MANILA, Philippines – The grave misconduct and dishonesty case of expelled Sandiganbayan associate justice Gregory Ong prompted a Supreme Court justice to revisit the Marines’ Kevlar helmet case and conclude it was tainted with “irregularities.”
The irregularities were so “deliberate” that they cast doubt not only on Ong, but also on Justices Jose Hernandez and Cristina Cornejo who are members of the 4th Division. It was the 4th Division that acquitted alleged pork barrel queen Janet Lim Napoles in the Kevlar helmet case.
Ong chaired the 4th Division of the Sandiganbayan. He was dismissed last week by the SC for acts deemed prejudicial to the interests of the judiciary.
Justice Mario Victor Leonen, in his concurring opinion expelling Ong from the judiciary, said a “cursory review” of the Kevlar helmet case, “reveals some questions that raise reasonable suspicions that some irregularities have happened.”
These anomalies also paved the way for Napoles’ acquittal in the Kevlar helmet case even when 14 check payments were coursed through her bank accounts.
Napoles, her brother Reynaldo and sister-in-law Anna Marie Dulguime were among those charged for the anomalous project, which served as her template for misusing the pork barrel allocations of lawmakers. (READ: How Janet Lim Napoles got away)
In the Kevlar helmet case, Napoles used dummies and fictitious companies to corner the P3.8-million contract for the procurement of 500 helmets which were initially not delivered for the Marine Corps.
When the ghost delivery was found out, Napoles delivered substandard helmets found to be easily pierced by bullets.
In a 2010 decision penned by Hernandez and concurred in by Ong and Cornejo, the 4th Division acquitted Napoles but found her brother and sister-in-law liable for falsification of documents.
However, Reynaldo and his wife Dulguime did not spend a single day behind bars after Ong granted them probation. Reynaldo has remained in hiding after the pork barrel scandal broke out last year. (READ: Noose tightens on fugitive Napoles brother)
Sustaining the earlier recommendation by former Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, the SC, voting 8-5, with 2 inhibitions, removed Ong from office and barred him for life from employment in government service. (READ: SC dismisses anti-graft justice linked to Napoles)
Based on the testimonies of pork barrel whistleblowers Benhur Luy and Marina Sula, Ong was Napoles’ “contact” in the anti-graft court. Luy told Gutierrez, who was tasked to probe Ong’s link with Napoles, that Ong frequented the Discovery Suites office of Napoles in Ortigas.
At one point, Luy said he prepared 11 checks for Ong as advance interest payment for the investment that the magistrate wanted to place at the Armed Forces and Police Savings and Loan Association Inc, with Napoles’ help.
Luy, who was Napoles’ record keeper for the pork barrel transactions, testified that it was Napoles’ way of repaying back Ong for his help in her acquittal.
During the SC en banc’s deliberation on Ong’s case, several justices argued there was lack of evidence to connect the issuance of the checks to the Kevlar helmet case.
But Leonen argued that in the context and scheme of things, Ong still “committed an unlawful act violative of the Code of Judicial Conduct.”
How the Ong-chaired Sandiganbayan division arrived at its decision on Kevlar case itself is already questionable in itself.
Leonen pointed out that the offense charged in Kevlar case is a “complex crime,” involving falsification of documents as a means to commit the crime of malversation.
“However, the Division of the Sandiganbayan, participated in by Justice Ong, treated malversation and falsification of public documents as 2 separate crimes that must be pleaded and proved, without taking into account the relations between the 2 crimes,” Leonen said.
It was also fatal, as it led to the dismissal of the malversation charge, leaving the lesser crime of falsification to be tried by the court.
The anti-graft court’s move to split the charges was “strange,” considering that “the evidence presented during the trial shows that all the requirements of a complex crime were proven beyond reasonable doubt.”
Leonen noted that “isolating the malversation charge from the falsification charge paved the way for Napoles’ acquittal” as “she was the critical link in the charge for malversation because she was the point-person of the winning bidders and the Philippine Marine Corps.”
While the Sandigabayan acknowledged reports naming Napoles, “surprisingly, they chose to disregard these reports since they dismissed the malversation charge for everyone.”
Also strangely surprising was how the members of the Sandiganbayan 4th Division chose to ignore the 14 checks that were deposited in Napoles’ bank accounts and conclude that the evidence against her was not enough.
“Inspite of the checks, it still concluded that there was no evidence to support that the winning bidders were merely dummies of Napoles. Inspite of these checks and the findings that these were deposited in her account, the same Division found that she could not be treated as conspirator. Finally completing this unorthodox conclusion, the Division of Justice Ong concluded that since Napoles did not sign any of the falsified documents, she was acquitted for the falsification charge,” Leonen said.
The irregularities on how the Court came up with its conclusions, framed in the context of Ong’s relationship with Napoles, cast doubt not only on the decision itself, but also on the integrity and credibility of the 4th Division, Leonen said.
“Any observer with the required probity can justifiably and reasonably conclude that the irregularities in the Kevlar case were deliberate. It is not merely an error in judgment made in good faith if we consider that the justices that participated in the decision are not only competent but are experts on the rules of evidence, on deriving inference from the evidence, and on the law from which they are required to render fair judgments,” Leonen wrote.
Leonen implied in his concurring opinion that all 3 justices of the 4th Division are equally liable for the highly irregular ruling.
“The case was decided by a collegiate body, hence we can presume that any irregularity should be attributed to the members of the collegiate body and not only to the ponente (who wrote the ruling). It is contrary to public policy for this court to assume that justices of the Fourth Division concur with decisions that they have not read, understood and studied.”
While judges and justices cannot be faulted for errors in judgment if these were made in good faith, Leonen said administrative sanctions should be in order when such “judicial errors are ‘tainted with fraud, dishonesty, gross ignorance, bad faith or deliberate intent to do an injustice.’” – Rappler.com
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