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Why judge should inhibit self from Abalos case

/ 01:42 AM March 05, 2012

Why should Judge Jesus Mupas of the Pasay City Regional Trial Court inhibit himself from the electoral sabotage case filed against former Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos? At a recent Kapihan sa Manila forum at the Diamond Hotel, Abalos’ counsel, lawyer Brigido Dulay explained why.

Dulay said that Abalos consistently and repeatedly declared that the circumstances “show bias affecting the judge’s impartiality in deciding the present case, and put in question his ability to continue handling this case with objectivity and integrity.”

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Judge Mupas had cited both Abalos and Dulay in direct contempt of court after Dulay filed a motion for inhibition against the judge, alleging that certain individuals claiming to be emissaries of Mupas tried to extort P100 million from Abalos.

Mupas issued an arrest order against Abalos and Dulay but did not order an investigation of the alleged extortion attempt although the alleged emissaries have been identified. The Court of Appeals, in a temporary restraining order (TRO) last Jan. 10, 2012, stopped the implementation of the arrest order. Abalos, already 77 years old, is now in detention for the electoral sabotage case. Electoral sabotage is an unbailable offense. The charge alleged that Abalos had ordered Comelec officials to cheat in Maguindanao to make all 12 administration senatorial candidates win, which they all did. Dulay is out of jail because of the appellate court’s TRO.

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Abalos said that with these two events, one linking Mupas to an alleged extortion attempt, Mupas will naturally harbor ill feelings against them and therefore cannot judge the electoral sabotage case against him with impartiality. He petitioned the judge to inhibit himself from the case.

Dulay explained at the Kapihan that Abalos already fears that he will not get a fair and impartial treatment from the court considering the events that transpired after the accused rejected the offer of the alleged emissaries, who claimed to be representatives of the judge, to dismiss the case in exchange for P100 million.

Abalos said: “I did not believe them because I believe and I have faith in the judiciary. However, because of the events that transpired thereafter, I entertained the fear that I will never get justice in this Honorable Court.”

An inhibition is supposed to be voluntary on the part of the judge, but the paramount consideration is the perception and belief of the accused that a judge is prejudiced or biased against him, and not the judge’s belief in his own fairness and impartiality. This is a well-settled rule in jurisprudence.

The following rulings of the Supreme Court are authoritative and instructive: “All the foregoing notwithstanding, this should be a good occasion as any to draw the attention of all judges to appropriate guidelines in a situation where their capacity to try and decide a case fairly and judiciously comes to the fore by way of challenge from any one of the parties. A judge may not be legally prohibited from sitting in litigation. But when suggestion is made of record that he might be induced to act in favor of one party or with bias or prejudice against a litigant arising out of circumstances reasonably capable of inciting such a state of mind, he should conduct a careful self-examination.”

The other ruling: “He should exercise his discretion in a way that the people’s faith in the courts of justice is not impaired. The better course for the judge is to disqualify himself.”

In his petition, Abalos said: “We deem it important to point out that a judge must preserve the trust and faith reposed in him by the parties as an impartial and objective administrator of justice. When he exhibits actions that give rise, fairly or unfairly, to perception of bias, such faith and confidence are eroded, and he has no choice but to inhibit himself voluntarily.

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“The accused therefore respectfully urges this Honorable Court to heed the precept laid down by the Honorable Supreme Court that ‘at the very sign of lack of faith and trust in his actions, whether well-grounded or not, the judge has no other alternative but to inhibit himself from the case. This notwithstanding the belief of this Honorable Court that ‘it can render impartial trial and judgment in this case and is free from all external pressures.’”

Furthermore, citing Abalos and Dulay for direct contempt and penalizing them with imprisonment undoubtedly created an atmosphere of animosity between the judge and the two accused, and only reinforced Abalos’ belief and perception that Judge Mupas “no longer possesses the cold neutrality of an impartial judge.”

Thus, the better course for the judge under such circumstances is to voluntarily recuse himself from hearing the cases. That way, he avoids being misunderstood; his reputation for probity and objectivity is preserved.

A judge should not handle a case where he might be perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be susceptible to bias and partiality. This rule is intended to preserve and promote public confidence in the integrity of and respect for the judiciary. In this case, the refusal of Judge Mupas to inhibit himself from the case and his doing so only after being threatened with an administrative case could not but create the impression that he had ulterior motives in wanting to try the case.

Like Caesar’s wife, a judge must not only be pure but also beyond suspicion.

Abalos and Dulay want the judge to decide now on their motion for reconsideration so that if the decision turns down the motion, they can go to the Court of Appeals. By sitting on the case, Judge Mupas delays the resolution of the case.

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TAGS: Benjamin Abalos, Comelec, Electoral Sabotage, Jesus Mupas, judiciary
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