Friday, December 26, 2008

Cebu judges cry foul

Happy New Year!
Despite the looming global crisis, I pray for a blessed year ahead for all of us.
Let us live each day, as it comes, the best way we can.
Let me quote an old saying, echoed in my son Joshua’s favorite animated movie Kung Fu Panda:
“Yesterday was history.
Tomorrow is a mystery.
Today is a gift---that is why it’s called “present.”
A raging issue in neighboring Cebu is what many judges in Cebu think is a continuing move to threaten the independence of the judiciary there, by local government executives.
The story is that judges have noticed that the local government, particularly the provincial government, would “cut-off” allowances to judges who issue rulings unfavorable to the local governments.
Cebu judges have met and will issue a formal statement condemning this attempt to “bully” the local judiciary.
Some judges have waived any allowance given to judges by local governments.
Here is that headline story published in the December 20, 2008 issue of the Cebu daily News.

Cebu Daily News (Saturday, 20 December 2008)
by Ador Vincent Mayol

Judges in Cebu are moving to assert their judicial independence.
Judge Gabriel Ingles of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 58 is drafting a resolution condemning threats made by local government units to withhold allowances of judges who make decisions unfavorable to local officials.
“The cutting off of judges’ allowances should not threaten us. We will not be bullied by anybody. We will not succumb to the pressures,” said Ingles, who was designated spokesman of the Palace of Justice last month.
He said the one-page statement will be circulated among judges in Cebu city and province and then will be sent to the Cebu provincial government and the Supreme Court.
The statement stemmed from the reported threat made by Capitol security consultant Byron Garcia to cut off the allowance of Danao CityJudge Edito Enemecio of RTC Branch 25 for ordering the transfer of three prisoners to Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC).
Garcia, in a phone interview, said that while it was the right of the judges to issue such a statement, he said he was misquoted in a news item published in a local daily.
“ Wa ko niingon putli ug allowance. Namisquote ra ko. Ang statement nako makasave ang province kun dili siya modawat ug allowance (I didn’t say his allowance should be cut off. I was misquoted. My statement was that the province can save money if he would not receive an allowance),” he said.
Ingles said the draft statement mentions that the claim of Garcia that he was misquoted “seemed to be doubtful” because there was already a precedent.
He was referring to the case of RTC Judge Bienvenido Saniel whose name was deleted in the roster of judges who are receiving monthly allowances from the province.
When Saniel learned about the removal of his name last October, he wrote to Gov. Gwen Garcia, asking her not to restore his name in the list.
Saniel was the judge who dismissed the petition filed by the province questioning the authority of Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osme┼ła to appoint directors of the Metropolitan Cebu Water District.
RTC judges in Cebu receive P6,000 a month from the province. The amount has varied over the years, but the grant of an allowance has been a practice of several administration and is allowed by the Supreme Court.
In the October incident, Ingles and RTC Judge Meinrado Paredes immediately waived their allowances from the province to sympathize with Saniel and to uphold the principle of judicial independence.
The threat to remove the allowance of judges who make unfavorable decisions was discussed informally among judges during a conference in Argao town this week, said Ingles.
They agreed that it was about time the judges issued a statement on the issue.
Ingles said he was drafting a statement as requested by Paredes, who is now RTC executive judge, to be circulated among the judges for their signature on Monday.
Judicial independence is so important that it is considered the “soul of the judiciary.” said Ingles.
“Even if there are threats to cut off the allowance or physical harm, judicial independence should be upheld whatever the cost.”
Ingles said the main purpose of the group statement was to let all local government units know that judges would never be threatened or intimidated by threats made by the government officials.
Ingles said that any judge, either in the Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Municipal Trial Court or the RTC, can sign the statement.
He (Executive Judge Paredes) said the judiciary should not be bullied by anyone because it is the “last bulwark of democracy.”
Paredes said each branch government – judiciary, executive and legislative – has its own functions.
The legislative branch is tasked to make laws while the executive branch implements these, he said.
The role of the judiciary is to interpret the law and to resolve conflicts."

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