A petition was filed seeking the inhibition of Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Jose Hernandez from the graft case filed against Oriental Mindoro Governor Alfonso Umali Jr. and several others in connection with public funds loaned to a private individual in 2004.
The anti-graft court’s Fourth Division led by Hernandez sentenced Umali, who is Liberal Party Treasurer, along with former lawmaker Rodolfo Valencia and former Provincial board member Romualdo Bawasanta to up to 10 years in prison and told them to reimburse the province in the amount of P2.5 million last April.
“He might be an impartial justice; however, he does not appear to be impartial or beyond any suspicion of bias in favor of the prosecution and against accused Umali,” the camp of Umali said.
The defense said during the hearing on Umali’s motion for reconsideration last May, they were told that the court will no longer hold an actual hearing on the said motion and will just give the prosecution time to file their opposition.
When they asked for a period of time to reply to the opposition, the Court of Clerk allegedly said that upon instruction of Hernandez, such a request could not be granted and that Umali’s appeal would be deemed submitted for resolution upon filing of the opposition.
Umali said the alleged instruction gave him and his lawyers “the impression that said magistrate is biased in favor of the prosecution and that he intends to hastily resolve or deny accused Umali’s Motion for Reconsideration without giving him any opportunity to refute first the prosecution’s arguments in its opposition.”
Umali added that the magistrate’s questions to the defense witnesses “seem more adversarial and confrontational than clarificatory, thus creating the impression that he was taking the cudgels for the prosecution.”
He cited the testimony of Manolo Brotonel in 2011 where he noted that Hernandez asked the witness 25 questions and the prosecution, he said, did not bother to quiz the witness.
The case stemmed from a contract of loan where provincial funds were given to private respondent Alfredo Atienza to finance the cost of repair, operation and maintenance of his vessel MV Ace intended to ply the Calapan-Batangas-Calapan sea route.
At the time, Valencia was governor while Umali was provincial administrator. They, as well as Bawasanta, have pending appeals on the court’s ruling.