CHARGES of corruption in the judiciary must be substantiated by evidence before the Supreme Court can act on them, the tribunal said Tuesday.
“That’s the pronouncement made by the Chief Justice [Ma. Lourdes Sereno] on several occasions, and that’s also the position taken by the Court. That’s still the position of the Court,” said the tribunal’s spokesman, Theodore Te in a press conference in Baguio City.
Te’s statement came in the wake of charges by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV of bribery against two magistrates of the Court of Appeals, whom he accused of accepting P25 million each to stop the preventive suspension of Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr.
“If they (accusers) have specific names, details and proofs, they can always submit [these] to the court,” Te said.
In October last year, Sereno issued a call to informants and lawyers who have information about corruption in the judiciary following the dismissal from judicial service of Sandiganbayan Senior Associate Justice Gregory Ong over links with pork barrel fund scam queen Janet Lim Napoles.
“We cannot initiate administrative cases without evidence. Bring to us evidence and we will investigate,” the Chief Justice said.
Sereno vowed to continue the “house cleansing” in the judiciary after Ong’s example, but lamented that the high court is prevented from investigating other allegations due to lack of evidence presented by accusers.
Te also pointed out that the Cout has “ultimate jurisdiction” over administrative charges and disciplinary power against members of the judiciary, including justices, judges and lawyers.
“If there is a grievance against members of the judiciary, they (justices) have the authority to take action, under the rules. That’s under the power of the court,” he said.
Te siad the Court is aware of the Trillanes’ accusations, but said he was not authorized to issue a statement on the specific allegation.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said the Senate has no power to investigate the CA justices as Trillanes proposed.
The national organization of lawyers also agreed with the Supreme Court that proof is needed for the charges to prosper.
Absent proof, Trillanes and other accusers “should stop insinuations that will destroy the judiciary as an institution,” the group said.
Citing “reliable sources,” Trillanes accused the camp of Binay of bribing two justices of the Sixth Division of the appellate court – Associate Justices Jose Reyes Jr. and Francisco Acosta – to obtain a temporary restraining order then a preliminary injuction against the mayor’s suspension by the Ombudsman.
He claimed that the two magistrates were paid P25 million each through lawyer Pancho Villaraza.
The CA justices and Villaraza have all denied the accusations.
The Palace said Tuesday it would leave it up to the Supreme Court to investigate the bribery allegations.
“Government is against all forms of corruption. We should, however, consider the doctrine of separation of powers as the allegation of purported bribery pertains to the judiciary,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.
“We will defer to the Supreme Court to take a look at such serious allegations and for the Senate to act on the proposed resolution presented by one of its members,” Coloma also said.
In the House, the independent minority bloc led by Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez challenged Trillanes to insulate the judiciary from partisan politics.
“I always respect the majesty of the court and as a member of the bar, I will never go to the extent of making statement or accusation unless I have a hard evidence. At this point, these are allegations so I think we should be more careful and be more respectful to the institution of the government,” Romualdez said.
“I still have faith on our judiciary and we should spare this institution from plain and simple politics. It would be better if the allegations are supported with hard evidence, otherwise this are baseless and unfounded,” Romualdez added.
Makati City Rep. Abigail Binay, the mayor’s sister, said Trillanes should resign as a senator if he cannot show proof of the alleged bribery.
Parañaque Rep. Gus Tambunting said Trillanes must substantiate his accusations.
“This is very serious allegation that should be backed up by clear and convincing evidence. It also undermines the integrity of our judicial system as an institution, which our people rely upon in the dispensation of justice,” Tambunting said. With Sandy Araneta
Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, interim president of Vice President Jejomar Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), said Trillanes should be cited for contempt for ruining the reputation of the judiciary. – With Sandy Araneta
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