YEARENDER

Controversies hound the judiciary

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THE year 2017 is full of controversial issues within the judiciary, affected by the new political mandates of former Davao City Mayor and now President Rodrigo Duterte. The Supreme Court also dealt with issues involving several members, among them the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

The court en banc also upheld the constitutionality of the President’s Proclamation 216, “Declaring a state of martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao.”

In February, the court junked with finalitya the plea of former senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. asking to dismiss his plunder case at the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan in connection with the pork barrel fund scam. Later, the court junked former senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada’s plea asking to suppress and exclude the cash/check disbursement reports and testimony of state witness Benhur Luy in the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel scam.

In March, the high court empowered the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) by giving them special rank and salary similar to the prosecutors of the Department of Justice (DoJ). In the following month, it stood pat on its majority ruling acquitting former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of plunder charges. Also in April, the DoJ filed money laundering charges before the regular court against officials of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation and the remittance firm, Philrem Service Corp. in connection with the heist of $81 million worth of Bangladesh Central Bank’s funds that entered the Philippines. The DoJ, however, exonerated the Filipino-Chinese and casino junked operators Kam Sim Wong, a.k.a. Kim Wong, and Weikang Xu “for insufficiency of evidence.”


Briefly, the Supreme Court ordered the continuation of the construction of the controversial issue of the Jose Rizal’s shrine’s national photo-bomber, Torre de Manila building, constructed by the real-estate developer DMCI.

In July, the case of “Ilocos 6,” or the six provincial officials who were detained in the House of Representatives after being cited in contempt by the lawmakers for refusal to shed light on the alleged misuse of P66.45 million in tobacco funds to buy vehicles under the watch of Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, finally reached the high tribunal as Marcos filed a petition on the same. On the other hand, the Court of Appeals, also in July, junked the enforcement of the $2-billion award by a US court, in 1995, over the estate of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, to the human rights victims in the Philippines during Martial Law.

The Supreme Court, too, formally granted the plea for the transfer of the trial of cases concerning the attacks in Marawi City to Metro Manila from Cagayan de Oro City.

Far ahead, the court ruled with finality and pinned the last nail in the coffin and made its final disposition on the case of Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery), as majority of the magistrates dismissed the petition for the exhumation of his the remains.

In August, the Court of Appeals granted the plea of the Executive Department for the immediate execution, eviction, and takeover of the government in the assailed Mile Long Property owned by the Prieto-Rufino family, and ordered them to pay back rentals of P1.6 billion, exclusive of its legal interest. Later, Judge Mary Ann Corpus-Manalac, of the Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 14, junked the appeal filed by Sunvar Properties owned by the Prieto-Rufino family as it granted the appeal of the government and the National Power Corp.

On August 22, the PAO revealed it found treachery in the death of the 17-year-old Kian de los Santos, who was allegedly a victim of extra judicial killing by the Caloocan City police. The PAO also scored a victory before the Supreme Court after it allowed plea bargain deals in drug-related cases pending before the courts.

The DoJ dismissed the rebellion charges against 58 alleged Maute group recruits and their alleged recruiter who were nabbed in the Zamboanga peninsula last July 25.

The DoJ issued an Immigration Lookout Bulletin Order against 16 members of the fraternity linked to the death of Horacio Tomas Castillo III, a freshman law student at the University of Santo Tomas (UST).

Unimpeachable sources, meanwhile, revealed that the Sandiganyan was poised in giving freedom to former senator Jinggoy Estrada.

UST Law Dean Nilo Divina was in “hot water” along with 20 of his colleagues at the Divina Law office for alleged corruption in conspiracy with Andres Bautista, chairman of the Commission on Elections.

Meanwhile, the DoJ junked the P9.564-billion tax evasion complaint filed against the beleaguered cigarette manufacturer, Mighty Corp.

Similarly this year, the appeals court affirmed the order of the Office of the Ombudsman in sacking from his post on-leave Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog in connection with his alleged unlawful acquisition of wealth.

The Supreme Court justices voted to deny Sen. Leila de Lima’s petition seeking the dismissal of the illegal drugs charges filed against her. After several months, 1-Pacman Party-list Rep. Michael Romero came out from hiding after the appellate tribunal’s Fifth Division issued a ruling granting his petition, along with Felicia Aquino.

In the meantime, 2017 also saw Sereno facing an impeachment complaint and this senior reporter receiving death threats. He got two identical text messages on December 1, telling him to say his last wishes to his wife and children.

A group of reporters covering the justice beat—Justice and Courts Reporters Association (Jucra)—condemned the death threat and urged the authorities to investigate. This reporter covers the judiciary and has written exclusive and controversial stories about the high court for decades, citing anonymous sources and insiders.

The Supreme Court gave its nod on the release of all documents against Sereno, including all her Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, foreign and domestic travels, and bulletproof luxury vehicle, among other pieces of evidence, as it granted the plea of lawyer Lorenzo Gadon for the release of the same.

The court was likewise asked to release Sereno’s psychological and psychiatric evaluation results. The high tribunal ordered the probe and legal study on the alleged “irregular” appointment of Sereno to an IT consultant by paying her a whopping salary of P250,000 per month or P1.5 million for a six-month contract, which was renewable thereafter.

When a complaint was filed against Sereno, she was dared to appear before the House Committee on Justice. Correspondingly, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio sought for the particulars on the contents of his possible testimony in the impeachment case.

Witnesses who were presented before the Lower House were this reporter, Supreme Court Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Noel Tijam, Francis Jardeleza, and Arturo Brion, among others.

It was revealed that amid her impeachment charges, Sereno started to use and display her P5.1-million bulletproof luxury vehicle for which its lavish procurement was shouldered by the Supreme Court and by the Filipino people in the form of taxpayer’s money. The same was allegedly made without any authority from the court en banc.

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