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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Though convicted of graft, this judge continued to rule


GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star)

This provincial mayor became a judge although on trial for graft. He even got posted to the plum Makati court. Subsequently sentenced, he went on paid leave for seven months. And while on leave he decided a huge money case.

Only in the Philippines? You bet. And the Supreme Court had better probe this 16-year-long farce – lest there be more.

The tale of The Honorable Joseph Cedrick O. Ruiz began in 1998, when he became mayor of Dapitan City. In that capacity he caused his police chief to hand over P1 million in intelligence funds, for his personal use. For that he was indicted for graft and malversation before the Sandiganbayan in Mar. 2002.

While out on multiple bail and under trial, Hizzoner Ruiz was appointed judge of the Iloilo City regional trial court (RTC) in Feb. 2004. How he passed “rigid vetting” by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) begs for answers. Only persons of integrity and probity may become judge. Candidates must submit clearances from the Ombudsman and Sandigan. The Supreme Court’s Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), as the JBC secretariat, must verify their submissions.

The OCA also oversees transfers of judgeships. Three years after joining the Judiciary, Judge Ruiz was “promoted” to the Makati City RTC, where teem the country’s biggest financial lawsuits. As presider of the Makati RTC Branch 61, he heard cases from 2007 to May 2, 2013.

On Apr. 29, 2013, the Sandigan found Judge Ruiz guilty as charged. Sentence: imprisonment of six to eight years for graft, 12 to 18 years for malversation. In addition: perpetual bar from public office, return of P950,000 stolen from Dapitan City, and fine of P950,000. The Philippine STAR and three news websites published the conviction on May 2, 3, and 23, 2013.

Before that on Apr. 3, Judge Ruiz had filed for eight days’ work leave, May 3-15, approved by the Makati executive judge. And before the leave expired, Judge Ruiz filed on May 14 and thrice more for extension till Nov. 29, 2013, again approved. Is a Sandigan sentence not effective immediately, to mean that Judge Ruiz no longer may hold court, much more go on paid leave?

There’s more. On May 2, 2013, two workdays after his conviction, Judge Ruiz rendered decisions on four money and land titling cases in his Branch 61. Then, on May 21, he filed with the OCA for two months’ extension of deadlines to decide five cases. Amazingly he listed among them the four he already had decided on May 2; the fifth involved an even bigger amount. His reason for the request was “the sheer volume of work” as presiding judge of Branch 61 and pairing judge of Branch 60 – yet he was then on leave starting May 3. What was he up to?

More amazingly, the OCA granted the request. Should not the OCA swiftly have suspended Judge Ruiz instead? Does it not keep track of Sandigan verdicts on Judiciary officers, or even of the news?

The plot thickens. The fifth case for which he filed on May 21 for more time to decide, Judge Ruiz actually decided on May 15, 2013. Meaning, he not only was asking for deadline extension for a case already decided – he actually ruled on it, then belatedly filed for delay when he was not reporting for work since May 3. Certifications show that he was not at work on May 15 and 21, nor on Oct. 1, the extended deadline. In fact, a new presiding judge of Branch 60, as pairing judge of Branch 61, already was hearing cases in the latter since a month before.

In that fifth case Judge Ruiz favored one side. Yet he skirted the other litigant’s more basic complaint about the wrong person filing it in the first place. Curiously, the pairing judge from Branch 60 affirmed Judge Ruiz’s ruling in absentia.

Epilogue: The Sandigan in Aug. 2013 trashed Judge Ruiz’s motion to reconsider his conviction. He quickly appealed to the Supreme Court in Sept. On the week of Oct. 1, the deferred deadline he had asked for to rule on the fifth case, he was also petitioning the SC for more time to complete his appeal papers. The deeds of Judge Ruiz, backed by documents two inches thick, also have been reported to the SC.

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Knowing they’re in the expanded list of pork barrel plunderers, senators are invoking legalese to prevent its disclosure. Supposedly Justice Sec. Leila de Lima first must ascertain the evidence. Supposedly the burden is on the accuser to prove the accusation.

Bah! That tenet may be true, but not in the case of congressional “pork.” For here we have senators and congressmen awarding themselves hundred billion pesos for their exclusive use. Under the law they should account for every centavo of the people’s money. The burden is on them to prove that they spent it right. More so since the Supreme Court has outlawed the “pork.”

Out with that list.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Invasion is in their blood, and resistance is in our blood,” Hanoi political analyst Nguyen Quang A, on Vietnamese boats ramming Chinese vessels that suddenly installed an oil rig 120 miles off Vietnam’s coast.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).

The STAR website http://www.philstar.com/author/Jarius%20Bondoc/GOTCHA

E-mail: jariusbondoc@gmail.com

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