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