CA presiding justice orders ethics body to probe bribery raps vs 2 justices
MANILA, Philippines – Court of Appeals Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr. has asked the tribunal’s ethics committee to investigate allegations made by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV that two associate justices received up to P50 million in bribes in exchange for issuing rulings stopping the suspension of Makati City Mayor Erwin Jejomar Binay Jr.
“You are directed to conduct a thorough investigation and to submit a report and recommendation of your findings within 30 days from notice,” Reyes said in a letter dated April 16 to Justice Mariflor Punzalan Castillo, chair of the Court of Appeals’ committee on ethics and special concerns.
Trillanes earlier implicated in what he called “justice for sale” scam two of the three members of the Court of Appeals Sixth Division: Justices Jose Reyes Jr. and Francisco Acosta, chair and senior member of the division.
Reyes, Acosta and the division’s junior member, Justice Eduardo Peralta, issued the temporary restraining order and writ of preliminary injunction stopping the Office of the Ombudsman from preventively suspending Binay, who is being investigated in the alleged overpricing of the Makati City Hall Parking Building II.
Under the appellate court’s internal rules, Castillo’s committee “shall determine whether the complaint is sufficient in form and substance.” If it so finds, the committee shall endorse the complaint to the presiding justice for transmittal to the Supreme Court of proper action.
Section 6, Article VIII of the Constitution provides that the Supreme Court shall have administrative supervision over all courts and personnel thereof.
Trillanes’ accusations and the Senate’s move to investigate the matter were criticized by various sectors, including legal scholars, constitutionalists, the Court of Appeals employees’ association, and the San Beda Law Alumni Association.
The SBLAA, in a statement published in the INQUIRER, described the accusations as “premature” and at the same time vouched for the integrity and credibility of Acosta and Reyes, who obtained their law degrees from the San Beda College of Law in 1971 and 1977, respectively.
“The serious allegations made public beforehand without any hard evidence, and made against a background of partisan political crossfire, unfairly tarnish and malign the very good reputations of Justices Reyes and Acosta, and undermine the very integrity of the entire judiciary as an honorable institution,” the group said.
It added that the “premature allegations are a disincentive to public service.”
“We are one with our Filipino people in upholding the time-honored principle of justice, accountability and fair play in the administration of justice in our country. Due process applies to all. And the concerned magistrates are no exceptions to the application of this constitutional role. We thus appeal for basic fairness in the dispensation of Justice to all parties concerned,” the statement said.
The signatories were members of the SBLAA board of trustees and advisers including its chair, former Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz; former Supreme Court justice Antonio Eduardo Nachura; former Commission on Elections chair Sixto Brillantes Jr.; former undersecretary Enrique Perez; Club Filipino president Roberto de Leon; Globe Telecom corporate secretary Solomon Hermosura and chief legal counsel Rodolfo Salalima; and other trustees Jeremy Parulan, Edna Herrera-Batacan, Jonas Cabochan, Alfredo Lim (not the former Manila mayor) Norberto Manzano, Salvador Medialdea and Alfredo Rosal.
Former Comelec commissioner and 1987 Constitutional Commissioner member Rene Sarmiento, president of the San Beda College Alumni Association, also signed the statement.
On his Twitter account, San Beda Graduate School of Law dean, Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, doubted Trillanes’ motives and dared him to produce his evidence implicating the two justices.
“’In aid of legislation’ is not some carte blanche that gives posturing legislators the right to trespass the precincts of the judiciary. The Supreme Court has asked that evidence be presented. Trillanes, the accuser, should present evidence and walk the talk. That is on the assumption that his real motive is stemming corruption, but if it is media mileage he wants, then he will insist on an inquiry and the Supreme Court will rightly demand proof of the legislative purpose behind the inquiry, or block the scheming of the posturers,” Aquino said.
Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te said last week that evidence should first be presented for the high tribunal to proceed with an investigation on any allegations raised against members of the judiciary, whether they be lawyers, judges or justices.
Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Vicente Joyas, in an interview with reporters the other day, also opposed plans by the Senate to summon Reyes and Acosta.
“The plan of the Senate to push through with the investigation is a circumvention of the Constitution. In the first place, what would be the purpose of the investigation,” Joyas said, adding that senators could not force the appeals justices top attend as the Senate had no authority to investigate them.
“They must observe the constitutional provision that only the Supreme Court has the authority to probe the Court of Appeals justices and lower court judges. [If senators push through with hearing], then they are the ones appearing to be above the law because they are violating the Constitution,” Joyas said.
He explained that the principle of the separation of powers should also be observed, adding, “Under the law, it is the Supreme Court that should investigate judges and justices, in the same way that the courts cannot investigate the members of Congress for any misbehavior.”
The Senate cannot also cite its right to conduct legislative inquiries or the principle of checks and balances, he said.
Joyas said checks and balances referred to the Congress’ power over the purse and right to remove the President and high court justices through impeachment; the President’s right to appoint court magistrates, grant pardons and veto legislation; and the Supreme Court’s powers of judicial review and right to interpret the Constitution, among others.
“Investigation in aid of legislation on alleged corruption of judges and justices are not those defined in the check and balance provisions,” the IBP chief said.
The Association of Court of Appeals Employees, whose members wore white during Monday’s flag raising ceremony as an expression of support to Acosta and Reyes, also called on Trillanes to present his evidence straight to Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno instead of presenting his allegations before the media.
“We’re not against any move to clean the judiciary but it should be done the right way since we are a nation governed by laws. If he has evidence, he should raise it before the proper forum,” association president Amiel de Vera told reporters.
“The senator should give his evidence to Chief Justice Sereno because while he is talking to the media about it, the Court of Appeals as in institution is being tarnished, affecting even us who are a simple court employees. If he has good intentions, then he should do it right away,” De Vera added. SFM
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