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Explain Napoles links, SC orders justice

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court on Thursday, October 17 ordered Sandiganbayan Justice Gregory Ong and 4 lawyers to explain their alleged ties with so-called pork barrel scam queen Janet Lim Napoles.

Acting "motu proprio," or on its own, the High Tribunal ordered Ong, as well as lawyers Mark Oliveros, Editha Talaboc, Raymond Tansip and Joshua Lapuz, "to comment on the sworn allegations aired by the state witnesses Benhur Luy and Marina Sula" during the hearing of the Senate blue ribbon committee on September 26.

In her sworn affidavit submitted to the Senate, former Napoles aide Sula named Ong as one of the personalities who visited Napoles' office at the Discovery Suites in Ortigas and joined her parties. 

Whistleblowers also identified the 4 lawyers as among the associates of Napoles. The lawyers notarized documents of JLN Corporation, which is owned by Napoles, for its projects funded by the Malampaya fund, according to the witnesses. They reportedly left a dry seal in Napoles' office, as well as specimen signatures, notary books and stamp pads for use by Napoles' employees. (READ: How the Malampaya fund was plundered)

In its order, the SC gave Ong and the 4 lawyers a "non-extendible period of 10 days from notice to submit their respective comment to the Court en banc," according to a statement issued by the SC public information office.

In August, Rappler published a photo of Ong partying with Napoles and Senator Jinggoy Estrada. (READ: Napoles parties with anti-graft court justice

Ong was a member of the Sandiganbayan's Fourth Division that handled the Kevlar helmet case and acquiited Napoles of any involvement in that scandal.

That case first linked Napoles to a scam involving government funds for the ghost purchase of 500 Kevlar helmets in 1998. What were delivered late were helmets of inferior quality made in Taiwan instead of the US, as specified by the Marines. The scandal forced the filing in August 2001 of malversation charges against officers and civilian suppliers involved in the anomalous deal.

While Ong acknowledged to Rappler that he was indeed the one in the photo, he quickly denied knowing Napoles and suggested that it was one of those instances when a stranger, or a common guest in a party, would want their photos taken with him.

“I do not know her. She did not appear in court. I think she had a waiver of appearance in court,” he replied when reminded that Napoles and her brother, Reynald Lim aka Reynaldo Francisco, were both respondents in the Kelvar helmet case.

Ong was recently shortlisted for the position of Sandiganbayan presiding justice. President Benigno Aquino III however appointed Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang.

Ong previously applied for a seat in the High Court but this application was scuttled due to questions about his citizenship. He insisted he has never been involved in any situation that could taint his integrity.

Although not expressly stated in the Canon of Judicial Ethics, purists insist that judges, justices and members of the judiciary are expected to be more conscious about who they interact with socially to preserve the integrity of their position.

On the extreme, they are expected to live a monastic life or a life of semi-isolation—that is, far removed from social functions, public events and other activities that could put them in compromising situations. -