Former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile’s camp has said that doubts are always resolved in favor of recusal, in response to the prosecution’s opposition to his plea for the voluntary inhibition of Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang “as Chairperson of the Special Third Division” from the plunder case filed against him and several others in connection with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel scam.
The prosecution earlier argued that his motion “does not cite just or valid grounds” to warrant Cabotaje-Tang’s recusal and asked the court to deny Enrile’s motion for lack of merit.
It added that Enrile “does not even claim or impute bias or partiality on the part of” the magistrate and also argued that his motion “is not based on clear and convincing evidence,” describing the circumstances he cited as “pure speculations and conjectures.”
In a reply, Enrile’s camp said in part that “In matters of judicial disqualification or recusal, possibilities or doubts are always resolved in favor of recusal. The duty to recuse and the duty to continue hearing a case do not exert equal pull, the balance being tipped in favor of recusal. Thus, the standard for recusal always used by the Supreme Court is not just reasonable doubt, or substantial doubt, as to the impartiality of the judge, but ‘any’ doubt.”
In the motion it filed earlier, the defense said Cabotaje-Tang’s appointment in 2013 by former President Benigno Aquino 3rd as the Sandiganbayan’s presiding justice notwithstanding being the most junior of the court’s justices at the time, “forms part of what [former United States Supreme Court Associate]Justice Benjamin Cardozo describes as the ‘subconscious forces’ which affects the verdicts she renders in the momentous cases she decides.”
The defense quoted excerpts from Aquino’s State of the Nation Address in 2015.
In part, the defense quoted the former president as saying in the 2015 speech, “If there is anyone who still doubts that justice is blind in the Philippines, it would be best if they turned their attention to the three senators currently detained…”
But the prosecution said that Aquino’s statements do not prove or demonstrate the alleged “subconscious force” that affects the verdicts which Cabotaje-Tang renders, adding that it was not even explained how the statements operate as a “subconscious force.”
The defense also mentioned the proceedings on Enrile’s arraignment on July 11, 2014 when the court denied his motion for a bill of particulars that was filed on July 10, 2014.
‘With reasonable dispatch’
In response, the prosecution said that “[t]he proceedings were not conducted at an extraordinary speed. The action of the court was in line with the goal of the courts to resolve cases with reasonable dispatch.”
It further argued that Cabotaje-Tang’s recusal will unduly delay the proceedings.
“The present case had long been filed with the Sandiganbayan, and if the present Motion to Recuse is granted such will unnecessarily delay the proceedings because the inhibition of Chairperson Cabotaje-Tang will necessarily lead to the re-raffling of the case to another Division under the Sandiganbayan’s internal rules,” the prosecution said.
Under the court’s internal rules, inhibition by the chairperson or all three members of the court division would mean a re-raffling of the case to another division.
“While voluntary inhibition rests on the discretion of the judge or magistrate, it must be done with caution, lest it become a resort of litigants trying to delay the resolution of the cases against them or of those parties who, in seeking other venues that maybe ‘friendlier’ to their cause, would attempt to smear the reputation of a member of the Bench,” the prosecution said.
Enrile is one of three former senators namely, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, whom the Office of the Ombudsman charged along with Janet Lim-Napoles and several other individuals in 2014 in connection with the PDAF scam.