Justices asked to explain recusal from Jinggoy Estrada case
MANILA, Philippines–Two lawmakers on Tuesday urged the Sandiganbayan to compel the three justices who inhibited themselves from the plunder and graft trial of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada to explain their sudden move.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said it behooved the three associate justices of the Fifth Division—Roland Jurado, its chair, and Alexander Gesmundo and Ma. Theresa Dolores Estoesta—to clarify their decision to quit the Estrada trial after hearing his appeal for bail for five months.
“It’s unfair to the public, to the prosecutors, to Jinggoy. They should give their reasons,” Rodriguez said in an interview with reporters.
He said that if the justices would not reveal the real reasons they recused themselves, the Supreme Court should step in and force them to do so.
For his part, Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III said the three antigraft court magistrates should resign if they refuse to explain.
“The cases were raffled off and it’s their job to decide the case whether or not it is popular with the public. What they did is an abdication of duty,” Albano said in a phone interview.
“If they are afraid of the repercussions of their decision in the case, they should just quit,” he added.
Rodriguez said it was unusual for all three justices, or an entire division, to recuse from a case.
Jurado, Gesmundo and Estoesta only cited “personal reasons” for dropping the case in a one-page letter to Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang.
“Normally, it is only one justice [that inhibits himself] but never an entire division,” Rodriguez said.
Renato Bocar, Sandiganbayan executive clerk of court and spokesman, said the antigraft court had no power to deny the request for recusal of a justice who is allowed to do so on “just and valid grounds or compelling reasons other than those specifically enumerated in the Rules of Court.”
Under the Rules of Court, a justice may inhibit him or herself from a case involving a litigant who is a relative up to the sixth degree or of a counsel up to the fourth degree of consanguinity. Justices may likewise be recused from a case if they had previous ties to a litigant or his lawyer.
But Rodriguez stressed that Estrada’s was a high profile case where the public, the prosecutors and defendants deserved full transparency.
“Nobody wants this impasse because it is detrimental to all the parties, especially the accused who will continue to remain in jail as long as his bail plea is not resolved,” Rodriguez said.
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