One Cebuano judge made himself too clear cut above the rest, yet the media failed to make out on what he just did.
When Judge Gabriel Ingles declined his P18, 000.00 yearly honorarium from the town of Pinamungahan, Cebu, not a squeak was heard from the Philippine Judges Association.
Judges from the National Capital Region were even praying that this simple gesture of Judge Ingles would just go on unnoticed lest any scrutiny on his demurrer might jeopardize their monthly take from the generous LGU benefactors. But does this generosity seep at the fundamentals of judicial independence? It seems the answer is in the affirmative.
One recent case was QUISUMBING v. HON. GWENDOLYN F. GARCIA, G.R. No. 175527, December 8, 2008, where the trial court in Cebu City showed its partiality towards its provincial officials. The issue posed before the trial court was whether a contract arising from a supplemental budget based on a re-enacted annual budget requires another imprimatur of the local council. The High Court agreed with the petitioners when it said, “The requirement was deliberately added as a measure of check and balance, to temper the authority of the local chief executive, and in recognition of the fact that the corporate powers of the local government unit are wielded as much by its chief executive as by its council.” Instead of ascertaining the facts to warrant declaratory relief, and of course justify the trial court’s bias, it relied on the conflicting position papers of the parties and went on to rule in favour of the governor. The favourable ruling enabled the governor to deflect an ominous Ombudsman criminal inquiry on the railroaded contract. By remanding the case again to the trial court, the institution of dribbling the case is put in place once again well into the third and last term of the sitting governor. Cebu judges enjoy LGU stipends.
Knowing the gauntlet one applicant has to pass thru to get a JBC shortlist and finally a Malacanang appointment, the position is equivalent to a lotto jackpot.
Judges know their clout in their jurisdiction and it comes with a price. Local political kingpins count on judges’ support. Having judicial sympathy, a mayor or a governor can tilt the judicial scale in favour of a follower. “Pagbibigyan kita, boss, hindi naman langit at lupa ang pagitan.” Or frustrate a criminal prosecution by logging in a prejudicial question. One thing further escapes notice, allowances from the Small Town Lottery and jueteng operators (or from the likes of Amin Imam Boratong or Celso de los Angeles).
In the City of Makati, the local Hizzoner boasts that as a lawyer he knows the economic travails of the trial judges. Thus he generously provides them with monthly honorarium true to his form of running his welfare city. A judge in his city should look like it: venerable, honourable, strikes terror. The diminutive Mayor has never lost a case in his territory. He attributes that to his being a grizzled legal tactician. Judge Ingles’ disclaimer however spoiled their sumptuous dinners in Glorietta and Greenbelt. They are now brushing up on latest rulings on infidelity of public funds and technical malversation. “Pasikat,” ika, one waiter heard one of the judges complained.
Under the unprecedented privatization of court proceedings, when a clueless senator sponsored REPUBLIC ACT NO. 9227, or AN ACT GRANTING ADDITIONAL COMPENSATION IN THE FORM OF SPECIAL ALLOWANCES FOR JUSTICES, JUDGES AND ALL OTHER POSITIONS IN THE JUDICIARY,etc., despite the salary and allowance adjustment of members of the judiciary, they still pine, and expect generous assistance from other sources. After the passage of this mindless law, court cases were never the same again. One lawyer was heard saying that “with the rate of inflation, sooner or later, we’ll find us congratulating ourselves for paying P1M in docket fees as “chicken feed”. Atty. Danny Concepcion of Usapang de Campanilla is besieged daily with problems about screwed birth certificates of prospective OCWs who no longer find salvation in these days of constant economic meltdown. The counselor can only heave a sigh of disappointment when the caller says that a court petition for correction of name, age or gender, after all, costs a leg and a limb.
Anyway, if we have exceptional politicians like Governors Among Ed, Grace Padaca and City Mayor Jesse Robredo, at least with the emergence of the likes of Judge Ingles makes one still believes that all’s well in this godforsaken landscape.