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MANILA, Philippines – Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has sought the help of the justice secretary and the Ombudsman on two things: 1) investigation of a supposed big-time fixer in the judiciary, and 2) probe into the lifestyle of judges and justices who have allegedly been the recipients of her bribes.
On Monday, October 14, the chief magistrate officially asked Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to help investigate a certain “Ma’am Arlene,” who has been referred to in news reports as the Janet Lim Napoles of the judiciary.
Napoles has been named in the plunder complaint filed by the justice department with the Office of the Ombudsman. She has also reportedly managed to weave an intricate web of deception that involved bribery and commissions given to individuals and lawmakers who conspired to siphon development funds to personal pockets.
“The above investigation is envisioned to run parallel with the administrative fact-finding currently being conducted by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA),” Sereno said in a statement.
Sereno also said she had discussed with Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales the conduct of lifestyle checks on members of the judiciary and court personnel.
In an interview with reporters, De Lima said the Chief Justice called her for a meeting Monday to tap the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to look into the activities of the woman who allegedly exerts undue influence on judges and justices on behalf of her litigant-clients.
Philippine Star columnist Jarius Bondoc had written about “Ma’am Arlene,” saying that she specializes in fixing big corporate cases in Manila and other major cities. He wrote in his Monday column, “She throws birthday bashes for magistrates, gifts their spouses with signature brands, and bankrolls their family junkets to Hong Kong and Macau. All this, in exchange for decisions favoring her litigant-clients. One such client allegedly is a flour smuggler.”
Aside from “Ma’am Arlene,” two other unnamed fixers will be included in the NBI’s initial investigation. Supreme Court Administrator Midas Marquez was reported to have spotted 3 fixers in the judiciary operating at different levels and for different causes.
“Whatever is the number, these are serious allegations and therefore there is need to determine the veracity of these allegations, and initial info would tend to indicate that the exposé about this alleged Napoles in the judiciary has something to do or is linked to the recent elections of the Philippine Judges Association (PJA). It seems it has something to do with the rivalry of the contenders for that post,” De Lima said.
Judges’ association election
Sereno said the Department of Justice (DOJ) will determine possible violation of applicable criminal provisions in the recently-concluded election of the PJA by any or all of the presidential candidates.
Determining if some private persons worked for the election of certain judges or justices may lead to the identity of which magistrates had been influenced by these fixers.
Judge Ralph Lee of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City Branch 83 was elected president in the recently concluded PJA elections.
According to Marquez, Judge Lee won overwhelmingly over Judge Rommel Baybay of the Regional Trial Court of Makati City and Judge Felix Reyes of the Regional Trial Court of Marikina.
“It’s appearing that all these are related to the recently concluded elections of the Philippine Judges Association, the OCA, even before the elections, issued a circular reiterating the guidelines on the conduct of elections of judges’ associations, particularly the prohibited acts and practices relative to elections,” Marquez said.
He said the OCA required the candidates for president of the PJA to comment on the matter.
The justice secretary said Sereno specifically wanted the DOJ to look into the reported irregularities committed during the PJA election.
“It seems that due to the intense rivalry involving the principal contenders, there were reports that reached the Chief Justice that there were unpleasant activities that took place. It reportedly turned into a political game that some of these contenders have resulted to dirty tactics that can only be said to be present in political elections,” De Lima said.
However, whether or not the incident of influence-peddling was limited to the PJA election, De Lima said they would still investigate “Ma’am Arlene” and other fixers, since this is part of the larger issue of corruption in the judiciary. – Rappler.com