LP treasurer Umali loses bid to inhibit Sandigan Justice
THE Sandiganbayan Fourth Division junked the move to inhibit Associate Justice Jose Hernandez from the graft case of Liberal Party treasurer Alfonso Umali.
In a resolution penned by Justice Hernandez himself, the anti-graft court dismissed for lack of merit Umali’s motion.
Umali, who is Oriental Mindoro governor, had asked the court to inhibit Hernandez from handling the former’s motion for reconsideration purportedly for showing bias against him.
In its resolution, the court said a justice cannot inhibit himself from the case because of a pending administrative complaint.
The court also said Umali is resorting to “forum shopping” when he elevated the issue to the Supreme Court pending the resolution of the antigraft court on his motion against Hernandez.
“The undersigned chairperson would respond to the allegations of accused Umali in his administrative complaint in the appropriate forum if and when is required to do so. He would, however, in the meantime venture the observation that the accused is clearly engaging in forum shopping because in his administrative complaint, he is touching on matters that are the very issues being considered in this case,” Hernandez’ resolution said.
“It is well-established that the filing of an administrative case against a judge is not the proper recourse to correct an allegedly erroneous judicial act when judicial remedies are readily available,” it added.
In his motion, Umali, through his counsels, said Hernandez, chairman of the Fourth Division, showed bias against him when the court ruled to convict him of graft and sentenced him to 10 years in jail for illegally facilitating a P2.5 million loan sourced from the public coffers 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.
Also convicted by the court for violating Republic Act No. 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, were former Congressman Rodolfo Valencia and former Sangguniang Panlalawigan member Romualdo Bawasanta.
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.
Umali had also filed an administrative complaint against Justice Hernandez before the Supreme Court for alleged extortion.
In his motion to remove Hernandez from his case, Umali said his lawyers had been 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 Justice Hernandez to voluntarily inhibit himself from the case for his alleged failure to exercise the “cold neutrality” of a magistrate.
Meanwhile, in his complaint before the Supreme Court, Umali accused Justice Hernandez of asking for P15 million in exchange for an acquittal of his graft case.
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, said a certain Ruel Ricafort approached them to ask for a bribe. Umali said Ricafort is the cousin of Justice Hernandez’ wife.
Umali said he refused. He was eventually convicted to up to 10 years in prison by the Sandiganbayan for graft.
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.
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