Sereno to judges: Don’t surrender to cops sans arrest warrant
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno cautioned the judges identified by President Rodrigo Duterte as those with links to the illegal drug trade not to surrender to any police officers in the absence of a warrant of arrest.
In her letter to Duterte, she asked the source and basis of any allegation against the seven judges.
“We abhor its ability to even destroy public institutions, thus our proactive investigation of any report that judges and court personnel abet drug trade,” Sereno said.
However, she said “a premature announcement of an informal investigation on allegation of involvement with the drug trade will have the unwarranted effect of rendering the judge veritably useless in discharging his adjudicative role.”
“Thus, this Court has been careful, all too aware that more often than not, a good reputation is the primary badge of credibility and the only legacy that many of our judges can leave behind,” she said.
The Chief Justice added that Duterte’s announcement may have endangered the lives of the six judges given the extrajudicial killings of those suspected to be involved in the narcotics trade.
“Our judges may have been rendered vulnerable and veritable targets for any of those persons and groups who may consider judges as acceptable collateral damage in the ‘war on drugs,’” Sereno said as she noted that many judges have been assassinated since 1999, a large portion of whom was upon the orders of crime lords, more specifically drug lords.
She also urged Duterte to allow the judges to carry defensive firearms “because we do not have the personnel to protect our judges.”
“We request that you reconsider your reported order that the judges you named, with the above clarification on who these are, continue to bear these licensed self-defense weapons, if any, until a proper investigation concludes that formal criminal charges should be brought against them,” Sereno said.
Sereno said the high court has an administrative mechanism in investigating, suspending or disciplining judges.
In fact, she said they are currently investigating a judge with links to illegal drugs.
“We are currently investigating a report on a judge who may be so involved. He is not on the list [you have mentioned],” Sereno said.
Sereno, in her letter described each of the judges that Duterte has identified:
- Judge Lorenda Mupas was dismissed in 2007 as Municipal Trial Court Judge of Dasmariñas, Cavite for gross ignorance of the law.
“We request that her dishonorable discharge be duly considered and that she be not referred to as part of the judiciary as of nine years ago,” Sereno said.
- Judge Roberto Navidad, formerly of the Calbayog City, Samar Regional Trial Court was killed on Jan. 14, 2008 at age 69.
- Judge Rene Gonzales, formerly of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) Branch 7, Iloilo City compulsorily retired last June 20, 2016.
- Judge Exequil Dagala of the MTC, Dapa-Socorro, Surigao, does not have jurisdiction over drugs cases, the same way that Judge Gonzales does not.
“It would be very helpful if the investigators who included the names of Judges Dagala and Gonzales inform the Court how these MTC judges can be considered as influencing the drug trade,” Sereno said.
- Judge Adriano Savillo, RTC, Branch 30, Iloilo City is a family court judge who does not have jurisdiction over drugs cases except in cases where a minor is a respondent.
- Judge Domingo Casiple, RTC, Branch 7, Kalibo, Aklan is the judge of a court of general jurisdiction without jurisdiction over drugs cases, that is, until our recent decision to make all RTCs as drugs courts is implemented with the appropriate administrative circular.
“It would be helpful to know the specifics on how judges without jurisdiction over drugs cases influence the drug trade in their localities,” Sereno said.
* Judge Antonio Reyes, RTC, Branch 61, Baguio City, Benguet presides over the designated drugs court in that multi-sala court.
Sereno admitted that they were caught unprepared by Duterte’s announcement.
“As it appears now, the announcement of the names of some judges is expected to cause problems with the scheduled hearings and conferences in their salas,” Sereno said.
Sereno still lauded the President for his zeal in cleaning the judiciary but reminded Duterte to follow constitutional order.
“It would matter greatly to our sense of constitutional order, if we were given the chance to administer the appropriate preventive measures without the complications of a premature public announcement,” Sereno said. RAM/rga