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MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday, December 7, cleared 3 judges earlier accused by President Rodrigo Duterte of being involved in the illegal drug trade, citing the lack of evidence.
Through its public information chief Theodore Te, the SC said, "The Court found that no prima facie case has been established against the judges, and therefore it was constrained to terminate the investigation, considering that despite repeated pleas, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) insisted that no witness is willing to come forward and that it (PDEA) has exhausted the documentary evidence it can submit."
In August, the SC ordered a fact-finding investigation on 4 judges named in Duterte's list: Judge Exequil Dagala of the MTC, Dapa-Socorro, Surigao; Judge Adriano Savillo, RTC, Branch 30, Iloilo City; Judge Domingo Casiple, RTC, Branch 7, Kalibo, Aklan; and Judge Antonio Reyes, RTC, Branch 61, Baguio City, Benguet.
Retired SC Associate Justice Roberto Abad was designated to conduct the investigation. The SC resolution was based on Abad's report on the 3 judges mentioned, as Abad is still awaiting a reply to a query for his investigation on Reyes.
"The Court hereby declares that no evidence has been put forward to link Judges Exequil Dagala, Adriano Savillo, and Domingo Casiple to any involvement in the use, trade, and proliferation of illegal drugs and thereby this fact-finding investigation against them is hereby terminated," Te said.
In September, Duterte implicated 40 judges in the illegal drug trade. The SC said it considered the President's statement as a complaint against the 4 judges still in office. Three other judges included in Duterte's list were no longer with the judiciary, while one judge in the list has been dead for 8 years.
While the SC said that it is committed in imposing disciplinary action against erring members of the judiciary, it added that it must be "steadfast in our undertaking to not be the instrument that destroys the reputation of any member of the bench by pronouncing guilt based merely on speculation.”
The High Tribunal also took the PDEA to task for making claims against the judges "based on long-decided cases and relying on witnesses whose factual assertions were, prima facie, not credible and for failing, despite opportunities given during the Abad Investigation, to present witnesses who could corroborate other material points."
The SC also slammed what it considered the premature announcement of the judges' alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade, noting that the judges had been placed in danger because of this.
"In response to this, the Court called upon the various judges organizations (as well as organizations of court personnel) to take up issues that have surfaced in this investigation in order to further enable the rule of law as far as judges' conduct is concerned—so as to protect the lives and reputation of judges and court personnel even as the Court disciplines its own ranks," the SC said.
Justice Marvic Leonen, in his concurring opinion, also slammed the public announcement of the judges' supposed involvement, saying that the allegations were not fully supported by validated evidence.
"All it achieved was to shame the judges and others similarly situated," Leonen said.
He added, "It also dangerously contributes to the President’s public misperception that courts of law are incompetent. The truth is that, in these cases, evidence is not available from the law enforcers, who could have presented opportunities for this court to clean its ranks." – Rappler.com