SC creates body to probe 'Ma'am Arlene'
MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday, October 17, created a committee to investigate allegations that "Ma'am Arlene" and other big-time fixers run an intricate corruption web in the judiciary.
Meeting en banc, the Court ordered Associate Justice Marvic Leonen to form a committee that will consolidate all investigations into alleged "influence peddlers in the judiciary," according to a statement issued by the SC. The committee's members will be two retired SC justices to be named by Leonen.
The Leonen committee will consolidate current investigations into these allegations, including the parallel investigation of the Court Administrator, the Department of Justice-National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) probe initated by the Chief Justice and the Court of Appeals parallel investigation initiated by the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals.
On Monday, October 14, Sereno met with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to ask her to investigate a certain “Ma'am Arlene,” who has been referred to in news reports as the Janet Lim Napoles of the judiciary. Napoles is the suspected mastermind of a multibillion pork barrel scandal that has hounded legislators for 4 months now. (READ: Napoles: Woman in the eye of a storm)
De Lima ordered the NBI to begin the probe but inhibited from it, noting contempt and disbarment cases lodged against her before the High Tribunal.
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 October 14 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."
Supreme Court Administrator Midas Marquez was reported to have spotted 3 fixers in the judiciary operating at different levels and for different causes.
De Lima earlier said that these reports seem to be related to the recent election of officers of the Philippine Judges' Association (PJA).
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.
In a statement Thursday, the Supreme Court's public information office said: "It must be emphasized that, contrary to reports in some outlets, there is yet no lifestyle check for the judiciary that is being conducted."
It added: "The Chief Justice and the Ombudsman have initiated discussions on making use of the technical capability and legal mandate of the Ombudsman to undertake lifestyle checks on the members of the judiciary and court personnel. These discussions are intended to look into possible mechanisms for such lifestyle checks."
Corruption allegations have hounded the judiciary for years. In May 2012, the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, convicted Chief Justice Renato Corona over his failure to disclose and explain his wealth. He is the first chief justice in history to be dismissed through impeachment. It was Sereno who replaced Corona as Chief Justice.
Leonen was appointed to the SC in November 2012. He headed the government peace panel that sealed the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The Court said it will issue another order to define the powers and tasks of the Leonen committee. - Rappler.com