MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro on Thursday, July 26, washed her hands of any responsibility for questionable disbursements from a World Bank loan that funded the Supreme Court judicial reform program.
”None of the justices touched any money from that World Bank loan. We had nothing to do with it,” de Castro, who heads the Judicial Reform Support Project (JRSP) management committee, told the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC). She is the third associate justice who faced the council in a series of public interviews of candidates vying for the chief justice post.
In an aide memoire to the SC in December 2011, the World Bank asked the high court to return US$199,000 in “ineligible” funds that the bank said were spent on activities and projects not covered by a loan agreement between them.
Some of the money went to the purchase of laptops and domestic and international travels of SC officials, the bank said.
The loan package, which was granted to the SC in 2003, was worth $21.9 million and meant to expedite the resolution of cases under the JRSP.
De Castro said proceeds of the loan were handled by “management level” and not the justices. “I had nothing to do with the ineligible expenditures.”
Besides, she said there was nothing “illegal” in the use of the funds. “The bank did not say [the expenditures were] irregular or unlawful.”
What the World Bank said, she explained, was that the expenditures should have been taken out of the Philippines’ counterpart fund for the project, not the loan.
“It only meant it should not be charged to the loan… and that there should have been prior agreement with the bank.”
The World Bank loan controversy made headlines days before the impeachment trial of dismissed chief justice Renato Corona started in January.
Corona was removed from his post in May after the impeachment court found him guilty of violating the Constitution and betraying public trust for failing to disclose P183-million in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).
Justices ‘not hesitant’ to disclose SALNs
The disclosure of SALNs was one of the issues de Castro was asked about during her interview.
She said that due to “greater demand” for transparency and accountability following Corona’s impeachment, “I think we should lay everything out. Anyway, we’re not hiding anything from the public.”
Non-disclosure of SALN – which government employees, elected or otherwise, submit every year – was one of the 8 Articles of Impeachment filed by the House of Representatives against Corona.
In his defense, Corona cited the Supreme Court’s long-running non-disclosure policy that was meant to protect members of the judiciary from harassment or intimidation.
De Castro clarified that justices were not “hesitant” to disclose their SALNs and were only abiding by the policy. “When we were appointed there was already that old guideline. We were following that guideline.”
Asked to comment on criticisms that her appointment as associate justice was a “reward” for the conviction of former President Joseph Estrada for plunder, de Castro said in Filipino: “On the contrary, I could have been appointed earlier if not for that trial.” She said her long years of experience in government made her qualified for the post.
De Castro headed the Sandiganbayan special division that convicted Estrada for plunder in October 2007, 6 years after he was ousted from office through a people power revolution.
Two months after the conviction, De Castro was appointed associal justice by former President Gloria Arroyo.
First woman CJ?
If appointed chief justice by President Benigno Aquino, de Castro would be the “first woman” to occupy the highest judicial post.
She said she would like to be remembered as “independent and efficient.” She said she wants her court to be one “where integrity is upheld.”
Like the other SC justices interviewed by the JBC, she said one of the biggest problems in the judiciary now is clogged dockets.
“Congestion in court dockets has been a problem since the 1970s when I was a young lawyer. I believe we need to do more. There are a lot of measures we can implement to ensure speedy resolution of cases.”
“We can look at rules of procedure… [to] see [how we can] speed up our cases.”
She also said she will advocate for the appointment of more lady justices and judges. “[Women] comprise about 33% of entire membership of judiciary. I have no gender bias against the men but I am very much fulfilled working with the lady judges.” – Rappler.com
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