Sandiganbayan junks Enrile, Gigi Reyes motions vs Justice Tang

Lian Buan
Sandiganbayan junks Enrile, Gigi Reyes motions vs Justice Tang
'The mere fact that the Presiding Justice was appointed by former president Aquino cannot be considered a valid and just ground for her recusation,' says the Sandiganbayan's 3rd Division in denying the motions

MANILA, Philippines – The Sandiganbayan’s 3rd Division has denied the motions of former senator Juan Ponce Enrile and his former chief of staff, Gigi Reyes, to inhibit Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang from their plunder cases.

The Sandigabayan’s 3rd Division denied the motions in a resolution promulgated on September 14. Tang penned the resolution with concurrences from Associate Justices Sarah Jane Fernandez and Bernelito Fernandez.

“The mere fact that the Presiding Justice was appointed by former president Aquino cannot be considered a valid and just ground for her recusation. Otherwise, this would give rise to the presumption against the independence, integrity and competence of a judge or justice,” the court said in its resolution.

In his motion, Enrile cited a US Supreme Court ruling which said there were “subconscious forces” which formed a justice’s bias towards a defendant. Enrile said that Tang, being an appointee of former president Benigno Aquino III, formed part of the subconscious forces “which affect the verdicts she renders in the momentous cases she decides.” (READ: How the bright Enrile is fighting his plunder charges in court)

Subconscious forces

In her preliminary statement, Tang said the US Supreme Court Justice whom Enrile had cited was not an authority on psychoanalysis.

“If all members of the bench were to be compelled to recuse themselves on the ground that unconscious powers residing beneath them could probably hold sway, then nobody would be sitting on any bench in any court right at this very moment,” Tang said.

Tang reasoned that “subconscious forces” cannot be used to have her recuse from the case because in the first place, Enrile is her “kababayan” – they both hail from Cagayan – and his lawyer, Estelito Mendoza, was her mentor at the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG).

Those factors, she said, should have been reasons to recuse if subconscious forces were enough reasons.

Enrile’s and Reyes’ plunder and graft cases are still at the pre-trial levels at the Sandiganbayan. The plunder trial of former senator Bong Revilla, also in connection with the pork barrel scam, is into its 3rd month, while Jinggoy Estrada’s trial has been postponed and is scheduled for September 18. 

Reyes’ motion

In her motion, Reyes said Tang had prejudiced her when the presiding justice “made specific findings of culpability” against her when the motion she was resolving was that of Janet Lim Napoles, alleged  pork barrel scam mastermind.

Enrile allegedly received P172.8 million in kickbacks from his pork barrel through Reyes. The Supreme Court granted bail to Enrile in 2015, while Reyes is detained at the Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig.

In March 2016, when the 3rd Division denied Napoles’ motion for bail, the court made references to evidence of guilt against Napoles’ co-accused, who were Enrile and Reyes.

The court said it was clear in their resolution that it “was not passing judgment on the culpability of all the accused.”

The court reminded Reyes that a resolution on a motion for bail is different from a resolution on the merits of the case.

“The appreciation of evidence in a petition for bail is at best preliminary and should not prevent the trial judge from making a final assessment of the evidence before him after full trial,” the court said.

Ombudsman prosecutors also said that if Tang recuses from the case, it will “open the floodgates to a form of forum-shopping in which litigants would be allowed to shop for a judge more sympathetic to their cause.”

Before this, Tang and her 3rd division had also denied the motion of former Makati City mayor Elenita Binay to have her inhibit from the former mayor’s cases. – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.