Crooks in the courtrooms

8

CORRUPTION is at its worst when it involves officers of the court to and from whom aggrieved persons run for justice.

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If President Rodrigo Duterte’s advocacy against corruption will strike hard at the so-called “hoodlums in robes,” corrupt activities in the public and business sectors would substantially be reduced when perpetrators would no longer feel confident that they could buy their way out by paying prosecutors, judges and justices.

The tough-talking Duterte has declared a number of times that he abhors corruption. His latest statement was made before businessmen and Cabinet appointees gathered at the SMX Convention Center, in Davao City, on June 22. “Let me be brutal and frank to you all. Corruption must stop now,” he said.

In particular, he assured the businessmen that he would end corrupt activities in government that sap investor confidence.

In his inauguration address on June 30, the President again spoke strongly against corruption, side by side with the serious problem with the erosion of people’s trust in government officials and faith in the judicial system.

It is not as if the previous administrations did not do anything about these intertwined problems due to corruption.

In Sept. 2013, Supreme Court Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno acknowledged the gravity of the problem involving corruption in the judiciary as she urged lawyers to blow the whistle on “hoodlums in robes” and their corrupt practices instead of just discussing these in “hushed tones.”

Speaking at the celebration of Law Day by the Philippine Bar Association, Sereno said the Supreme Court was open to discussing measures that would persuade lawyers to help stamp out corruption in the judiciary, which could include providing the whistle-blowing lawyers administrative amnesty and immunity from criminal suits.

The call, however, seems to have fallen on deaf ears because we do not hear of lawyers coming out to tell on corrupt officers of the court, presumably because the assurance of administrative amnesty and immunity were not enough for them to stake their career in line.

I knew of an incident when the lawyer was willing to take his chance at exposing the extortion by a prosecutor but his client did not approve of pursuing administrative and criminal complaints for fear of facing a more complicated pursuit of justice from the other courts in the city and still losing in the end.

The client was a foreign businessman who was duped into paying an initial P26 million for a P76-million worth of beach property. He filed an estafa complaint against the seller. After nearly one year, the court found probable cause for indictment. When the accused filed a petition for review, things turned awry.

The public prosecutor reached out to the businessman’s lawyer and asked for a sum. After negotiations, the businessman was forced to shell out P1.6 million in cash in the hope of getting a favorable resolution. It came at a time as Christmas was approaching. Obviously not content with the cash haul, the prosecutor suggested that the businessman express gratitude to the judge by sending her a Christmas gift. The businessman bought an original Louis Vuitton bag. However, when the bag was ready for pickup, the prosecutor changed her mind. She wanted the gift for the judge to be in cash.

The lawyer could no longer stand the situation. The businessman was mad and disappointed. He went to court to recover the P26 million he paid initially for a property on which he planned to build a small resort hotel. But then he ended up falling victim to yet another crime—extortion by an officer of the court, whom he expected could help him get justice.

With the integrity of the court compromised, the businessman sought to suspend the hearings on his case and asked that the judge inhibit herself. The motion was granted without much discussion of the “deportment” complained about. The case was raffled again, but on first hearing with the new judge, it was terminated at once.

Murmurs about corruption in the courts are not isolated. But when one faces too much uncertainty in getting justice and the possibility of falling again for yet another layer of criminal activities, how can we expect them to speak up.

We have read or heard of a few other cases involving corruption in the courts, but we don’t know what happened after they were exposed in media.

Last March, for instance, a former lawyer of Janet Lim-Napoles, the suspected mastermind in the multibillion-peso pork-barrel scam, was arrested allegedly for selling fake Court of Appeals resolutions, based on investigation by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

The lawyer, Marie Frances E. Ramon, 37, was arrested in an entrapment operation following the complaint of the mother of a man convicted of possession of illegal drugs and whose appeal was being heard in the Court of Appeals.

The NBI said receipts submitted as evidence against Ramon showed the complainant had given her close to P1 million for the resolution that turned out to be fake. The complainant’s family said they mortgaged their home to pay for a reversal of conviction but all the money went to the supposed gambling debts of Ramon. The NBI said Ramon also had faced various cases of selling fake resolutions in housing cases, but these were eventually dropped after the complainants failed to pursue the charges.

In another incident, a ranking public prosecutor in Quezon City was kicked out of his job for allegedly demanding money from a complainant in exchange for a favorable ruling and also for selling him tickets for a church-sponsored raffle.

The Office of the Ombudsman dismissed Quezon City Assistant City Prosecutor Edgar Navales for grave misconduct and subsequently charged him with direct bribery in the Sandiganbayan. Navales was also banned from holding public office and ordered to pay a fine equivalent to one year’s salary.

Reports said Navales demanded P100,000 from Reynaldo de Leon, who in July 2014 filed a car theft case that was assigned to Navales, in exchange for an order upholding his complaint. The prosecutor also sold him church raffle tickets worth P3,000.

In Nov. 2014, the NBI arrested Quezon City Assistant Prosecutor Raul Desembrana in an entrapment operation for allegedly extorting P80,000 from Dr. Alex Montes, a member of the so-called “Morong 43,” referring to the 43 health workers arrested in 2010 over suspicions of being members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

Reports said Desembrana asked for P80,000 from Montes in exchange for the dismissal of an unjust vexation complaint filed by a retired military chaplain against him.

There may be many more cases out there involving officers of the court entangled in extortion activities, targeting victims of criminal activities who went to court to seek redress and obtain justice. Corruption in the courts, just like sexual abuse involving religious leaders, is a reality widely known but hardly addressed.

With hopes high on the new administration in the fight against corruption and other criminal activities, we ought to do our part in pursuit of its success. The President, no matter how serious he may be, cannot do it alone.

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8 Comments

  1. arthur keefe on

    Proven corruption should result in mandatory Jail sentences. Losing a job, or even a fine, is an insufficient deterrent. A poor man steals an item worth 10,000 pesos amd goes to jail. A judge or prossecuter steals 1M pesos and just loses his job. Fair?

  2. Too often you can read in the news that charges were dropped because the complainant
    withdraws. Can anyone in the Congress file a resolution to amend some laws with regard to this? Why can’t the case be pursued by the State even if the complainant withdraws? A simple case of theft for example took place in Manila, the thief admitted his crime in front of Police in the precinct and returned the item to the victim. The victim withdraws complaint because he lives in Ilocos and find it more costly to pursue. Why then the Police have to release the Thief when his crime has been done? Almost daily you can read news like that and that’s why thieves are multiplying.

  3. Mariano Patalinjug on

    Yonkers, New York
    04 July 2016

    I am glad that Manila Times columnist Tita C. Villarama has devoted her column of July 3rd to the festering problem of corruption in the Judiciary, to “hoodlums in robes,” as Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno puts it.

    I am personally aggrieved because my ow family has land cases in the province of Cebu which have been pending for at least ten years now. Considering that the adjudication of these cases involves documentary evidence mainly, my family is flabbergasted why the judge handling these cases has so far failed to dispense “speedy and equal justice.”

    The probable reason is that both our lawyer and the judge [or the “hoodlum in robes”] handling these cases have been bribed by respondents who happen to be well-heeled!

    And that is the problem which a President Rodrigo Duterte will need to address with all the force it is in his power to apply, because the judiciary is riddled through and through with corrupt lawyers, corrupt litigants and corrupt judges or even justices. No less than Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno admits to systemic corruption in the Judiciary.

    MARIANO PATALINJUG
    patalinjugmar@gmail.com

  4. armando flores on

    To get rid of corruption in the judiciary, start at the supreme court. Account for all cases gathering dusts for so many years in all divisions of the supreme court. There are so many unresolved old cases at the supreme court simply because there is no money flowing out of those cases as the party litigants are poor and ordinary citizens. Priority in resolving cases is enjoyed by the rich, famous and influential parties. In short, justice here is for sale and only for the elites of the filipino society.

  5. I wish D30 luck. He might have success vs drug dealers, because he can salvage them. But corruption is another matter. How will he get rid of erring judges? Kill them?

    • Tes, hav the NPA try those corrupt members of the judiciary tried in their Kangaroo Courts. Maybe, when ten fiscals, 20 judges and one justice in the SC may have been sentenced in any of those Kangaroo Courts all over the country, the hoodlums in robes may start having second thoughts. I wonder why the CPP NPA never did any of these all these years if they really want to correct injustice. It wud also be a big propaganda for their cause. It seems that they are just content watching history from the sidelines.

  6. How about judges of court who are more absent than present during scheduled hearings. There are judges who require presence of plaintiffs and respondents at 8:30am only to be told at 11am that the judge is not coming. Does the Supreme Court audit the procedures of their courts? Plaintiffs and respondents have to pay attorneys fees irregardless of the presence of the court. There is a judge in Manila whose courtroom is filled with plaintiffs and respondents with their lawyers, who is perennially
    absent. Maybe she is already sedentary for her role as a Judge. Supreme Court should not wait for complaints. They should conduct surprise audit of procedures.