The Manila Times - Inhibition for impartial justice

10 December 2020

By letter to the editor | The Manila Times

IN a swift action, the Supreme Court denied former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s move for the inhibition on the ground of bias and prejudice of Justice Marvic Mario Victor Leonen.

This brings back memories of my own bitter and painful experience in seeking to inhibit two lower court judges who refused to inhibit. Later, however, their judicial actions — which I deemed to be a product of bias or prejudice — were found to be a mistake by the Court of Appeals (CA).

A legal controversy that I actually handled where I employed the weapon of inhibition against a judge happened in Cabuyao, Laguna more than a decade ago. It was an obscure case until it became prominent in the year 2017.

It came into prominence when it was revealed to media after I filed that celebrated and controversial communication for crimes against humanity against President Rodrigo Duterte in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The lawyers of President Duterte, notably both the solicitor general and the Justice secretary, shamed me in public by portraying me as having been sanctioned by the Supreme Court with a fine of P5,000 for filing a case against a judge who had already retired.

The solicitor general was even more vicious in his attack. He threatened me with disbarment for allegedly having engaged in a pattern of filing baseless suits as shown by that case against a retired judge. But he never made good on his public threat.

In a live television appearance with Karen Davila, I was asked about the solicitor general’s threat against me. At that time, I was hesitant to expressly name the judge or to discuss the controversy openly out of respect for the judge who was not around to give his side, given that it pertained to judicial corruption.

But I have since regretted it. In the public interest, it is now time to tell the story to straighten the record.

I was representing hundreds of poor, hapless homeowners of a low-cost subdivision in Cabuyao against a well-connected, wealthy real estate developer, Extraordinary Development Corp. My conflict with then Judge Alden Cervantes of the lower court of Cabuyao arose when I filed a motion for his inhibition.

Despite a law that it is the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) — not the court — that has jurisdiction over the case, Judge Cervantes denied my motion to dismiss. At that time, I had reliable information from a disgruntled staff of Judge Cervantes that he was in the pocket of the developer. But the staff was reluctant to surface for fear of reprisal.

To prevent the judge from making the same adverse ruling out of bias in all the other similar cases for ejectment, I had no choice but to seek for his inhibition.

My conflict with Judge Cervantes came to be so heated and emotional that at one time, I exchanged bitter words with him in what turned out to be a shouting match in his very own court chamber.

Since Judge Cervantes adamantly refused to inhibit, I considered his continuing judicial action as a product of his bias and prejudice.

After a painstaking litigation, my legal position that his court has no jurisdiction was upheld by the Court of Appeals, causing all other similar pending ejectment cases in his court to be dismissed one by one like domino.

I was finally vindicated in my legal position with the CA decision, which became final. At that time, since Judge Cervantes had already retired, the new Judge was the one who dismissed the other pending similar cases.

I also won that related litigation in the HLURB up to the Office of the President, Malacañang, where the developer was found to have failed to complete the subdivision project.

In the year 2018, reacting to what was revealed in media, I wrote, just for the record, a letter to Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez. In it, I deplored what anomalously transpired in the case where the Supreme Court unfairly sanctioned me with a fine of P5,000.

My letter for Court Administrator Marquez was made also in the context of my running conflict with then Acting Judge Emily Geluz of the Trece Martires court against whom I also filed a motion for inhibition. This conflict later escalated into that egregious arrest warrant that she issued against me.

My conflict with then Judge Geluz, who also refused to inhibit, culminated in a case I brought in 2018 to the Court of Appeals which later in March 2019 invalidated, to my vindication, the unlawful arrest warrant against me.

The nullification was anchored on the ground that a warrant of arrest is illegal in an alleged MCLE deficiency.

Last January, in collaboration with lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, I withdrew my communication from the ICC in the aftermath of the Bikoy scandal involving the Liberal Party-led opposition.

Based on my experience, I am well aware of the profound interest of justice that is behind the highly controversial move of former senator Marcos to seek the inhibition of Justice Leonen, who happens to be my former professor at the University of the Philippines College of Law.

This is the least I could say. For us in the know, when there is a mere suggestion that a judge is biased or under prejudice — whether or not it is well-founded — it is prudent for the judge to just voluntarily inhibit himself, without necessarily admitting his bias or prejudice.

That is all for the sake of the higher interest of due process and impartial justice, which is most especially true in the Supreme Court.

For, in case of an adamant refusal to inhibit, the judicial action as a product of bias or prejudice by lower court judges like Cervantes or Geluz could still be corrected by a higher court.

But a similar action as a product also of bias or prejudice in the Supreme Court is highly fatal to the cause of impartial justice because it is already final, there being no more review by a higher court, thereby ultimately leading to a miscarriage of justice.

In this context, the Supreme Court’s swift denial of former senator Marcos’ motion for inhibition carries with it the very likely potential of leading ultimately to a miscarriage of justice due to judicial bias and prejudice.