III. RESPONDENT COMMITTED CULPABLE VIOLATIONS OF THE CONSTITUTION AND BETRAYED THE PUBLIC TRUST BY FAILING TO MEET AND OBSERVE THE STRINGENT STANDARDS UNDER ART. VIII, SECTION 7 (3) OF THE CONSTITUTION THAT PROVIDES THAT “[A] MEMBER OF THE JUDICIARY MUST BE A PERSON OF PROVEN COMPETENCE, INTEGRITY, PROBITY, AND INDEPENDENCE” IN ALLOWING THE SUPREME COURT TO ACT ON MERE LETTERS FILED BY A COUNSEL WHICH CAUSED THE ISSUANCE OF FLIP-FLOPPING DECISIONS IN FINAL AND EXECUTORY CASES; IN CREATING AN EXCESSIVE ENTANGLEMENT WITH MRS. ARROYO THROUGH HER APPOINTMENT OF HIS WIFE TO OFFICE; AND IN DISCUSSING WITH LITIGANTS REGARDING CASES PENDING BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT.
3.1. Respondent was appointed to the Supreme Court on April 9, 2002 by Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Prior to his appointment, he served Arroyo for many years as her chief of staff, and spokesman when she was Vice-President, and later as her Presidential Chief-of-Staff, Presidential Spokesman, and Acting Executive Secretary.
3.2. Art. VIII, Section 7 (3) of the 1987 Constitution provides that “[a] Member of the Judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence.” Members of the Judiciary are expected to have these four qualities mandated by the Constitution because these form the very foundation for maintaining people’s faith in the Judiciary. Thus, it has been ruled by no less than the Supreme Court that:
“People who run the judiciary, particularly justices and judges, must not only be proficient in both the substantive and procedural aspects of the law, but more importantly, they must possess the highest degree of integrity and probity and an unquestionable moral uprightness both in their public and private lives.”
Although every office in the government service is a public trust, no position exacts a greater demand on moral righteousness and uprightness than a seat in the Judiciary. High ethical principles and a sense of propriety should be maintained, without which the faith of the people in the Judiciary so indispensable in an orderly society cannot be preserved.
3.3. Just very recently, the flip-flopping of the Corona Court on Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (FASAP) v. Philippine Airlines, Inc., et al. – the recall of a September 7, 2011 Decision of the Supreme Court’s Second Division denying a Second Motion for Reconsideration of the 2008 ruling in favor of FASAP, on a mere letter from Philippine Airlines’ counsel Atty. Estelito Mendoza (who is the reported lead counsel of Respondent’s patroness; see Annexes “F” to “F-3”, infra), and without requiring a comment from or notice to the other parties to hear their side, betray Respondent’s lack of ethical principles and his disdain for fairness which has eroded the faith of the people in the Judiciary – for Respondent himself caused and allowed the violation of the adverse party’s constitutional right to due process.
3.3.1. The matter is made worse since the recall is reported to have been at the instance of Respondent Corona, who admitted that in 2008, he inhibited from the case. How then can he justify his interference in this case today? Why take part or interfere now?
3.3.2. What is even more disturbing is that under Respondent Corona’s watch as Chief Justice, the Supreme Court appears to be acting on mere letters kept hidden from those concerned and the other parties – and all from the same lawyer – Estelito Mendoza.
3.3.3 It must be recalled that the same Estelito Mendoza wrote a personal letter to Respondent which also caused the flip-flopping in the League of Cities v. COMELEC case. It must also be recalled that Estelito Mendoza is also the same person who filed Administrative Matter No. 10-2-5-SC, and was among the petitioners in the Supreme Court who posited that Mrs. Arroyo may appoint the next Chief Justice despite the constitutional ban; and through which petition, made it possible for the Supreme Court to legitimize and provide not only a strained but obviously erroneous basis for the midnight and constitutionally-prohibited appointment of Respondent.
3.3.4. In this connection, Respondent’s voting pattern even prior to his dubious appointment as Chief Justice, clearly proves a bias and manifest partiality for Mrs. Arroyo. It must be noted that under the law, bias need not be proven to actually exist; it is enough that the Chief Justice’s actions lend themselves to a reasonable suspicion that he does not possess the required probity and impartiality. In Rosauro v. Villanueva, the Supreme Court held that:
“A judge should not only render a just, correct and impartial decision but should do so in such a manner as to be free from any suspicion as to its fairness and impartiality and as to his integrity. While a judge should possess proficiency in law in order that he can competently construe and enforce the law, it is more important that he should act and behave in such a manner that the parties before him should have confidence in his impartiality. Thus, it is not enough that he decides cases without bias and favoritism. Nor is it sufficient that he in fact rids himself of prepossessions. His actuations should moreover inspire that belief. Like Caesar's wife, a judge must not only be pure but beyond suspicion.” [Underscoring supplied]
3.3.5. The bar is higher for judges, and by inference, highest for Justices and most especially the Chief Justice, because “the character of a judge is perceived by the people not only through his official acts but also through his private morals, as reflected in his external behavior.” Thus,
“a judge should, in a pending or prospective litigation before him, be scrupulously careful to avoid such action as may reasonably tend to waken the suspicion that his social or business relations or friendships constitute an element in determining his judicial course.” [Underscoring and emphases supplied]
3.3.6. If a decision that is legally correct or justifiable can suffer from a suspicion of impartiality, more so will a decision that is entirely unsupported by legal reasoning. Thus, it has been held that a judge who “is ignorant of fairly elementary and quite familiar legal principles and administrative regulations, has a marked penchant for applying unorthodox, even strange theories and concepts in the adjudication of controversies, exhibits indifference to, and even disdain for due process and the rule of law, applies the law whimsically, capriciously, and oppressively, and displays bias and partiality”, is unfit to be a judge.
3.4. Respondent further compromised his independence when his wife, Cristina Corona, accepted an appointment on March 23, 2007 from Mrs. Gloria Arroyo to the Board of the John Hay Management Corporation (JHMC). The JHMC is a wholly-owned subsidiary corporation of the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA), a government-owned-and-controlled corporation created under Republic Act No. 7227.
3.4.1. Shortly after assuming her well-paying job at JHMC, serious complaints were filed against Mrs. Corona by her fellow Board members, as well as from the Management and rank-and-file employees of the JHMC. Mrs. Corona’s election as Director and President was reportedly withdrawn in a resolution passed by the Board of Directors of JHMC because of acts of misconduct and negligence. Copies of the JHMC Board Resolution withdrawing Mrs. Corona’s election as JHMC President and Chairman, the Position Paper prepared by the JHMC Management, and the resignation letter of retired Court of Appeals Justice Teodoro Regino from the JHMC Board of Directors, all of which chronicle the serious irregularities committed by Mrs. Corona, are attached hereto as Annexes “G”, “H” and “I”, respectively.
3.4.2. Instead of acting upon the serious complaints against Mrs. Corona, Mrs. Arroyo instructed all members of the JHMC to tender their courtesy resignations immediately. After the resignations, Mrs. Corona was retained and even promoted after President Arroyo expressed her desire for Mrs. Corona’s election as OIC Chairman of the JHMC Board.
3.4.3. Despite the numerous other complaints against Mrs. Corona, including one from Baguio Mayor Reinaldo Bautista where he protested Mrs. Corona’s move to replace the members of the JHMC Management Team, in violation of the terms of City Council Resolution No. 362 which protects the security of tenure in the JHMC of local residents occupying key positions in the corporation (a copy of his letter dated July 25, 2007 is attached as Annex “J”), and despite adverse findings in the COA report that also established that she was improperly holding office in St. Ignatius Village in Quezon City, Mrs. Corona was not removed from her position. She was even allowed to rack up unnecessary expenses totalling Six Hundred Ninety Thousand And One Hundred Eighty-Three Pesos (P690,183.00) which she spent holding office in Quezon City when JHMC’s operations were all in Baguio City. A copy of the COA report is attached as Annex “K”.
3.4.4. Mrs. Corona’s job was ensured with specific instructions of Mrs. Arroyo expressed through several desire letters issued to the BCDA specifically to ensure the election of Mrs. Corona to several positions in the JHMC, copies of which are attached as Annexes “L”, “L-1” and “L-2”. This also explains why despite the serious complaints against Mrs. Corona, Mrs. Arroyo never removed her from JHMC but instead kept on promoting and protecting her.
3.4.5. Mrs. Corona’s appointment is a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct that provides:
“Judges shall not allow family, social, or other relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment. The prestige of judicial office shall not be used or lent to advance the private interests of others, nor convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.” [Sec. 4, Canon 1; emphasis and underscoring supplied]
“Judges shall not use or lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance their private interests, or those of a member of their family or of anyone else, nor shall they convey or permit others to convey the impression that anyone is in a special position improperly to influence them in the performance of judicial duties.” [Sec. 8, Canon 4; emphasis and underscoring supplied]
3.4.6. The New Code of Judicial Conduct further provides that it is unethical for a magistrate and members of his family to ask for or receive any gift in exchange for any act done or to be done by the judge in the course of his judicial functions:
“Judges and members of their families shall neither ask for, nor accept, any gift, bequest, loan or favor in relation to anything done or to be done or omitted to be done by him or her in connection with the performance of judicial duties.” [Sec. 8, Canon 4; emphasis and underscoring supplied]
“Judges shall not only be free from inappropriate connections with, and influence by, the executive and legislative branches of government, but must also appear to be free therefrom to a reasonable observer.” [Sec. 5, Canon 1; emphasis and underscoring supplied]
3.4.7. Clearly, a grossly improper (although personally and mutually beneficial) relationship between the Respondent and Mrs. Arroyo was created when Mrs. Corona was appointed to the JHMC. The JHMC is a GOCC under the Executive Department headed by Mrs. Arroyo. The appointment of Mrs. Corona in JHMC as its highest management officer is clearly intended to secure the loyalty and vote of Respondent in the Supreme Court. In a similar case, the Supreme Court found it unethical for the judge to allow his daughters to accept the business offer of persons who have a pending case before the judge’s court:
“The New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary prescribes that judges shall ensure that not only is their conduct above reproach, but that it is perceived to be so in the view of a reasonable observer. Thus, judges are to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all their activities. Likewise, they are mandated not to allow family, social or other relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment, nor convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge. The Code clearly prohibits judges or members of their families from asking for or accepting, any gift, bequest, loan or favor in relation to anything done or to be done or omitted to be done by him or her in connection with the performance of judicial duties. Respondent judge failed to live up to these standards. Despite knowledge of Onofre and Mariano's intentions in offering the business to his daughters, respondent judge allowed his daughters to accept the offer of business partnership with persons who have pending cases in his court.”
3.4.8. Respondent should be held to even higher standards because he is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Since joining JHMC, Mrs. Corona received a substantial salary, aside from other perks of the job, including cars and various travel opportunities. In exchange, as discussed above, the voting record of Respondent in the Supreme Court indicate an unmistakable pattern of favoring Arroyo in cases brought before the Supreme Court challenging her policies and actions. All these foregoing facts betray the Respondent’s lack of qualification as Chief Justice as he has demonstrated a lack of competence, integrity, probity, or independence.
3.4.9. Respondent reportedly dipped his hands into public funds to finance personal expenses. Numerous personal expenses that have nothing to do with the discharge of his official functions, such as lavish lunches and dinners, personal travels and vacations, and fetes and parties, have reportedly been charged by the Respondent to judicial funds. In essence, Respondent has been reportedly using the judicial fund as his own personal expense account, charging to the Judiciary personal expenditures.
3.4.10. It is therefore apparent that there is reasonable ground to hold Respondent for the reported misuse of public funds, and in acts that would qualify as violations of the anti-graft and corrupt practices act, including malversation of public funds, and use of public funds for private purposes.
3.5. In addition, Respondent Corona failed to maintain high standards of judicial conduct in connection with the Vizconde massacre case, in the process, casted doubt upon the integrity of the Supreme Court itself.
3.5.1. All judges must “exhibit and promote high standards of judicial conduct in order to reinforce public confidence in the judiciary, which is fundamental to the maintenance of judicial independence.” To do so, it is required “that his or her conduct, both in and out of court, maintains and enhances the confidence of the public, the legal profession and litigants in the impartiality of the judge and of the judiciary.” Included in this prescription of what constitutes acceptable and non-acceptable conduct is that rule that judges “shall not knowingly, while a proceeding is before or could come before them, make any comment that might reasonably be expected to affect the outcome of such proceeding or impair the manifest fairness of the process. Nor shall judges make any comment in public or otherwise that might affect the fair trial of any person or issue.” Likewise, “(j)udges shall not, in the performance of judicial duties, by words or conduct, manifest bias or prejudice towards any person or group on irrelevant grounds.”
3.5.2. Despite these strictures, Respondent has directly, deliberately, and shamelessly attempted to destroy the credibility and standing of the Supreme Court with respect to one important and publicly-celebrated case that was before it on automatic appeal: the celebrated Vizconde Massacre case.
3.5.3. Sometime in early September 2010, Lauro Vizconde, surviving member of the Vizconde family who were murdered in 1991, and Dante Jimenez of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) paid a courtesy call upon the Respondent in his chambers after his appointment as Chief Justice.
3.5.4. During the courtesy call, Vizconde asked the Respondent about the status of the multiple murder case against Hubert Webb and the other accused, which was at the time pending appeal before the Supreme Court. Despite the obvious impropriety, Respondent, instead of rebuffing Vizconde for asking the questions, engaged Vizconde in a personal and ex-parte conversation regarding a case then pending consideration before the Supreme Court.
3.5.5. Worse, in the course of the conversation, Respondent told Vizconde, in the presence of Jimenez, that fellow Justice Antonio Carpio was allegedly lobbying for the acquittal of Hubert Webb. According to Vizconde in a sworn Affidavit dated January 27, 2011, Respondent said that “Talagang brina-braso at ini-impluwensiyahan ni Carpio ang kanyang mga kasama para mapawalang-sala si Webb [Carpio was really arm-twisting and influencing his colleagues to acquit Webb],” or words to that effect. Jimenez corroborated Vizconde's statement in his own sworn Affidavit dated January 26, 2011.
3.5.6. The fact that Respondent spoke with Vizconde regarding a case pending before the Supreme Court is in itself already a serious breach of the rule of confidentiality that must be maintained by the Court with respect to cases pending before it, as well as the deliberations of the members of the Court. Such confidentiality is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that members of the Court are insulated from lobbying and pressure coming from any of the litigants of a pending case. Respondent's action, as Chief Justice, is in itself unbecoming and unworthy of a Chief Justice.
3.5.7. Indeed, in Re: Letter of Presiding Justice Conrado M. Vasquez, the Supreme Court sanctioned a justice of the Court of Appeals for a similar act of discussing a pending case with interested parties for having “failed to maintain the high standard of independence and propriety that is required of him.” The Supreme Court further held:
“Taking his conversation with his brother and his encounters with Mr. de Borja together, Justice Sabio gives the impression that he is accessible to lobbyists who would unfairly try to manipulate court proceedings. Even assuming arguendo that Justice Sabio was not moved by his brother's request and that he rejected Mr. de Borja's bribe offer, the Court feels compelled to call Justice Sabio's attention to his own shortcomings under the circumstances. At the very least, Justice Sabio should have realized that his discussions of court matters, especially those that have not yet been made of public record, with persons who are interested in the case were incredibly indiscreet and tended to undermine the integrity of judicial processes. We see no reason to reverse the Panel's finding that Justice Sabio's conversations with his brother and Mr. de Borja were ‘indiscreet and imprudent’.”
3.5.8. Significantly, Respondent signed and concurred with the above-mentioned Resolution of the Supreme Court. Yet, Respondent Corona committed the same pernicious act of discussing a pending case with interested parties.
3.5.9. Worse, however, is the fact that Respondent intrigued against the honor and integrity of a fellow Justice in his absence, in the process, maligning and undermining the credibility of the Supreme Court as an institution. By painting for Vizconde a picture of a Court that is subject to the influence of one out of 15 Justices, and making it appear that the eventual decision of the Court in the case would be attributable to internal arm-twisting and influence, Respondent destroyed the credibility of the very institution that he was supposed to be leading.
3.5.10. In trying to pin the blame of a possible acquittal upon a fellow Justice, Respondent was himself sowing the seeds of discontent and distrust of the Supreme Court with a party litigant. As it happened, Vizconde and Jimenez did raise the supposed internal arm-twisting and influence before the media while the case was in the final stages of decision. By provoking Vizconde to pre-empt the decision with negative publicity, Respondent himself is guilty of directly undermining the trust and confidence of the public in the Supreme Court regardless of what its decision would have later turned out to be.
3.5.11. Worse still, is that the act of the Respondent violates Sec. 3(k) of Rep. Act 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits any official from “(d)ivulging valuable information of a confidential character, acquired by his office or by him on account of his official position to unauthorized persons, or releasing such information in advance of its authorized release date.” It is clear from the context of the conversation with Vizconde and Jimenez, that Respondent was signalling the latter to prepare for an acquittal, and giving them someone to blame therefor. Given the high profile of the case, it is not unreasonable to assume that at the time of the conservation, the Supreme Court had already begun deliberations on the case, and that Respondent already had a sense of what the decision of the Court would probably be.
3.6. Respondent Corona with undue haste, impropriety and irregularity, dismissed the inter-petal recreational corporation case under suspicious circumstances.
3.6.1. Respondent was accused by Fernando Campos of unethical conduct when he met ex parte with the lawyer of the adverse party in connection with a pending case before him. In an attempt to defend himself against the complaint for unethical conduct filed against him by Campos, Respondent explicitly admitted violating the New Code of Judicial Conduct. In his letter dated February 8, 2010 to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), Respondent refuted the claim of Campos that he allegedly met with a lawyer of Philweb Corporation in connection with a case pending before him but countered that:
“On the contrary, it was Campos himself who actively tried to pressure me into deciding G.R. No. 186711 in his favor. I was pestered by calls from different people on his behalf. By his own admission in his ‘executive summary,’ he asked Justice Angelina Gutierrez, Santiago Kapunan and Leonardo Quisumbing, among others to intercede for him.” (Emphasis supplied)
3.6.2 In his very own words, Respondent admitted that various persons were able to communicate with him in connection with a case that was pending before him precisely in an attempt to influence him in his resolution of the said case. In allowing himself to be approached by persons which he knew were trying to exercise their influence over him on a particular case pending before him and in failing to take or initiate appropriate disciplinary measures against such actions, Respondent violated basic precepts of the New Code of Judicial Conduct, which provides, among others, that:
Sec. 1. Judges shall exercise the judicial function independently on the basis of their assessment of the facts and in accordance with a conscientious understanding of the law, free from extraneous influence, inducement, pressure, threat or interference, direct or indirect, from any quarter or for any reason.
x x x
Sec. 4. Judges shall not allow family, social, or other relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment. The prestige of judicial office shall not be used or lent to advance the private interests of others, nor convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.
Sec. 5. Judges shall not only be free from inappropriate connections with, and influence by, the executive and legislative branches of government, but must also appear to be free therefrom to a reasonable observer.”
Sec. 1. Judges shall ensure that not only is their conduct above reproach, but that it is perceived to be so in the view of a reasonable observer.
Sec. 2. The behavior and conduct of judges must reaffirm the people’s faith in the integrity of the judiciary. Justice must not merely be done but must also be seen to be done.
Sec. 3. Judges should take or initiate appropriate disciplinary measures against lawyers or court personnel for unprofessional conduct of which the judge may have become aware.”
x x x
Sec. 2. Judges shall ensure that his or her conduct, both in and out of court, maintains and enhances the confidence of the public, the legal profession and litigants in the impartiality of the judge and of the judiciary.”
Propriety and the appearance of propriety are essential to the performance of all the activities of a judge.
Sec. 1. Judges shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of their activities.”
3.6.3. To restate in In Re: Letter of Presiding Justice Conrado M. Vasquez, the Supreme Court held that such conduct amounted to a failure to maintain the high standard of independence and propriety that is required of a judge.
3.6.4. For emphasis, Respondent signed and concurred with the above-mentioned Resolution of the Supreme Court. Surely, Respondent, as Chief Justice, cannot be exempt from the same rule and principle. As Chief Justice, he must in fact be held to a higher standard. The Supreme Court further said of justices:
“While it may be true that from a psychological stand point ordinary persons can have a wide variety of valid reactions to any given situation, Justice Sabio should bear in mind his high office as a magistrate of the appellate court sets him apart from ordinary persons. Being the subject of constant public scrutiny, members of the bench should freely and willingly accept behavioral restrictions that may be viewed by ordinary citizens as burdensome.” (emphasis supplied)
3.6.5. Moreover, Respondent not only should have scrupulously guarded his reputation as a Supreme Court Justice, it behooved upon him to have done a positive act to ensure that Campos and the latter’s emissaries be dealt with administratively for the brazen attempt to influence a magistrate of the Supreme Court. This he utterly failed to do.