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Rappler faces ‘tough luck’ with dreaded judge

Maria Ressa and the other executives of the online news outfit Rappler face a very difficult legal battle on their anti-dummy case before a Pasig City court, according to lawyers.

They say they consider as “tough luck” the assignment of the criminal case against Ressa and company to Pasig City regional trial court branch 265 Judge Acerey Pacheco.

In a recent gathering of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, lawyers said Pacheco had a reputation as a “dreaded judge” because of his very high conviction rate of over 80 percent.

“We call him [Pacheco] ‘Judge Convict.’ If you’re a defense counsel handling a case in his sala, the probability of winning is less than 20 percent,” said one lawyer who requested anonymity.

A check with the judiciary showed that Pacheco, who issued the warrant of arrest against Ressa upon her arrival at the airport on March 29, had convicted 420 out of some 500 accused from 2015 to 2018 in his original court of jurisdiction, Marikina RTC branch 165.

Pacheco is only designated as an acting presiding judge of the Pasig RTC handling the anti-dummy case against Ressa because there are not enough judges in the courts.

Nonetheless, the lawyers said Ressa and her co-accused could expect a speedy trial and the immediate resolution of their anti-dummy case from Pacheco. 

The judge issued the arrest warrant against Ressa on March 28, just a day after the case was raffled off to his branch on March 27 and just two days after it was filed by the Pasig Prosecutor’s Office on March 26. 

Ressa was arrested in the early morning of March 29 at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. The other accused―managing editor Glenda Gloria and Rappler’s 2016 board members Manuel Ayala, James Bitanga, Nico Jose Nolledo, James Velasquez and Felicia Atienza―had posted bail to avoid arrest. 

The separate case on the alleged violations of the Securities and Regulation Code was ordered by Pacheco for re-raffling to a special commercial court in the Pasig RTC.

As of December 2018, Pacheco had a caseload of only 324 cases with an average monthly output of 36 criminal and four civil cases.  Only 16 cases were on appeal before his sala.

In Pacheco’s court, no case is left undecided or unresolved beyond the reglementary period.

A check with the Supreme Court also showed that there is not a single administrative complaint filed against him since he was appointed judge in September 2011. 

His personal data sheet filed with the Judicial and Bar Council revealed that Pacheco was a recipient of the Presidential Plaque of Merit as commissioner of the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline from 2003 to 2011, when he recommended for disbarment of many lawyers.

While having no experience as a government prosecutor to explain his convicting streak, Pacheco had 22 years of private law practice highlighted by a plaque of appreciation from the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and the Millicent Foundation.

Pacheco obtained his Bachelor of Laws degree at the San Beda College of Law in 1988. He passed the Bar Exams in September of that year with an 84.4- percent rating.

The anti-dummy case against Ressa arose from the complaint filed by the National Bureau of Investigation last year after the alleged foreign ownership of Rappler and its holding firm was discovered.

The anti-dummy law prohibits foreigners from intervening in any “nationalized activity” such as the operation of a media company, which should have a 100-percent Filipino control under the 1987 Constitution. Violators could face imprisonment for a period of five to 15 years.

The RTC also conducted arraignment proceedings on April 10 where the accused pleaded “not guilty” to the charges.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has revoked the business registration of Rappler and Rappler Holdings Corp. due to its alleged violation of the constitutional ban on foreign ownership in media companies.

The SEC ruled that Rappler violated the constitutional restriction on ownership and control of mass media entities because of funds coming from Omidyar Network, a fund created by eBay founder and entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar.

The commission revoked Rappler’s certificate of registration because of a clause in its Philippine Depositary Receipt agreement with foreign investor Omidyar Network that it must be consulted before changing the company’s articles of incorporation or by-laws.

Topics: Maria Ressa , Rappler , Securities and Exchange Commission , Acerey Pacheco , Judicial and Bar Council
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