SC associate justice aspirant grilled on 'numerous' SALN issues

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 19 2018 03:02 AM | Updated as of Oct 19 2018 12:49 PM

MANILA - Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Alex Quiroz may have presided over some high profile graft and corruption cases in his sala but on Thursday, his own integrity and efficiency as an officer of the court were put under scrutiny as he faced the Judicial and Bar Council.

Quiroz is vying for associate justice of the Supreme Court to replace the post vacated by retired Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro when she assumed the top magistrate post.

Lawyer Maria Milagros Fernan-Cayosa, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines’ representative to the JBC, told Quiroz the council noticed “numerous issues” with his statements of assets and liabilities and net worth (SALNs).

“[F]irst of all, we find it quite curious that there is, it’s not very specific. And in fact, in some instances, we noted that they were characterized as inheritance and in another SALN, the properties were characterized as purchased. And the purchase price varied,” she said.

Cayosa cited, in particular, some commercial properties in Cubao which Quiroz, in 2015, claimed to have inherited as of 1983.

Quiroz said he inherited the properties from his mother, prompting Cayosa to ask, “But you said your mother didn’t pass away until 2012, how could you have inherited it?”

“At this time your honor (sic), it was already assigned as inchoate interest to this property, your honor, which is being required by the SALN that you have to declare it because I am the one who administer this, your honor,” he explained.

Quiroz admitted there may be some inaccuracies in his SALNs.

“Perhaps I could explain it in an extended explanation but for the meantime your honor, there are so many properties owned by my parents. That’s the problem. And my two siblings live in the United States and I happen to be the one to operate and administer those properties with the impression to the neighborhood that I own the properties from my parents. Admittedly, I have in possession all the characteristics of an owner,” he said.

“[T]here are some exchange of inheritance from my 2 siblings as well as, still at present, to have barter between us (sic), that’s why thank you very much for giving me an opportunity to explain what are those matters that might have some interest of explaining it to this council,” he added.

The JBC gave Quiroz time to check his records to explain the discrepancies.

The SALN has become a crucial requirement for those seeking to join the high court. Former Chief Justice Renato Corona was impeached over misdeclarations in his SALNs while former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was ousted due to missing SALNs in her application to become chief justice.

In his interview, Quiroz acknowledged the importance of SALNs to keep the wealth of government officials in check as well as provide the public and the appointing authority an idea of the finances of those seeking to be appointed to a government post.

But it was not just Quiroz’s SALNs that were scrutinized.

INEFFICIENT?

Cayosa also questioned his efficiency as chair of the fourth division of the Sandiganbayan.

She noted that of the 150 cases decided by the fourth division in 2017, Quiroz penned only 17 decisions while in 2018, he decided only 13 cases out of the total 95 cases disposed by the division.

Quiroz explained that as chairperson of the division, he had the privilege of receiving only half the load the two other members get to compensate for his administrative duties. He also claimed if resolutions were taken into account, he would end up having a heavier load compared to the other two.

Another JBC member, Judge Toribio Ilao, Jr. brought up the issue of an opposition filed by a certain Luis Martinez with the JBC in July 2008, before Quiroz was appointed to the Sandiganbayan.

Ilao said Martinez accused Quiroz of being “not morally and intellectually fit” and of having questionable honesty and integrity.

Martinez allegedly claimed Quiroz had been censured and fined by the SC for acts of dishonesty when he was still a judge at the Pasig Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC). Martinez also accused him of being a “habitual drunkard,” who used to go to nightspots with people with pending cases in his court.

Quiroz vehemently denied the allegations, particularly, having been fined by the Supreme Court. He expressed doubt if the real Luis Martinez, a former colleague at Pasig MeTC, were still alive noting that at the time he was a trial court judge, he was only 35 while Martinez was already at an advanced age.

“I hope he is not the same person. That alone your honor does not merit any consideration of his accusation,” he said, noting that the opposition was unsigned and bore no residential address.

Quiroz is one of 12 aspirants to the SC associate justice post.

Nine of them are Court of Appeals justices: Oscar Badelles, Manuel Barrios, Apolinario Bruselas, Jr., Rosemari Carandang, Stephen Cruz, Edgardo Delos Santos, Japar Dimaampao, Ramon Garcia, and Amy Lazaro-Javier.

Former Ateneo Law School Dean Cesar Villanueva and lawyer Rita Linda Jimeno are also in the running. Jimeno was interviewed by the JBC on Thursday morning.

Quiroz brings with him 27 years of experience in the judiciary, beginning as an MeTC judge then as regional trial court judge in Marikina, Pasig and Makati.

At the Sandiganbayan, he wrote the decision convicting former Sarangani Gov. Miguel Escobar of malversation of 1.44 million pesos in public funds for farmers.

He was also among the justices who approved the plea bargain deal of former military comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia with the Ombudsman. Garcia was originally charged with plunder.

Quiroz inhibited himself from hearing the plunder case against former Immigration deputy commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles because a co-accused, Wally Sombero, was an acquaintance who would visit his house and those of his siblings.

Sombero allegedly facilitated the exchange of the P50-million bribe money between Chinese tycoon Jack Lam and the BI officials in exchange for the release of more than 1,300 illegal Chinese workers.

Among his plans should he join the SC is to install CCTVs inside the lower courts.