BY Dona Pazzibugan
For leaking an unpromulgated decision, retired Philippine supreme court associate justice Ruben T. Reyes has been banned by his former peers from practicing law 'indefinitely'.
It was the first time in memory that a former member of the highest court of the land was barred from law practice indefinitely, which is akin to disbarment.
The sanction of barring Reyes from law practice was added to the high court's earlier penalty of a 500,000 pesos (S$15039.7) fine and perpetual disqualification from holding any government post, based on the recommendations of an internal investigating committee.
In a resolution dated Aug. 11, the high court en banc found Reyes guilty of gross misconduct for leaking a draft decision that he had penned in the election disqualification case against Negros Oriental Rep. Jocelyn Limkaichong.
The court denied 'with finality' for lack of merit Reyes' explanation and motion to set aside the court's decision on Feb 24, 2009, that found him liable for leaking the unpromulgated and confidential document.
Examples of uprightness
In its decision, which was upheld by a majority of eight out of the 15 justices, the Supreme Court said members of the judiciary should be 'living examples of uprightness.'
'The image of the court is inescapably etched in the conduct and actuations of those who compose it, and who in turn are judged according to the public perception of accountability, responsibility and morality,' it said.
'Thus, to court officials theirs is the unqualified and invariable duty to be living examples of uprightness in the performance of official functions in order to preserve the good name and standing of the judiciary in the community,' the decision said.
Three associate justices were also in favour of disbarring Reyes from legal practice but only for five years, as they found the indefinite suspension 'too harsh'.
Only one associate justice dissented, saying Reyes should first be given the right to answer the charges against him as an accused in an administrative complaint.
One justice was on leave while newly appointed Associate Justices Mariano del Castillo and Roberto Abad did not take part in the deliberations.
Court spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez said the justices deliberated on Tuesday.
Paras vs Limkaichong
In the draft ponencia by Reyes, losing congressional candidate Olivia Paras and Louis Biraogo won their disqualification case against Limkaichong on the ground that she was Chinese and not a Filipino citizen.
Biraogo said he found a brown envelope containing the draft decision outside his house in Laguna in October 2008. He said it came from a 'concerned employee' of the Supreme Court.
Biraogo complained to the media about the delay in the promulgation of the Reyes decision.
The leakage prompted allies of Paras in Congress to threaten Chief Justice Reynato Puno with impeachment for withholding the release of the draft decision.
After the investigation of the leakage and Reyes' retirement on Dec. 18, 2008, the case was immediately re-raffled. Eventually, the final promulgated decision was favorable to Limkaichong.
The internal investigation was conducted in December 2008 by Supreme Court Associate Justices Leonardo Quisumbing as chair and Conchita Carpio Morales and Renato Corona as members.
The committee found that Reyes himself leaked a photocopy of the decision he penned and circulated to the other justices for their signature.
It laid down evidence 'particularly the evident undue interest of Justice Reyes to circulate a draft ponencia of the case soonest, even before the memoranda of all the parties fell due.'
The high court said it was 'truly saddening' that it had to impose sanction 'on a colleague who has risen from the ranks and devoted the best 35 years of his life to government service.'
'But in so doing, we are (mindful) of the seriousness and gravity of his misconduct, as well as of the basic need to prevent a possible recurrence of the same,' it stressed.
'Justice Reyes seeks the kind benevolence of the Court, but the Court is not unmindful that even the grant of compassion itself must have an objective basis. The reprehensible misconduct Justice Reyes exhibited far outweighs what the grant of compassion might reasonably dispense in his favor under the circumstances,' the tribunal said.
Reyes stepped down on Dec. 18, 2008, as he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 on Jan. 3, 2009.
He was told by the high court to show cause why he should not be disciplined as a lawyer. He instead filed on April 15 a motion to set aside the court's original decision finding him guilty of grave misconduct.
Reyes argued that the Supreme Court did not have the jurisdiction to discipline its own member for acts committed during his tenure. He said the power resided in an impeachment trial since Supreme Court justices were impeachable officers.
He also argued that he was not given due process as he denied the charges against him.
Reyes was already retired when the investigation ended.