SC’s antigraft ax falls on RTC judge, ex-Customs lawyer

SC’s antigraft ax falls on RTC judge, ex-Customs lawyer

/ 05:30 AM March 03, 2024

Supreme Court


The Supreme Court is cracking the whip on corruption and unethical behavior in the bar and the judiciary, dismissing a judge who allegedly asked for bribes for favorable rulings, and disbarring a customs lawyer who defrauded the buyer of a car confiscated by the government.

In a an Oct. 10, 2023, decision by the Supreme Court en banc published on Friday said it dismissed former Presiding Judge Edralin Reyes of Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 43 of Roxas City in Mindoro Oriental for gross misconduct for soliciting money and fraternizing with lawyers in violation of the New Code of Judicial Conduct.


Reyes also lost retirement and other benefits and is perpetually disqualified from holding public office and reemployment in the government service, including government-owned and -controlled corporations.


Tarnishing image

“His casual interactions with lawyers and litigants who have pending cases in his sala, even if there be no evidence of a payoff, only serve to heighten the public’s doubts on the credibility of the judiciary to discharge its mandate,” the high court said in its 44-page decision.

“His unethical behavior does not only damage his reputation and qualifications but also tarnishes the image of the judiciary as it sends the message that justice can be bought for a price. He thus lost and should be stripped of the honor of wearing the judicial robe,” the Supreme Court said.

Reyes was fined P17,500 for a separate case of “simple misconduct” after a Philippine National Police investigation showed that he took away several firearms which were evidence in cases pending in his court when they should have been turned over to the Firearms and Explosives Office.

Reyes is also facing disbarment.

Backup messages

The Supreme Court’s Management and Information Systems Office (Miso) discovered the judge’s alleged misconduct and corruption in the backup file of his iPhone messages in his court-assigned laptop computer.

The laptop was given to him in August 2018 when he was appointed acting presiding judge of Branch 39 of the Roxas City RTC. It was transferred to Judge Josephine Caranzo on her appointment to the branch in 2019 and she sent it to Miso for “repair or replacement.”


As standard practice, Miso examined the laptop and discovered the incriminating phone messages.

On March 12, 2020, investigators from the Office of the Court Administrator found that Reyes had communicated and asked for bribes from several lawyers and private individuals, “in exchange for favorable action on cases pending before him.”

One particular request by the judge was for “pabaon,” or pocket money, from a lawyer whenever he would attend seminars or training. He also allegedly received money, a car and guns from private practitioners in exchange for favors.

Favors granted

Among the favors he allegedly gave were resolutions granting motions or petitions for bail or their reduction, a motion to travel abroad and orders allowing pleas to a lesser offense.

The Supreme Court confirmed from Globe Telecom Inc. that the mobile numbers found in the laptop belonged to Reyes, three lawyers and an Oriental Mindoro mayor.

One of the most serious offenses committed by the judge was allegedly acquitting two murder suspects “upon the instruction” of the mayor, according to the high court, citing a Judicial Integrity Board (JIB) report in 2022.

‘Suspicious’ dispositions

The JIB said Reyes “acted favorably in favor of the party who has given him the bribe.”

Reyes informed the mayor in July 2017 that the two murder suspects could petition for bail. They did and he granted it, according to the JIB.

“On July 24, 2017, Judge Reyes informed the mayor that the accused already posted bail and the order for their release has already been signed,” it said. The two men were acquitted about two years later, the JIB said without indicating the mayor’s relations to the accused.

The judicial audit team also found “suspicious” dispositions of the judge’s cases where 50 of 76 cases examined were dismissed due to failure to prosecute, or statements from offended parties that they were no longer interested in pursuing a complaint.

In his response to the allegations on Dec. 15, 2022, Reyes argued that the retrieval of data from his private mobile phone connected to the laptop was a “brazen violation” of his constitutional right to privacy of communication and correspondence.

Customs case

He claimed that the conversations from the phone were fake and altered because the judge who replaced him, Caranzo, “had an axe to grind against him,” noting that she had possession of the device before it was turned over to Miso.

The Supreme Court rejected this defense, saying that Reyes had “no expectation of privacy” in court-issued computers and that the information obtained through the judicial audit could not be considered “fruit of the poisonous tree,” or evidence obtained through illegal means.

The Supreme Court said it disbarred and imposed a P20,000 fine on Jorge Monroy, a former director of the Bureau of Customs financial services, for “falsely” claiming that he had the authority to sell vehicles confiscated by the agency.

This “elaborate scheme” victimized the complainant, Julieta Co, who first gave Monroy a check for P150,000 on July 18, 2000, for a Toyota Land Cruiser worth P1.4 million.

READ: Prime duty of lawyers, prosecutors, judges

He demanded that Co pay him in cash for the remainder. But after she paid him the balance, she found out that someone from the Department of Finance had yet to sign the documents to release the car.

Facing arrest

Co demanded the entire P1.4 million back but Monroy said “someone ran off with the money.”He was found guilty of violating the antigraft law and estafa, or fraud, in 2010 by the Sandiganbayan in connection with the bogus sale. He has since remained at large and a warrant for his arrest had been issued.

In its decision disbarring Monroy for being unfit to continue practicing law, the high court cited his conviction by the Sandiganbayan, his “lack of remorse” despite repeated appeals by Co to return her money and his “futile attempt” to use an unidentified customs employee as a scapegoat.

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A copy of the Supreme Court decision on Reyes was sent to the Office of the Ombudsman, the Department of Justice and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for further investigation or sanctions against the judge, the mayor and the lawyers.

TAGS: Customs, judge, Justice, Supreme Court

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