MANILA – Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Monday said she will advise judges being linked to the illegal drug trade not to "surrender" to authorities unless an arrest warrant is issued by a local court.
In a letter addressed to President Rodrigo Duterte, the Chief Justice expressed her concern about the President's decision to reveal the names of 159 officials, including seven judges, who allegedly have links to the illegal drug trade
Some of those named have turned themselves in to the police to deny the allegation.
In her letter, Sereno stressed to Duterte the importance of the source and basis of the allegation against the judges, as the high court exercises administrative supervision over all lower courts.
''With all due respect, Mr. President, we were caught unprepared by the announcement,'' she said.
''It would matter greatly to our sense of constitutional order, if we were given the chance to administer the appropriate preventive measures without the complications of a premature public announcement."
Sereno said Duterte's ''premature'' announcement ''will have the unwarranted effect of rendering the judge "veritably useless" in discharging his adjudicative role. ''
''In order not to cause disruption to public service, we have administrative mechanisms in place to ensure that another judge take over the place of a suspended or disciplined judge,'' Sereno said.
''As it appears now, the announcement of the names of some judges is expected to cause problems with the scheduled hearings and conferences in their salas."
The people ''named and shamed'' by Duterte have been encouraged to turn themselves in and clear their names.
However, Sereno urged the judges very strongly against "surrendering" or making themselves physically accountable to any police officer in the absence of any duly-issued warrant of arrest that is pending.
She added Duterte's announcement may have put the lives of the judges in danger, as the so-called vigilantes may consider these judges ''veritable targets'' and ''acceptable collateral damage'' in the war on drugs.
Thus, Sereno asked Duterte to continue allowing the judges to carry defensive firearms.
WHERE ARE THE JUDGES?
The seven judges named by Duterte are Lorenda Mupas of Dasmariñas, Cavite; Judge Antonio Reyes of Baguio City; Judge Adriano Savillo of Iloilo City; Judge Domingo Casiple of Kalibo, Aklan; Judge Rene Gonzales of Iloilo City; Judge Roberto Navidad of Calbayog City, Samar; and Judge Exequil Dagala of Dapa-Socorro, Surigao.
Sereno, however, noted that Navidad, was killed on January 14, 2008 at the age of 69. Reports said Navidad had just come from a pharmacy when he was shot dead by a lone assailant.
The chief magistrate said Mupas was dismissed in 2007 as MTC Judge of Dasmarinas, Cavite for gross ignorance of the law/misconduct.
''We request that her dishonorable discharge be duly considered and that she be not referred to as part of the judiciary as of nine years ago,'' Sereno said of Mupas.
Sereno said judges Gonzales, Dagala and Savillo do not have jurisdiction over drug cases. She also noted that Gonzales retired last June.
Casiple, on the other hand, belongs to a court of general jurisdiction without jurisdiction over drugs cases, until the SC decided recently to make all RTCs as drugs courts.
Reyes presides over the designated drugs court at Baguio City RTC Branch 61, Sereno said.
Sereno said the high court is investigating a report of a judge who may be involved in the illegal drug trade. The said judge is not in Duterte's initial list, she said.
''Even an informal report from the President or his appropriate alter egos would be sufficient to spur us to action and conduct the investigation immediately without need of requiring them to report physically to any entity and cancel scheduled court activities,'' she said.
Duterte said the so-called narco-officials will be investigated for criminal and administrative charges.
He said the names were validated by the police and the military.
The tough-talking president has shrugged off calls that he give due process to officials and individuals accused of being involved in the drug trade.
Human rights advocates have also raised the alarm over the rising number of people being killed in the name of Duterte's war on drugs.
FULL TEXT OF SERENO LETTER
PRESIDENT RODRIGO ROA DUTERTE
President of the Philippines
Through: Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre
Department of Justice
Dear Mr. President:
I hope that this letter finds you in an excellent state of health and spirit as the country needs the leadership that only its President can provide. I congratulate you for outlining very timely and responsive peace and development objectives in your State of the Nation Address.
Allow me to give some observations on seven judges whom you had named in your speech on Sunday morning in Davao City as being involved in illegal drugs, namely:
1. Judge Mupas of Dasmarifias, Cavite
2. Judge Reyes, Baguio City
3. Judge Savilo, RTC Branch 13, Iloilo City
4. Judge Casiple, Kalibo, Aklan
5. Judge Rene Gonzales, MTC, (unknown province)
6. Judge Natividad, RTC Calbayog City
7. Judge Ezekiel Dagala, MTC, Dapa, Siargao
Lorenda Mupas was dismissed in 2007 as MTC Judge of Dasmarinas, Cavite for gross ignorance of the law/misconduct. We request that her dishonorable discharge be duly considered and that she be not referred to as part of the judiciary as of nine years ago.
Judge Roberto Navidad, formerly of the RTC, Branch 32, Calbayog City, Samar was killed on 14 January 2008 at the age of 69.
Judge Rene Gonzales, formerly of the MTCC, Branch 7, Iloilo City, compulsorily retired last 20 June 2016.
Judge Exequil Dagala of the MTC, Dapa-Socorro, Surigao, does not have jurisdiction over drugs cases, the same way that Judge Gonzales does not. It would be very helpful if the investigators who included the names of Judges Dagala and Gonzales inform the Court how these MTC judges can be considered as influencing the drug trade.
Judge Adriano Savillo, RTC, Branch 30, Iloilo City is a family court judge who does not have jurisdiction over drugs cases except in cases where a minor is a respondent.
Judge Domingo Casiple, RTC, Branch 7, Kalibo, Aklan is the judge of a court of general jurisdiction without jurisdiction over drugs cases, i.e., until our recent decision to make all RTCs as drugs courts. is implemented with the appropriate administrative circular. It would be helpful to know the specifics on how judges without jurisdiction over drugs cases influence the drug trade in their localities.
Judge Antonio Reyes, RTC, Branch 61, Baguio City, Benguet presides over the designated drugs court in that multi-sala court.
The Court would consider it important to know the source and basis of any allegation that specific judges are involved in the illegal drugs trade in line with its duty to exercise administrative supervision over all lower courts. The Court looks with alarm at the proliferation of drugs, in a consensus shared with you, Mr. President, that dangerous drugs have been destroying Filipino lives and families. We abhor its ability to even destroy public institutions, thus our proactive investigation of any report that judges and court personnel abet the drug trade. We are currently investigating a report on a judge who may be so involved. He is not on the above list.
However, Mr. President, a premature announcement of an informal investigation on allegations of involvement with the drug trade will have the unwarranted effect of rendering the judge veritably useless in discharging his adjudicative role. Thus this Court has been careful, all too aware that more often than not, a good reputation is the primary badge of credibility and the only legacy that many of our judges can leave behind. Too many of our judges have been assassinated, 26 since 1999, a large proportion of them reportedly at the behest of crime lords, more specifically, drug lords. Allow me to submit a separate update on this matter.
In order not to cause disruption to public service, we have administrative mechanisms in place to ensure that another judge take over the place of a suspended or disciplined judge. As it appears now, the announcement of the names of some judges is expected to cause problems with the scheduled hearings and conferences in their salas. With all due respect, Mr. President, we were caught unprepared by the announcement. It would matter greatly to our sense of constitutional order, if we were given the chance to administer the appropriate preventive measures without the complications of a premature public announcement.
Moreover, because of the extra judicial killings, which you had spoken out against, perpetrated by persons and groups that remain unidentified, our judges may have been rendered vulnerable and veritable targets for any of those persons and groups who may consider judges as acceptable collateral damage in the "war on drugs."
Also, because we do not have the personnel to protect our judges, we have requested the Philippine National Police to authorize them to carry defensive firearms. We request that you reconsider your reported order that the judges you named, with the above clarification on who these are, continue to bear these licensed self-defense weapons, if any, until a proper investigation concludes that formal criminal charges should be brought against them.
As the sole entity charged with the discipline of judges, the Supreme Court decides when judges are excused from bench duty and report to it. We appreciate your zeal in helping us cleanse the ranks of the judiciary of misfits but we assure you, Mr. President, even an informal report from the President or his appropriate alter egos would be sufficient to spur us to action and conduct the investigation immediately without need of requiring them to report physically to any entity and cancel scheduled court activities.
To safeguard the role of the judges as the protector of constitutional rights, I would caution them very strongly against "surrendering" or making themselves physically accountable to any police officer in the absence of any duly-issued warrant of arrest that is pending.
Mr. President, the judiciary shares with you and the Filipino people a common desire to see a country that is rid of drugs, in the same manner that you share with the judiciary and the Filipino people a common desire to see a country that is governed by the rule of law.
Please accept my warmest regards and my assurance of continued fervent prayers for your success.
Very truly yours,
MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO
(Please click here to download the letter.)