THE Supreme Court has exonerated three judges earlier implicated by President Rodrigo Duterte in illegal drug trade after the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency failed to forward evidence against them.
In a decision, the SC cleared Judges Exequil Dagala of the Dapa-Socorro, Surigao municipal circuit trial court; Adriano Savillo Iloilo City regional trial court; and Domingo Casiple of Kalibo, Aklan RTC of involvement in illegal drug trade.
“We affirm our commitment not to shirk from our responsibility of imposing disciplinary action upon any erring judicial officer or personnel. Yet we must also be steadfast in our undertaking to not be the instrument that destroys the reputation of any member of the bench by pronouncing guilt based on speculation,” the SC stressed.
SC Public Information chief Theodore Te explained the premature disclosure of the names of the Judges have put their lives in danger and damaged their reputation.
Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Roberto Abad conducted a fact-finding investigation, but terminated the inquiry against three of the four judges.
Abad said he was still waiting for a reply from the police and PDEA on his query about Baguio City Benguet RTC Judge Antonio Reyes.
In upholding Abad’s findings, the SC said: “Acting on his Report, the Court found that no prima facie case has been established against the said judges. It was constrained to terminate the investigation considering that despite repeated pleas, the PDEA insisted that no witness is willing to come forward and that it has exhausted the documentary evidence it can submit.”
Despite the response from the authorities, extraordinary steps were taken to obtain evidence “because of the grave public import of the President’s comment,” the SC said, noting Abad had managed to acquire financial and commercial documents about the judges.
However, there was no other evidence to confirm or corroborate other material points.
“The Court also noted the judges had been placed in danger and that their reputations had been damaged by the premature announcement of their alleged involvement in the drug trade which the investigation had revealed as unwarranted,” the tribunal pointed out.
The SC also appealed to various judges organizations “to take up issues that have surfaced in the investigation “to further enable the rule of law as far as judges’ conduct was concerned and protect the lives and reputation of judges and court personnel even as the Court disciplines its own ranks.”
Last August, Duterte and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno were at loggerheads after the Chief Justice told the Judges not to surrender to any police officers in the absence of a warrant of arrest.
The Chief Justice said “a premature announcement of an informal investigation on allegation of involvement with the drug trade would have the unwarranted effect of rendering the judge veritably useless in discharging his adjudicative role.”
Duterte responded by threatening to declare Martial Law.
The Chief Justice opted not to respond to Duterte’s rants. The President apologized to the Chief Justice.