MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Associate Justice Samuel Martires, President Rodrigo Duterte's first appointee to the Supreme Court (SC), is now the Ombudsman of the Philippines.
The 69-year-old Samar-born justice replaces Conchita Carpio Morales, who retired on July 26.
Before his appointment to the High Court, Martires had served in the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan starting 2005 . He also previously worked as presiding judge of the Agoo Regional Trial Court Branch 32.
The Garcia plea bargain case
Martires penned the April 2013 Sandiganbayan resolution that upheld the plea bargain agreement struck by former military comptroller Major General Carlos Garcia and the Ombudsman.
This allowed Garcia to plead guilty to lesser bailable offenses of indirect bribery and facilitating money laundering, instead of plunder. Under this deal, Garcia was to return P135 million worth of properties, stocks and bank deposits – less than half of the P303 million that he allegedly acquired illegally.
The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) then slammed the anti-graft court's resolution, saying the Sandiganbayan issued a "corrupt order" to favor Garcia.
Several years later, Martires asserted that he maintained his independence even as he drew criticism over the decision.
In his interview for the SC post last November, Martires told the JBC: "I insisted on what is right, and I didn't care what Malacañang would do to us. I even heard I was the subject of a background investigation whether I earned from that case or not. But I maintained what I thought was right, I insisted that the Office of the Solicitor General cannot intervene or appear before the Sandiganbayan."
The SC eventually stopped the plea bargain deal and the bail that Garcia was allowed to post. The Sandiganbayan also recalled its 2010 resolution that allowed the former comptroller to post bail.
The alleged Binondo Central Bank scam
In 2012, Martires penned the anti-graft court's verdict clearing the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the late Armed Forces chief Fabian Ver, and businessman Roberto Ongpin, over the alleged Binondo Central Bank scam.
The P50-billion damage suit stemmed from a 24-year-old case filed by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG). The PCGG claimed that under the protection of the Marcos government, the Binondo Central Bank – composed of black market dollar traders rounded up by Ongpin and Ver – engaged in buying US dollars and stashing them abroad.
But the Sandiganbayan verdict said that there was "no evidence to prove that these defendants received money by way of kickbacks, commission, gifts, or percentages from capitalists of the Binondo Central Bank."
Both the PCGG and the OSG slammed Martires' ruling, saying his decision was "not an honest and good faith attempt to resolve the instant case in a principled way."
"I demand an explanation. This is a malicious accusation and an insult to the ponente. The only wealth I have is my reputation. It pains me so much that this accusation has been hurled to the court. This is contemptuous language," Martires said.
Dismissing case vs Mayor Duterte
In 2011, Martires also wrote the decision dismissing a case against then-Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte over the demolition of a park installed by his political rival in 2008.
Duterte and 5 other Davao officials had faced graft charges before the Ombudsman for demolishing a P2-million canal-cover project of former House Speaker Prospero Nograles.
But in a Sandiganbayan resolution he penned, Martires found that there was no probable cause in the allegations.
He said that the accused cannot be charged with evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence in demolishing the project.
"Aside from the fact that said structure was constructed without the necessary building permit, the accused city officials of Davao merely responded to the flooding problem experienced by their constituents in the affected areas when they demolished the concrete slabs covering the open drainage system," he wrote.
"Their motive was to lessen, if not eliminate completely, the flooding in the area caused by the clogging of the drainage system and nothing more," he added.
Enrile and the pork barrel scam
Martires was also part of the Sandiganbayan 3rd Division that issued the warrant of arrest in 2014 against former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, his former aide Gigi Reyes, and other co-accused in the plunder charges filed against them over the pork barrel scam.
The anti-graft court found probable cause to proceed with the trial against them.
But the court deferred judgment on the determination of probable cause and the issuance of arrest warrants for Napoles' children, Jo Christine and James Christopher, along with 10 others.
In his separate opinion, Martires said the Office of the Special Prosecutor should present additional evidence.
"I dissent that warrants of arrest be issued against the persons," his separate opinion read.
Questions from the JBC
During the JBC panel interviews last November, the SC aspirants were asked for their take on a variety of issues, such as the controversial Marcos burial, the acquittal of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and the granting of bail to Enrile.
Martires, an Arroyo appointee, was asked how he would decide on the SC case that acquitted Arroyo of plunder and set her free in July 2016.
He replied that he would have concurred with the decision because there was "no proof that the President amassed wealth." (READ: Sandigan Justice Martires to JBC: Agree with GMA acquittal)
On the Marcos burial issue, Martires said he believes that the late dictator was not dishonorably discharged by the Filipino people by force of the People Power Revolution.
"When we talk of one dishonorably discharged from the service, especially in the military, we talk of a decision of the court martial that discharges dishonorably a member of AFP. This is not the case of Ferdinand Marcos," he said.
He added that it was his belief that Marcos was "not actually ousted by the Filipino people but [he] opted to leave Malacañang and go to Hawaii just to…prevent any untoward incident that may happen in EDSA."
Martires has been the subject of at least 4 administrative complaints, 3 of which have been dismissed.
In 2002, Judge Caroline Pangan of the Municipal Trial Court in Rosario, La Union filed an administrative complaint before the SC against Martires and Judge Clifton Ganay of the Agoo RTC Branch 31.
The complaint alleged gross ignorance of the law, incompetence, abuse of authority, and dereliction of duty against the two respondents, but this was dismissed for lack of merit.
Four years later, another administrative complaint was filed by a certain Norie C. Rivera of Agoo, La Union, which was also dismissed for lack of merit. A complaint filed in 2011 by Antonio Baltazar against Martires and two other Sandiganbayan justices was also dismissed upon the recommendation of the Court Administrator.
In January 2013, the SC admonished and sternly warned Martires and two other Sandiganbayan justices for failing to immediately implement the arrest of former Bacarra, Ilocos Norte mayor Pacifico Velasco.
This stemmed from a 2012 complaint filed by Leonardo Velasco against the 3 justices, accusing them of showing partiality and impropriety in favor of the mayor, who had been convicted of graft.
Despite the mayor's conviction, the arrest was not immediately implemented due to various pleadings that his camp filed, citing medical reasons.
In its decision, the SC admonished the 3 justices to be "more circumspect and prudent in observing the proper rules and procedures for the execution of judgments of conviction in the absence of restraining orders or injunctive writs from the Court."
"They are sternly warned that repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely," it added.