SC affirms Ong’s dismissal
MANILA, Philippines–The Supreme Court on Tuesday denied the appeal of Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Gregory Ong to reverse its earlier ruling dismissing him from office.
High Court’s Information Chief Theodore Te said the high court denied the motion for reconsideration for lack of merit.
Ong was dismissed after he was found guilty of gross misconduct, dishonesty and impropriety under the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary.
Aside from dismissal, the high court also ordered the forfeiture of all retirement benefits except accrued leave benefits. He can also no longer be appointed or be reemployed in any branch, agency or instrumentality of the government including government-owned or controlled corporations.
Ong has been investigated by the Supreme Court through retired high court justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez after a photo came out showing Ong with accused pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles and Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada.
Ong immediately wrote a letter to the Supreme Court where he voluntarily submitted himself to Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. In his letter dated Sept. 26, 2013, Ong denied that he ever attended the party or any social event hosted by Napoles or her family at any time relevant to the disposition of the Kevlar Helmet case where Napoles was acquitted.
In her report with findings and conclusions, Justice Gutierrez said Ong visited Napoles at her office on two occasions after participating in the Kevlar helmet case.
The report added that Ong did not disclose in his letter that he visited Napoles’ office.
The report further stated that the testimonies of Benhur Luy and Marina Sula mentioning Ong during a Senate inquiry were “instantaneous, clear, unequivocal and carried with it the ring of truth.”
Gutierrez said the two were consistent when she questioned them about Ong.
“The court adopted the findings of Justice Gutierrez…the testimonies of Luy and Sula showed that Ong was in contact with Napoles during the pendency of the Kevlar case and while the evidence was insufficient to sustain the bribery and corruption charges as both Luy and Sla did not witness Ong actually receiving money from Napoles, the court nonetheless found credible evidence of Ong’s association with Napoles,” the high court said.
“The court noted that the totality of the circumstances of such association strongly indicates (Ong’s) corrupt inclinations that only heightened the public’s perception of anomaly in the decision-making process,” the high court said.
The high court added that it also does not matter if the ‘improper acts’ were committed after the decision of the case “because magistrates are under constant public scrutiny, the termination of a case will not deter public criticisms for acts which may cause suspicion on its disposition or resolution.”
This is the second offense committed by Ong. In 2011, he was fined by the high court for unbecoming conduct after conducting a hearing on his own while the two other justices in his division are trying a different case as complained by a government prosecutor.
Those who voted for Ong’s dismissal are Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Justices Arturo Brion, Mariano Del Castillo, Martin Villarama Jr., Estella Perlas-Bernabe, Marvic Leonen and Francis Jardeleza. Those who dissented are Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin, Presbitero Velasco, Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza and Bienvenido Reyes. Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo De Castro and Diosdado Peralta inhibited from the case because the two were former colleagues of Ong at the Sandiganbayan.
Ong is the first Sandiganbayan justice dismissed by the high court. Prior to Ong, the anti-graft court indefinitely suspended Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Francis Garchitorena in 2001.