Monday, April 20, 2015

‘CA justices got P25 M each for Junjun TRO’

By Christina Mendez 
The Philippine Star  
File Photo
File Photo
MANILA, Philippines – A prominent lawyer facilitated the payment of P50 million to two Court of Appeals (CA) justices for their ruling against the suspension of Makati City Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr. by the Office of the Ombudsman, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV claimed yesterday.
Trillanes accused F. Arthur “Pancho” Villaraza, formerly of the law office known as “The Firm,” of arranging for Binay a P50-million bribe to CA Associate Justices Jose Reyes and Francisco Acosta for their issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) and eventually a preliminary injunction against the ombudsman’s suspension order.
While admitting that he had no documentary evidence to prove his allegations, Trillanes said eyewitness are on hand to back his claims.
A former Navy lieutenant, Trillanes said his initial information was based on intelligence reports.
The suspension order against Binay stemmed from allegations of irregularities in the construction of the Makati City Hall Building 2 project. Binay is the only son of Vice President Jejomar Binay.
Trillanes made the allegation as he filed Senate resolution 1265 calling for a probe on “justice for sale” involving CA magistrates.
Headlines ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1
In his resolution, Trillanes cited accounts from “reliable sources” pointing to Villaraza as the one who facilitated the payment of P25 million each to Reyes and Acosta. The two belong to the three-man CA sixth division, which ruled against Binay’s suspension.
He said the two justices initially received P20 million each for the issuance of the TRO.
When the ombudsman, the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Department of Justice ignored the TRO, “a second transaction was allegedly consummated,” resulting in the issuance of a writ of injunction and the release of P5 million more each to the justices.
“This was purportedly the reason why the concerned CA division issued the writ of preliminary injunction with undue and inordinate haste, long before its TRO is supposed to elapse,” Trillanes said.
In his resolution, the senator said Villaraza “appears to be a very powerful and influential lawyer, who is allegedly a known political operator with deep links among politicians as well as members of the judiciary and the prosecution service, most of whom he once helped to be appointed or promoted either as prosecutors, judges, justices.”
He noted that Villaraza was influential during the administrations of Fidel Ramos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The senator also cited published reports on Villaraza’s serving as counsel of Arroyo, who is now Pampanga congresswoman detained on plunder charges.
Villaraza was said to have contributed some P30 million to the campaign kitty of Arroyo in 2004.
“In view of all the foregoing very alarming information and assertions, there is an urgent and imperative necessity to conduct an investigation into these very damaging allegations against members of the Judiciary and the judicial system as a whole,” the resolution read.
“Corruption is allegedly widespread and prevalent in the judiciary; that at the Court of Appeals, some cases are purported to be decided not on merit but on how much a litigant is willing to pay, and temporary restraining orders (TROs) are allegedly for sale,” Trillanes said in his resolution.
The resolution also mentioned Villaraza’s alleged falling out with his former law partners as a reason he is supporting Vice President Binay.
“It is incumbent upon the legislature, as one of the three separate but co-equal branches of the government, under the system of checks and balances established and embedded in the Constitution, to look into and investigate such alleged abuses and/or corrupt practices by other branches of government, particularly when the concerned branch of government has failed to act thereon, and to ensure that the aforementioned anomalies are publicly exposed and addressed promptly and effectively through penal and remedial legislation,” Trillanes pointed out.
In 2008, Trillanes alleged that former CA Associate Justice Vicente Roxas was relieved from office for violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, dishonesty, undue interest and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
SC hearing
In Baguio City today, the Supreme Court (SC) will hear the petition of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales for the enforcement of a preventive suspension of Mayor Binay.
To represent Binay are two law firms: Subido, Pagente, Certeza, Mendoza & Binay law offices and Yorac, Sarmiento, Arroyo, Chua and Coronel law offices.
Ombudsman Morales, on the other hand, will be represented by Solicitor General Florin Hilbay.
The oral argument will start at 2 p.m. after the summer morning session.
In the guidelines issued last week, the SC said it would review the validity of the CA injunction on Binay’s suspension.
The high court is set to resolve whether the CA’s sixth division abused its discretion in issuing last March 16 a TRO on Binay’s suspension, “considering the constitutionally guaranteed independence of the Office of the Ombudsman.”
The hearing would also focus the oral arguments on the powers and limits of the CA to restrain acts of the ombudsman as provided for under Section 14 of Republic Act 6770 (Ombudsman Act).
The high court is also set to resolve whether Morales, an impeachable official, can be subject of contempt proceedings in the CA.
The appellate court has yet to rule on the contempt petition filed by Binay against Morales and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II over alleged defiance of the TRO.
The high court has also decided to dispense with presentation of arguments of parties in the case and start the hearing directly with interpellation by justices.
In line with this, the parties in the case have been instructed to submit their respective positions “not exceeding 30 pages” no later than yesterday “in lieu of an oral presentation.”
Meanwhile, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) has expressed support for calls for an investigation into allegations of bribery involving justices.
The VACC said the alleged “justice for sale” in the appellate court as alleged by the group Coalition of Filipino Consumers (CFC) is not new.
“This is the reason why the VACC awarded the CA the ‘Kalabasa Award’ twice,” it said in a statement.
It cited the controversy involving a certain “Ma’am Arlene” who was involved in supposed case fixing in the judiciary.
The VACC urged the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to pursue the probe on “Ma’am Arlene,” who allegedly hosted parties for members of the CA and trial court judges.
The VACC urged the CA’s clerks of court who are privy to the illegal transactions not to be afraid and come out in the open to expose the anomalies.
There are many cases filed against drug lords but these were dismissed “because the judges were bribed,” VACC said. – Edu Punay, Jose Rodel Clapano

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