In the context of a slow-moving Philippine justice system, Pasig Regional Trial Court Judge Rolando Mislang comes out as a curiously fast worker. And he has showed this, not just once but twice within a span of five working days. But instead of raising hopes, he is raising eyebrows.
On Aug. 26, Mislang created a stir when he issued – in a manner questionable under the law, and rather quick by Philippine standards – a temporary restraining order (TRO) barring the Department of Justice from filing syndicated estafa charges against Delfin Lee, owner of Globe Asiatique Realty Holdings Corp., and four others, in connection with a P6.65-billion loan from the Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-Ibig). Five working days later, on Sept. 6 (Aug. 29 and 30 were nonworking holidays), Mislang surprised everybody for the second time when he made his previous order permanent by issuing a preliminary injunction, notwithstanding a Supreme Court directive telling him to justify his controversial issuance of the TRO within a non-extendable deadline of 10 days and an administrative complaint filed against him by Pag-Ibig. It was quite a daring, if not a brazen, act.
“I’m really amazed and shocked by the audacity of Judge Mislang in issuing such an order,” Solicitor General Jose Anselmo Cadiz told the Inquirer when asked for a reaction to Mislang’s latest show of speedy judicial decision-making. Cadiz was echoing Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s remark on the earlier TRO issuance: “Nakakagulat ’yan, binigla na naman kami dyan” (That’s shocking, we were again caught by surprise there—“again” obviously referring to a drug case against the “Alabang Boys,” which was supposed to be open-and-shut but was still lost on a technicality late last month).
De Lima questioned the propriety of the TRO’s issuance, first of all because “normally, ordinarily, as a legal principle … as a general rule, the justice department’s authority to file criminal information cannot be restrained.” Add to that the fact that the TRO was issued on the very day the petition for a TRO was filed, which was done, according to De Lima, without the DOJ and the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) being informed of the petition, and without the judge even seeing an official copy of the DOJ resolution on Lee’s case. In fact, at the time, the DOJ had not distributed to the parties involved official copies of the resolution, and Lee and his lawyers therefore could not have given an official copy to Mislang. “How could the judge determine the merits of the TRO (without reading the DOJ resolution)? How can the parties involved, both the OSG and Lee’s counsel, intelligently argue their position when they have yet to see a copy of the resolution?” De Lima asked in exasperation.
In issuing the TRO, Mislang explained how the accused (as if he was serving as counsel for the accused) came to know of the DOJ resolution, an official copy of which he and they had not yet seen: they got it from “various reports.”
If there is one thing Mislang has reaffirmed in this case, it is that in this country the wheels of justice can be made to turn exceedingly fast if the judges really want to, which should have made ordinary citizens, long the victims of delayed justice, happy. But sadly Mislang only reinforced the unflattering public perception that our slow justice system can be made to work fast for the wrong reasons, justice being its least concern.
Of course, the clamor for reforms in the justice system has been there for a long, long time. But recent advances in that direction, even the most radical ones, have simply not been enough to make much of a difference. It bears repeating that the need to reform the entire justice system which, aside from the judicial arm, also embraces law enforcement, investigation, prosecution, punishment, etc., has become more urgent following the series of setbacks in the prosecution of a number of high-profile cases. But quite often we forget that in most instances, the problem lies not with the system but with the people who are tasked to make it work.
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