Will the real Ma’am Arlene please stand up?
Call it a case of too many “Ma’am Arlenes.”
The Supreme Court on Sunday said it was checking if the Arlene Angeles Lerma that left the country on Oct. 16 was involved in case-fixing and other forms of judicial corruption.
“The reports regarding the departure of a certain Arlene Angeles Lerma from the Philippines are being validated and formal confirmation from the Bureau of Immigration will be done as soon as possible,” Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te said in a text message.
Court officials have been careful not to identify the alleged case-fixer by her surname, and later said there were actually three Ma’am Arlenes under investigation.
This has led to confusion as to which Ma’am Arlene committed any misdeed and whether any of them was really influential in the judicial processes.
Te said whether Lerma was the Ma’am Arlene identified in media reports as being involved in judicial corruption would still be ascertained by the court’s fact-finding committee headed by Associate Justice Marvic
Te said the work of the committee was “to verify if there truly is a Ma’am Arlene” or if the Arlene that left the country was involved in any misdeeds.
Te said the committee was still at an “organizational stage” and further announcements would be made this week. The other members of the committee will be two retired justices to be named by Leonen.
Supreme Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez was the first high court official to say that there were three Ma’am Arlenes, but that only one—a court clerk—was a judiciary employee and therefore fell under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, which functions as the administrator of the judicial branch.
The other two are a former employee at the Manila Regional Trial Court and a Manila City Hall employee.
Newspaper columnists, including the Inquirer’s Ramon Tulfo, earlier wrote about a certain “Arlene L.” allegedly involved in fixing high-profile cases in the courts, including the Court of Appeals (CA).
Tulfo wrote that Arlene L. was known for her “high connections in the judiciary and her high-flying lifestyle, often seen sporting ultra-expensive signature handbags like Hermès.”
Later news reports referred to Ma’am Arlene as the “Janet Napoles of the Judiciary,” comparing her to the alleged mastermind of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (pork barrel) scam. Napoles is now held in a government detention center in Laguna province.
Other news reports said there could be up to four Ma’am Arlenes. One was even reported to have a magistrate boyfriend and have contacts in the Department of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman.
Marquez, who made an initial investigation of the reports, said one of the Arlenes reportedly financed a candidate for president in the recently held Philippine Judges Association (PJA) election.
That Arlene even supposedly booked 50 rooms in a high-class hotel for the judges and their spouses during the election and gave costly bags and overseas trips as gifts.
Marquez said that after reading the reports about Ma’am Arlene, he immediately issued a circular reminding judges to conduct themselves properly during PJA elections, and listing prohibited actions.
He also asked the three candidates for the PJA presidency to comment on the allegations.
According to Marquez, he personally thinks the reports about the illegal activities of Ma’am Arlene involve simple graft and corruption and not billions of pesos as in Napoles’ alleged multibillion-peso scam.
“It’s nothing compared to Napoles. It’s somewhat exaggerated to say [she’s the] Napoles of the judiciary,” Marquez said.
“In the Napoles case, we’re talking about P10 billion involving public funds,” Marquez said.
He added that the Ma’am Arlene matter “is a very simple [case of] graft and corruption which, of course, should be investigated and prosecuted also.”
Marquez said he initially thought the stories about Ma’am Arlene were a “smear attack” against one of the aspirants for the PJA presidency.
That it was picked up and exaggerated may have been the doing of groups that want to destroy the judiciary, he said.
“We’ll just have to answer all these attacks and show everyone that if there are irregularities, these irregularities are confined to small portions or a part of the judiciary,” Marquez said.
CA Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr. also launched a separate investigation about the supposed fixing of cases by Ma’am Arlene in his court.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court consolidated the Marquez and Reyes probes and the investigation that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno had asked the National Bureau of Investigation to undertake.
The Supreme Court en banc asked the NBI to transmit the results of its investigation to the Leonen committee, instead of to Sereno.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.