MANILA – Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin on Wednesday said the Supreme Court's order for trial courts to report cases related to the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) had nothing to do with President Rodrigo Duterte's order to shut down its gaming operations over corruption allegations.
"Natiyempo lang siguro na mayroong nakapansin, no less than the President,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the Legal Education Summit at the Manila Hotel.
(It just so happened that someone noticed, no less than the President.)
The President, in a video message Friday, cited “massive corruption” as his ground for deciding to close down all gambling activities with franchises, licenses and concessions granted by the PCSO and arrest anyone involved in these activities.
The order covered the lotto, small town lottery, Keno and Peryahan ng Bayan. But on Tuesday night, Malacañang announced that the President has decided to lift the suspension on lotto operations.
In a circular released Monday, Court Administrator Justice Jose Midas Marquez used similar language – “serious allegations of ‘massive corruption’ involving small town lottery (STL) and other gaming franchisees issued by the PCSO” – as the justification for the OCA’s order, noting that some of them have “supposedly reached the courts.”
On the same day, Marquez issued a memorandum to judges of the Mandaluyong City Regional Trial Court reminding them that only the PCSO Board shall have the “sole discretion and authority to suspend, cancel, revoke or terminate any STL agency agreement.”
The memorandum was in response to a February 2019 letter addressed to the OCA from PCSO Chair Anselmo Simeon Pinili, who raised the issue of several Mandaluyong RTCs issuing temporary restraining orders (TROs) and injunctions against the PCSO in connection with STL agents whose agency agreements were terminated due to failure to pay sales shortfalls.
Bersamin on Wednesday clarified that in issuing the directive for courts to report PCSO-related cases to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) office by Aug. 15, the high court simply wants to monitor cases being handled by the judges and does not mean they are suspecting these judges of wrongdoing.
“It’s not a reflection on the judges. We're not even judging them yet. Their reports will come in then we will have to look at the reports, and not only these judges na nag-issue ng TRO (temporary restraining order) sa PCSO cases, also other cases where they issued TRO,” he explained.
(It’s not a reflection on the judges. We're not even judging them yet. Their reports will come in then we will have to look at the reports, and not only these judges who issued TRO (temporary restraining order) in PCSO cases, also other cases where they issued TRO.)
“I’m giving the assurance that all these judges shall be presumed to have done these things in good faith, perform their duties. If we would find, based on the study of their action, there were things that were done wrong, or procedures that were transgressed, that could be another matter. But I’m not going to anticipate any of those,” he added.
The Chief Justice also said the high court would respect the trial court judges’ independence in discharging their judicial functions, noting that the higher courts cannot just interfere or intervene unless there is basis.
“The OCA is a very experienced office, it has many personnel there who are very, very capable of detecting deficiencies and non-compliances, and if there should be any... if they noticed anything irregular that’s what I meant, then they will determine if there is a need to investigate deeper or to just call the judges' attention to whatever shortcomings,” he said.
“We will now determine if what they did wrong was from their honest mistake or negligence which could be overlooked. But if the transgressions are very serious, and they affected the rights of the parties, that’s the time that we will come in,” Bersamin explained.
The President, in various speeches, has repeatedly expressed displeasure at TROs issued by courts in relation to infrastructure projects, business projects and even drug trafficking cases.
In his video message Friday, Duterte said he would not honor any court order that would stop the government’s investigation on the alleged massive corruption in the PCSO.
Bersamin initially refused to comment on the President’s statement but later said the President may be right.
“’Yung sinabi ni Presidenteng ganyan, may have a reason, a justification for making that statement but on a case to case basis. Mahirap nating pangunahan. We should give the judge full discretion but I’m not saying the President was wrong. He may be right in some way,” he said.
(What the President said may have a reason or justification but on a case to case basis. It’s hard to prejudge. We should give the judge full discretion but I’m not saying the President was wrong. He may be right in some way.)
“Kasi mayroong standing law, there is an existing law that you cannot issue a TRO on these particular kinds of cases. So maybe he was thinking of that,” he continued.
(Because there’s a standing law, an existing law that you cannot issue a TRO on these particular kinds of cases. So maybe he was thinking of that.)