SC probes justice linked to Napoles

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday, January 21, began its probe into Sandiganbayan Justice Gregory Ong, who is being linked to alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.

In a press statement, the SC Public Information Office (SC-PIO) said the High Tribunal has approved the docketing of its inquiry into allegations made by whistleblowers that Ong had visited Napoles' office during the period when she was reportedly handing out bribes to public officials.

On Wednesday, January 22, the SC announced that it will be retired Supreme Court Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, who served on the Court from Dec 7, 2000 to Feb 28, 2008, who will lead the investigation.

On Oct 17, 2013, the High Court ordered Ong and 4 lawyers to explain their alleged ties with Napoles. (READ: Explain Napoles links, SC tells justice)

Acting "motu proprio," or on its own, the High Tribunal at the time 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.

The SC-PIO said Ong had already submitted his explanation to the Court en banc. It appears the justice's reply was not sufficient. "Today's action ends the motu propio inquiry and commences the administrative case against Justice Ong," the SC-PIO said.

In August 2013, at the height of the pork barrel scandal that led to the filing of plunder complaints against 3 senators and other public officials, Rappler published a photo of Ong partying with Napoles and Senator Jinggoy Estrada, one of the lawmakers accused of plunder by the justice department.

Ties that bind

Ong was a member of the Sandiganbayan's Fourth Division that handled the Kevlar helmet case in 2001 and acquiited Napoles of any involvement in that scandal.

While Ong acknowledged to Rappler then 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. (READ: Napoles parties with anti-graft court justice). 

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. 

Napoles, who stands accused of plunder and is now detained over charges of detaining her cousin-turned-whistleblower Benhur Luy, has been accused of forming fake non-governmental organizations that benefited from the pork barrel of lawmakers. - Rappler.com