judge Romeo Buenaventura of Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 256.
Pimentel pointed out that judges should only be allowed to inhibit if the party involved is a close relative.
“It’s actually unfair to the parties involved, especially those deprived of liberty,” said the opposition senator.
To this, Angara answered that the Supreme Court agrees with Pimentel. Angara added that the court is now “asking judges to furnish them with the orders of inhibition.”
“Dati hindi yata kasi. It was a decision made unilaterally, the inhibition. But now, the Supreme Court is now monitoring that phenomenon you’re speaking of, your honor.”