“Don’t judge a book by its cover” goes a popular saying. “Judgement Day” on the other hand is a concept most of us are so afraid of that we almost do not want to hear it. The thought of being judged is something we dread most probably because we are uncertain if the judgment will be favorable to us or not. On matters which are highly contested or controversial we usually seek the wisdom of a respected and impartial individual to make the final determination of the issue. Of course the party who lost will most probably complain and claim that the judgement was biased. The blindfolded lady with a scale on her left hand and a sword on the other is a popular representation of justice. Perhaps this symbol means that justice is dispensed without regard to ones’s creed, race, status in society but only based on fairness as represented by the scale. In our quest for justice we appear before a judge with our belief and hope that he will be impartial and render a fair judgment. There are instances, however when the justice system is compromised by the partiality of the judge or at least the appearance of his partiality.
People vs Justice Ong
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.”