SC penalizes 3 anti-graft court justices for Rules of Court violation

September 2, 2010 11:26 am 

By Perfecto T. Raymundo Jr.

MANILA, Sept. 1 – The Supreme Court (SC) penalized on Wednesday three associate justices of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan after they were found administratively liable in a complaint filed against them.

The administrative complaint was filed by a prosecutor from the Office of the Ombudsman for violation of the Rules of Court when the respondent justices tried a case separately instead of acting as a collegial body.

In a 28-page decision penned by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, the SC imposed a fine of P15,000 against Sandiganbayan Fourth Division Chair Associate Justice Gregory Ong for "conduct unbecoming" while Associate Justices Jose Hernandez and Rodolfo Ponferrada were found liable of simple misconduct.

The SC warned Hernandez and Ponferrada, together with Ong, that "a repetition of the same offense shall be dealt with more severely."

The case arose from the complaint filed by Assistant Special Prosecutor III Rohermia Jamsani-Rodriguez, accusing the three justices of violating the Rules of Court and falsification of public documents.

Rodriguez said that while in Davao City, Ong tried a case on his own while the two other justices heard other cases.

Among these are the cases Rodriguez has been handling.

Rodriguez said that it is contrary to the rules that they should act as a collegial body.

Upon instructions from the special pProsecutor, Rodrigez manifested her continued objection to the arrangement which, she said, caught the ire of the justices.

To speed up the proceedings, Rodrigez decided to forgo the presentation of NBI Investigator Atty. Roel Plando.

Still, despite informing the anti-graft court, Rdriguez said that the Sandiganbayan ordered the arrest of Plando.

Plando sought the lifting of the arrest warrant, which was granted by the court.

However, Hernandez still berated Rodriguez for bringing her own stenographer and asked the stenographer to show cause why she should not be cited in contempt.

The stenographer complied, explaining that her director asked her to do so. The director also submitted a manifestation before the court.

Rodriguez said that the anti-graft court has not yet resolved the issue.

Rodriguez also claimed that Ong often asked lawyers from which law schools they graduated to emphasize that San Beda Law School, where Ong graduated, and the University of the Philippines College of Law, where Hernandez graduated, were the best law schools.

Rodriguez said that in one hearing, Hernandez also shouted at Prosecutor Hazelina Tujan-Militante.

The respondent justices vehemently denied the allegations that they tried cases separately.

Nevertheless, they had ensured that there was a quorum such that all the three of them were present in the same venue, same court, to preserve the collegial nature as required by the Rules of Court.

However, the SC said that "the ability of the 4th Division to function as a collegial body became impossible when not all of the members sat together during the trial proceedings."

"The information and evidence upon which the 4th Division would base any decisions or other judicial actions in the cases tried before it must be made directly available to each and every one of its members during the proceedings. This necessitates the equal and full participation of each member in the trial and adjudication of their cases," the SC ruled.

"We warn therefore that no conduct, act or omission on the part of anyone involved in the administration of justice that violates the norm of public accountability and diminishes the faith of the people in the Judiciary shall be countenanced…It is essential for all judges, individually and collectively to respect and honor the judicial office as a public trust and to strive to enhance and maintain confidence in the judicial system," the SC stressed. (PNA)

scs/PTR

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