EDITORIAL — Judicial housecleaning

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL � Judicial housecleaning

How widespread are these practices? This is the common question arising from the Supreme Court’s dismissal of a judge for gross misconduct. Details of the dismissal of Edralin Reyes as presiding judge of the Regional Trial Court Branch 43 in Roxas City, Oriental Mindoro give a dismaying glimpse into the rot in the Philippine justice system.

Among other things, the SC determined that Reyes had communicated with lawyers and private persons to ask for bribes including money, a car and guns in exchange for favorable actions in cases pending before his court. These included the grant of bail, permission to allow a defendant to travel abroad, and the worst – the acquittal of two murder suspects allegedly upon the instructions of Mayor Joselito Malabanan of Victoria town in Oriental Mindoro.

Serendipity brought the case to the attention of the Supreme Court, which has been cracking down on corruption and unethical behavior not only in the judiciary but also among all members of the bar. Details of the crooked transactions were in a laptop issued by the court to Reyes in 2018 when he was assigned as acting presiding judge of Branch 39 of the Roxas RTC. When a regular judge was assigned to the branch in 2019, he turned over the laptop to her. The new judge then sent the laptop to the SC’s Management and Information Systems Office for “repair or replacement.” 

And that was how Reyes’ unethical activities were uncovered, in the laptop’s back-up file for his iPhone messages. Reyes argued that the phone messages were covered by privacy laws. But the SC rejected this, ruling that the laptop was voluntarily turned over by Reyes and is government property meant only for official use by judges.

The SC has sent copies of its dismissal order to the Office of the Ombudsman, the Department of Justice and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for appropriate action against Reyes as well as Malabanan and three private lawyers whose numbers were found in the judge’s incriminating iPhone conversations. Reyes has lost his retirement benefits and is permanently barred from public office.

In recent weeks, the SC has also released rulings involving the disbarment of lawyers – one for abandoning his wife and child and flaunting his extramarital affair, and another, who worked for the Bureau of Customs, for duping a woman of P1.4 million by falsely claiming that he was authorized to sell vehicles confiscated by the BOC.

That the legal professionals were caught and are being penalized by the Supreme Court is encouraging news. But the cases also highlight the problems bedeviling the country’s justice system, and the difficulty of dealing with them. The SC deserves full support in its housecleaning efforts.

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