MANILA - The Supreme Court (SC) has cleared three judges publicly named by President Duterte of involvement in illegal drugs, due to absence of evidence.
During its en banc session on Tuesday, the high court declared that “no evidence has been put forward to link judges Exequil L. Dagala (MCTC Dapa-Socorro, Surigao del Norte), Adriano S. Savillo (Iloilo City Regional Trial Court Branch 30, and Domingo L. Casiple, Jr. (Kalibo, Aklan RTC Branch 7) to any involvement in the use, trade, or proliferation, of illegal drugs."
It also terminated the fact-finding investigation against them.
“[T]he court found that no prima facie case has been established against the said judges. It was constrained to terminate the investigation considering that despite repeated pleas, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) insisted that no witness is willing to come forward and that [PDEA] has exhausted the documentary evidence it can submit.
“We affirm our commitment not to shirk from our responsibility of imposing disciplinary action upon any erring judicial officer or personnel. Yet we must also be steadfast in our undertaking to not be the instrument that destroys the reputation of any member of the bench by pronouncing guilt based merely on speculation,” the SC said, through its Public Information Office (PIO) chief, Atty. Theodore Te.
The high court “took to task the PDEA” for its claims against the judges based on long-decided cases and witnesses whose assertions were “not credible.”
The SC also said the president’s “premature announcement” of the judges’ alleged involvement in illegal drugs put them “in danger” and “damaged” their reputations.
Mr. Duterte publicly named the judges last August 7 in a televised speech, along with several others whose names are also found in a so-called narco list.
Mr. Duterte has made his anti-illegal drugs war one of the centerpieces of his administration.
“In response to this, the court called upon the various judges organizations (as well as organizations of court personnel) to take up issues that have surfaced in this investigation in order to further
enable the rule of law as far as judges’ conduct is concerned — so as to protect the lives and reputation of judges and court personnel even as the court disciplines its own ranks,” the SC said.
All relevant SC committees and offices were also directed “to convene to further the discussion on this matter, particularly on the
independence of the judiciary and the due protection of judges."
The probe was conducted by retired SC Associate Justice Roberto Abad, who completed his report only on the three judges.
The investigation of Baguio City Branch 61 Judge Antonio C. Reyes, on the same allegations, has yet to be completed.
Dagala also has separate administrative cases, one of which is drug-related, with the SC.
The allegations against Dagala, Savillo and Casiple, in connection with the President's August 7 announcement, may be revisited by the SC through regular administrative proceedings, should evidence surface.