Philippine judiciary

Judge Ignacio: From business, family disputes, to the lion’s den

Lian Buan
Judge Ignacio: From business, family disputes, to the lion’s den

RED-TAGGED. A tarpaulin red-tagging Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio is unfurled on the busy EDSA thoroughfare in Mandaluyong.

Photo courtesy of Representative Ferdinand Gaite

It was Judge Ignacio who voided parts of Duterte's franchise law for power company MORE, the most high-profile case the judge handled before the case of journalist Icy Salem

Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio, an Atenean lawyer, was appointed judge in 2007, and for many years handled commercial and family disputes until late 2020, when a political case of two activists was raffled to her court, throwing her straight into the lion’s den.

On Tuesday, March 16, a tarpaulin linking her to communists was unfurled along the busy EDSA thoroughfare in Mandaluyong, her turf.

Simply put, she was red-tagged, heightening concerns from across sectors because this would be the first time a member of the judiciary has been red-tagged this way under the Duterte administration.

“The courts are under attack,” said progressive lawmaker Ferdinand Gaite.

It will chill all judges and lawyers, says the Commission on Human Rights.

The Public Interest Law Center (PILC) wants a thorough investigation, calling on the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) to hunt down the people who put up the tarpaulin on a pedestrian flyover on EDSA.

The tarpaulin was nowhere to be seen Wednesday, March 17.

Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) national president Domingo Egon Cayosa said their Rizal-Pasig chapter “requested local authorities to take down the tarpaulin.”

“It is crucial that judges decide fairly, free from fear, pressure, intimidation, threats or harm,” said Cayosa.

Business and family disputes

Ignacio freed journalist Lady Ann “Icy” Salem and unionist Rodrigo Esparago from charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. In doing so, she voided the search warrant of a co-equal judge, Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert of Quezon City, highlighting the passivity of other judges handling cases of other activists.

Before this highly-charged case, Ignacio was handling mostly personal property cases, according to people who had done business with her court, Branch 209 of the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court (RTC).

Ignacio has had brushes with high-profile commercial cases, such as the sensational power struggle for Iloilo’s electricity between the Enrique Razon-owned MORE Electric Power and Corporation and longtime provider Panay Electric Company (PECO).

MORE was President Rodrigo Duterte’s choice, giving them the franchise.

It was Judge Ignacio who declared unconstitutional parts of Duterte’s franchise law for MORE, creating a court showdown that reached the Supreme Court. In September 2019, MORE won in the Supreme Court in a narrow 8-6 vote.

The majority of 8 justices voted to void Ignacio’s ruling in favor of MORE. Of the 6 dissenting votes, one was her batchmate in Ateneo Law – Justice Rodil Zalameda.

In that batch, Ignacio – who belongs to a family of lawyers, her parents also both lawyers – was 2nd honor.

Another high-profile case she handled was in 2017 between Solar Entertainment and ABS-CBN subsidiary Sky Cable for rights to air NBA games in the Philippines. Ignacio had ordered reinstating the feed to Sky Cable, but the case reached the Court of Appeals (CA) in 2018. The CA issued a temporary restraining order on Ignacio’s order.

The lion’s den

For a while Branch 209 was also a family court, handling cases from rape of a minor to foreign marriages.

Then December 10, 2020, happened, when policemen arrested 7 activists on Human Rights Day – Salem and Esaparago included. They were arrested on the power of Villavert’s search warrants.

Ignacio voided the search warrants of Villavert, an action so peculiar it became a topic at the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) interviews for chief justice, where justices often talked about what conflicting lower court decisions would mean for judicial stability.

Bacolod RTC Branch 42 Judge Ana Celeste Bernad also voided Villavert’s search warrant, but it’s Ignacio in Manila who has been made to feel the brunt of her decision.

The PILC, Salem’s lawyers, insinuate that the National Task Force to End Local Communist Insurgency (NTF-ELCAC) has something to do with the tarpaulin. (The Communist Party of the Philippines on Twitter disowned the tarpaulin.)

“It has always been the National Task Force to End Local Communist Insurgency (NTF-ELCAC) that raised these connections, using false and perjured witnesses and filing of false charges. The awkward feature of photos, prominent use of communist logos, and wily messaging has been a hallmark of recent propaganda, all calculated to increase alarm and concern,” said PILC managing counsel Rachel Pastores.

Ignacio’s red-tagging adds to a string of incidents that threaten members of the legal profession. Besides being subjected to profiling, 61 lawyers, prosecutors, and judges have been killed in the 5 years of President Duterte.

That a judge is on the receiving end of these threats leads PILC to say that there is an “attack on the court’s independence.”

“We call for a thorough investigation of this latest incident, especially by the Supreme Court in its duty to the administration of justice,” said PILC’s Pastores.

Amid left-and-right statements and events putting pressure on the Supreme Court, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen posted a cryptic tweet: “Do not assume that because we are quiet we are not doing anything.”

There is a growing demand for the Supreme Court to address these threats, with the Free Legal Assistance Group saying in an earlier statement: “If the Court will not protect its own, no one will.” –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.