Sandigan Justice urged to inhibit from LP treasurer’s MOR
CONVICTED Liberal Party treasurer Alfonso Umali asked a Sandiganbayan Justice to inhibit himself from handling the former’s motion for reconsideration purportedly for showing bias against him.
In a motion filed before the antigraft court Fourth Division, the counsels of the incumbent Oriental Mindoro Governor said Associate Justice Jose Hernandez, chairman of the Fourth Division, showed bias against him when the court ruled to convict him for graft and sentenced him to 10 years in jail for illegally facilitating a P2.5 million loan from the public coffers to a ship owner for private use.
The motion said Umali’s lawyers were told that the court would no longer hear his motion for reconsideration and would only wait for the prosecutors’ comment opposition.
When the lawyers asked the court to comment on the prosecution’s opposition to his appeal, they were not allowed to do so because the motion had been deemed submitted for resolution upon instructions of Justice Hernandez, Umali’s motion said.
“This alleged instruction from the Honorable Justice gave accused Umali and his lawyers the impression that said magistrate is biased in favor of the prosecution and that he intends to hastily resolve or deny accused Umali’s motion for reconsideration without giving him an opportunity to refute first the prosecution’s arguments in its opposition,” Umali’s motion said.
Umali’s counsels said during the trial, the Associate Justice had asked one of their defense witnesses more than 25 questions, during which the prosecution never bothered to ask any queries anymore. Another defense witness was also barraged by Hernandez with 54 questions, exceeding the queries of the prosecuting panel at 25.
“The records show that the Honorable Justice asked the defense witnesses numerous questions, some of which seek to be more adversarial and confrontational than clarificatory, thus creating the impression that he was taking the cudgels for the prosecution,” the motion said.
Umali’s counsels urged the Justice to voluntarily inhibit himself from the case for his alleged failure to exercise the “cold neutrality” of a magistrate.
“Considering that the Honorable Justice does not appear to be impartial, accused Umali respectfully requests that he take the noble course and strive for his higher calling to uphold the integrity of, and promote faith in, the courts, and accordingly, recuse himself and voluntarily inhibit…” the motion said.
Umali’s counsels noted though that while “judges are mere mortals… subject to the frailties of other men,” they have the duty to “(render) judgement that will not arouse any suspicion as to its fairness and his integrity.”
“The judge must put the greater interest of the courts first and above his own. His battle cry must be to protect the integrity and reputation of the courts. The judge cannot allow the public to lose faith in the courts. He cannot allow one party to think that his decision was tainted with bias,” the motion said.
In a resolution, the antigraft court sentenced to six to 10 years’ imprisonment Governor Umali, who is also president of the League of Provinces of the Philippines and a close ally of the LP chairman President Benigno Aquino III.
Also convicted for violating Republic Act No. 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, are former Congressman Rodolfo Valencia and former Sangguniang Panlalawigan member Romualdo Bawasanta.
They were found guilty beyond reasonable doubt for illegally granting a P2.5 million loan to Engr. Alfredo Atienza to finance the cost of repair, operation and maintenance of the private vessel M/V ACE owned by Atienza in January 1994. Umali was then a provincial administrator while Valencia was then governor.
Umali as provincial administrator certified the disbursement as lawful and necessary, Valencia signed the release of the amount, and Bawasanta as provincial council member authorized and ratified the loan, the court said.
The court said the loan was illegal because it constituted public funds loaned to an engineer for the private interests of his shipping business.
It also said the loan was issued without collateral, and that the interest of the provincial government as creditor for the vessel is non-existent.
“For all intents, the credit agreement is grossly and manifestly disadvantageous to the finances of the provincial government; it is in violation of the law as it was undertaken for a private purpose; it burdened the provincial government with financial obligations; and it had no security or guarantee from Atienza from its payment,” the court said in its decision.
The court essentially upheld its Sept. 9, 2008 conviction when it threw out the demurrer to evidence filed by their lawyers. But the court proceeded to hear the merits of the case on appeal.
Governor Umali was also accused of receiving a P100 million payoff from accused Chinese crime lord Wang Bo supposedly to drop the latter’s deportation by the immigration bureau and to sweeten LP’s war chest for the 2016 polls. AC
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