Retirees, Pillars, and New Members

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The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Baguio-Benguet Chapter paid tribute to judges who retired, honored the pillars of the legal profession, and welcomed its new members who passed the Bar Examinations administered by the the Supreme Court last year. I had the honor of performing for the honorees during the said occasion and I can say that the preparation and execution of the event has come a long way compared to our welcome program some 9 years ago which was a more modest one. I pay tribute to the judges who are retiring for they must have exercised much restraint on their relations, dealings, and transactions in order to comply with the stringent standards set by the Supreme Court. They are expected to behave and conduct themselves in such manner so as to avoid bias or even just the appearance of bias in the cases that they are handling or will be handling. That is why most judges cannot be seen attending occasions or partying with their friends. In short, they have minimal or no social life at all. What a life! All in the name of justice. As judges, they are not just expected to be impartial but also to appear impartial.

The impartiality of the Justice who heads the division handling some cases against the Marcoses came under question when he allegedly showed his partiality on several instances. The cases involved the sequestration of several Swiss bank accounts of the Marcoses. In one instance, one of the prosecutors in the case appeared before Justice Ong and the latter supposedly remarked: “Actually, ayaw ko sa kasong yan, idi-dismiss ko yan, puro hearsay lang naman ang sinasabi ni Chavez nong umupo ako minsan sa trial nyo.” (G.R. Nos. 162130-39, May 5, 2006). In another instance the Justice was heard publicly saying that he did not like Atty. Chavez because “mayabang yan”. The Republic filed a motion asking that Justice Ong inhibit himself from the case which was denied.

The Justice has to Inhibit

Said the Supreme Court: “It must be borne in mind that the inhibition of judges is rooted in the Constitution, specifically Article III, the Bill of Rights, which guarantees that no person shall be held to answer for a criminal offense without due process of law. Due process necessarily requires that a hearing is conducted before an impartial and disinterested tribunal because unquestionably, every litigant is entitled to nothing less than the cold neutrality of an impartial judge.” Although the utterances about Atty. Chavez has not been sufficiently proved, the statements of the other prosecutors with respect to other declarations “unavoidably cast doubt on public respondents impartiality in deciding these very critical cases before his Court. So while it may not be sufficient as a ground to compel him to inhibit himself, it should have been considered by him, as any truly circumspect and prudent person would, as sufficient ground for him to voluntarily inhibit himself from considering the cases. For judges must be like Caesars wife above suspicion. The High Tribunal stated it beautifully: “Public respondent is reminded of the principle that judges should avoid not just impropriety in their conduct but even the mere appearance of impropriety for appearance is an essential manifestation of reality. In insulating the Bench from unwarranted criticism, thus preserving a democratic way of life, it is essential that judges be above suspicion. It bears stressing that the duty of judges is not only to administer justice but also to conduct themselves in a manner that would avoid any suspicion of irregularity. This arises from the avowed duty of members of the bench to promote confidence in the judicial system. Occupying as they do an exalted position in the administration of justice, judges must pay a high price for the honor bestowed upon them. Hence, any act which would give the appearance of impropriety becomes, of itself, reprehensible.”

Again, we pay tribute to the retiring judges, honor the pillars of the legal profession, and welcome the new lawyers!

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