CHIEF Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno on Monday admonished President Rodrigo Duterte for naming seven judges who have been accused of coddling drug lords, describing his exposé as “premature” and saying it could put their lives at risk.
In a four-page letter to Duterte, Sereno also said she would caution the judges implicated by the President not to surrender to the police in the absence of an arrest warrant.
“Mr. President, a premature announcement of an informal investigation on allegations of involvement with the drug trade will have the unwarranted effect of rendering the judge veritably useless in discharging his adjudicative role,” Sereno said.
“With all due respect, Mr. President, we were caught unprepared by the announcement. It would matter greatly to our sense of constitutional order, if we were given the chance to administer the appropriate preventive measures without the complications of a premature public announcement,” she added.
While the Supreme Court, which supervises all trial courts nationwide, supports Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs,
Sereno said that it has been careful in handling investigations and administrative cases against judges.
The administrative process in the judiciary is very sensitive so as not to affect the good reputation of judges, which is their “primary badge of credibility and the only legacy that many of our judges can leave behind,” Sereno said.
Sereno also expressed concern for the safety of the judges that Duterte named.
“Too many of our judges have been assassinated, 26 since 1999, a large proportion of them reportedly at the behest of crime lords, more specifically, drug lords… Our judges may have been rendered vulnerable and veritable targets for any of those persons and groups who may consider judges as acceptable collateral damage in the ‘war on drugs’,” she said.
Sereno appealed to the President to reconsider his order to disarm the judges he implicated to drugs “until a proper investigation concludes that formal criminal charges should be brought against them.”
Disagreeing with Duterte’s order for the seven judges to surrender, Sereno said: “I would caution them very strongly against ‘surrendering’ or making themselves physically accountable to any police officer in the absence of any duly-issued warrant of arrest that is pending.”
Sereno invoked the Court’s jurisdiction over cases against the so-called narco judges. “As the sole entity charged with the discipline of judges, the Supreme Court decides when judges are excused from bench duty and report to it,” she said.
“The Court would consider it important to know the source and basis of any allegation that specific judges are involved in the illegal drugs trade in line with its duty to exercise administrative supervision over all lower court,” she said.
Nonetheless, the Chief Justice assured the President that the judiciary is mindful of the need to cleanse its ranks of members involved in illegal drugs.
“We abhor [illegal drugs’] ability to even destroy public institutions, thus our proactive investigation of any report that judges and court personnel abet the drug trade. We are currently investigating a report on a judge who may be so involved. He is not on the above list,” she said without offering other details.
Sereno is the highest official to speak against Duterte’s announcement of the names of officials and personalities allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade.
The chief magistrate confirmed that three of the seven judges named by Duterte are no longer with the judiciary.
She said Judge Roberto Navidad of the Calbayog City, Samar regional trial court was killed on Jan. 14, 2008 at age 69, while Judge Lorenda Mupas of Dasmariñas, Cavite municipal trial court was dismissed in 2007 for gross ignorance of the law.
On the other hand, Judge Rene Gonzales of Iloilo City municipal trial court in cities (MTCC) already retired last June and did not handle drug cases in his sala.
Three other judges on the list - Exequil Dagala of the Dapa-Socorro, Surigao MTC; Adriano Savillo Iloilo City RTC; and Domingo Casiple of Kalibo, Aklan RTC – are not handling drug cases, either, she said.
“It would be very helpful if the investigators who included the names of Judges Dagala and Gonzales inform the Court how these MTC judges can be considered as influencing the drug trade,” Sereno said.
Sereno said only Judge Antonio Reyes of Baguio City, Benguet RTC presides over the designated drugs court.
The chief presidential legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, defended the President.
“I beg to disagree with the Chief Justice’s comment. The announcement is to the judges’ advantage as it will give them the opportunity to clear their names through the media rather than when cases are formally filed against them, which will give them a short time to file their counter-affidavits, and preclude from discussing their defense in public because it will become subjudice,” Panelo said.
Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, on the other hand, said the list of names that Duterte publicized might have been outdated, but said the information had gone through a stringent process of verification, validation and revalidation.
“It is an old list,” he said.
The Palace came under fire for naming one judge that had already died.
Four of the police officers from Northern Mindanao named are also behind bars, and of the 17 Mindanao mayors named, only seven are in office.
“The PDEA, the PNP will have to talk to different agencies to vet the list,” Andanar said.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueno said Monday Duterte was sad that he had to name some of his friends who were on the list.
“Few people helped him in the campaign but it hurts him that some who were with him are in the list but he cannot do anything. It’s hard for him,” Sueno told radio dzMM.
“Just to eliminate the drug menace, he doesn’t mind whoever will be affected. That’s how passionate he is to eliminate drugs in the country,” he added.
In his speech, the President said his duty to the country outweighs his friendship with the drug-linked officials.
Sueno said Duterte first presented his list of “narco-politicians” to his Cabinet secretaries before announcing it in a live televised speech.
Many Cabinet secretaries, he said, were shocked when they discovered that some of the President’s close friends, including the few people who helped in his campaign, were identified in the list.
Sueno added that more names of public officials, including congressmen, governors and even barangay captains involved in illegal drugs would soon be announced.
He said incumbent local officials tagged by Duterte may face charges and immediate suspension.
On Sunday night, the most wanted suspected drug lord in Central Visayas surrendered to Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa in Camp Crame.
Franz Sabalones yielded to Dela Rosa in Camp Crame and admitted having assumed control of Cebu’s drug trade following the death of drug kingpin Jeffrey “Jaguar” Diaz in a police encounter last month.
Sabalones is the brother of Fralz Sabalones, the incumbent vice mayor of San Fernando, Cebu.
The vice mayor was also identified by Duterte but he denied the allegations against him.
Dela Rosa said there was no arrest warrant for Sabalones’ brother, however.
He said Sabalones confided that an unidentified police colonel was receiving P200,000 weekly payola from illegal drugs deal.
However, he declined to reveal the name of the police colonel.
“He told me the amount he also gives to the chief of police. He also disclosed some names [of those who] are involved in illegal drugs,” said Dela Rosa.
Dela Rosa on Monday berated 31 policemen who surrendered after being tagged by Duterte.
“I really want to melt in shame because of what happened. I am the Chief PNP, I am leading the PNP with people who are involved with drugs syndicates,” Dela Rosa said.
“We are policemen, [expletive] we are here to serve yet you collect money from drugs [expletive],” Dela Rosa said.
“[Expletive] we are here to solve the illegal drugs but you are the ones adding to the problem,” he said.
Dela Rosa said he could not bear the shame upon hearing the names of policemen from the mouth of President Duterte.
There were 163 policemen on Duterte’s list.
Among the police districts, the Manila Police District had the highest number of drug-related killings, data from the National Capital Region Police Office showed.
The NCRPO said that the number of drug suspects killed were recorded from July 1 to Aug. 7 in its five police district offices.
Topping the list was the MPD with a total of 66 drug suspects slain during the period.
The NCRPO said the five police district offices have recorded a total number of drug suspects killed at 168 since July. With Francisco Tuyay and Sandy Araneta
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