Crooked Judges Get the Boot
May 27, 1939
“THE administration of justice cannot be expected to rise higher than the moral and intellectual standards of the men who dispense it. To bulwark the fortification of an orderly and just government, it shall be my task to appoint to the bench only men of proven honesty, character, learning, and ability, so that every one may feel when he appears before the courts of justice that he will be protected in his rights, and that no man in this country from the chief executive to the last citizen is above the law.”
President Quezon meant every word of the foregoing pronouncement, which he made on the occasion of his induction into office on November 15, 1935, as chief executive of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. That he is determined to purge this country of inept, corrupt and venal judges who dispense injustice instead of justice, who make a donkey of the law and who have no scruples about prostituting their sacred positions for personal gain, should be apparent to all by now. Since he assumed office, several judges in different parts of the Islands have been summarily dismissed from the government service for inefficiency, corruption, immorality and dishonesty.
There was for instance, Carlos B. Lanuza, auxiliary justice of the peace of Ramos, Tarlac, who was removed from office by President Quezon on February 15, 1936, because he was found guilty of falsifying a service report. Then there were Justices of the Peace Victorio Gratela and Vicente Roco, of Sorsogon and Camarines Sur, respectively, who were discharged some three years ago. Gratela was found negligent in the performance of his official duties. Roco was discharged for gross immorality. Also dismissed in 1936 was Judge Crispin Labaria of Oroquieta, Misamis Occidental. He was found guilty of abuse of authority, partiality and falsification of public documents.
Several other justices of the peace, found negligent in the performance of their official functions, were suspended by the President. Aside from the suspension—which ranged from four to six months, depending upon the seriousness of the offense—they were warned that a repetition of the same act would mean summary dismissal from office.
Nineteen hundred and thirty-six was a bad year for erring justices of the peace, judging from the big number of town magistrates who were given a violent kick in the pants by the President. Nineteen hundred and thirty-nine is beginning to look like a bad year, too, for the local town judges. This is proved by the fact that during the month of April two justices of the peace were discharged by President Quezon for having committed highly censurable acts and for having shown that they were unfit to hold an office of trust and responsibility.
Extorting a Loan
The first judge to be dismissed last month was Marcelo G. Ramos of Las Piñas, Rizal. Found guilty of extorting a loan from a prospective litigant in his court, Ramos was recommended for dismissal by the secretary of justice.
The Ramos case is interesting mainly because similar incidents are likely to happen to almost anybody. The administrative charges against the erring judge alleged that Ramos required a certain Francisco Uy, who was involved in an automobile accident, to put up P200 bail for his temporary release.
Meanwhile, pending the hearing of his case, Uy managed to settle matters amicably with the offended party and, after certain arrangements, he succeeded in having the case quashed. Since the aggrieved party had agreed to forget everything, Uy naturally wanted back the P200 which he had deposited with Ramos as bond. So he asked Ramos to turn the amount over to him. Uy thought he could get it back as easily as he had deposited it. But he was mistaken. When he asked Ramos for the amount, the latter said he had spent it!
Left holding the bag, Uy insisted on a definite date for the payment of the P200. Ramos said he would pay it as soon as he could—in installments. Uy said that arrangement was all right with him. But Ramos did not keep his word. Instead of meeting his obligation in full, he gave Uy only P150, and in installments at that. Feeling that he had been duped, Uy sent Ramos an ultimatum. He also engaged a lawyer to help him collect the balance of P50.
Perhaps Ramos thought Uy was kidding when he sent a letter demanding immediate payment. Instead of meeting Uy squarely, Ramos wrote back and gave Uy the “option to prosecute him” should he (Ramos) fail to pay the balance due on the promised date.
Uy made repeated demands for the money, but Ramos paid no serious attention to them. Maybe he thought that, because he was a judge, he could ignore his debts. Or perhaps he entertained the impression that since Uy was just an ordinary man, he would not go to the extent of taking the matter to the higher authorities.
But Ramos was dead wrong; Uy did exactly what he was not expected to do. Uy filed administrative charges against the easy-going Las Piñas magistrate. The department of justice immediately detailed the district judge of Rizal to investigate Ramos with a view to verifying the charges against him.
In his defense, Ramos declared that he borrowed the P200 from Uy through a Chinese whose name he could not remember during the investigation. According to him, the amount was not Uy’s bond, but it had been turned over to him by Uy as a simple loan.
President Quezon smelled something fishy in Ramos’ defense. In his executive order dismissing Ramos, the President said:
“After a careful review of the record of this case, I am fully in accord with the conclusion of the district judge of Rizal to the effect that the respondent—Ramos—really exacted the sum of P200 from Francisco Uy as bond for the latter’s provisional release and that thereafter he misappropriated said amount. The documentary evidence squarely corroborates the testimony of the complainant. . . .
“Even conceding, for the sake of argument,” continued the President, “the defense of the respondent that he borrowed the sum of P200 from Francisco Uy, whom he scarcely knew, through the intervention of a Chinaman whose name he does not even remember, the respondent stands convicted, by his own admission, of extorting a loan from a prospective party litigant before his court. Such conduct is highly censurable, to say the least, and is in my opinion alone sufficient to cause his removal from the service.
“The respondent,” concluded the President, “has by his conduct shown that he is grossly unfit to hold any position of trust and responsibility and his continuance in office will seriously undermine public confidence in our courts of justice.”
It is also important to mention, in passing, that there is pending in the court of first instance of Rizal a criminal action filed by the provincial fiscal of Rizal charging Ramos with the crime of estafa. He allegedly misappropriated a cash bond of P1,200 for the provisional release of a Chinese accused in his court of violation of the local opium law.
A week after Ramos was discharged, the President issued another stinging executive order dismissing Judge Ciriaco Sahagun of San Felipe, Zambales. Sahagun’s case differs from that of Ramos in that he did not misappropriate a cash bond entrusted to him but utilized his office to exploit the poor and ignorant who came to him in search of justice.
Three charges were filed against Sahagun but only one was proved to be true, i.e., that he secured P5 from Roman Padua for his expenses in going to the provincial fiscal to insure the conviction of one Dominador Aranda, who had been accused in Sahagun’s court of killing Padua’s son. On a similar pretext, Sahagun allegedly secured P3 from Herminio Trapasi, offended party in a criminal case filed in the former’s court.
Exploiting the Ignorant
The district judge who grilled Sahagun found him guilty. The erring magistrate tried to defend himself by saying that the sum of P8 had been given him by a certain Gavino Feria at the request of both Padua and Trapasi in order to inform the provincial fiscal of certain details about the case against Dominador Aranda.
But when the investigator asked him about the alleged details which he wanted to impress upon the provincial fiscal, Sahagun failed to recite them. Which led the investigator to believe that Sahagun’s trip to the fiscal was merely a pretext to get the money. It was established by the investigator that there was no need for Sahagun to go to the fiscal since the two cases had long been elevated to the court of first instance for proper action.
President Quezon said that Sahagun had viciously utilized his office to exploit those with whom he had official dealings, especially the poor and ignorant. The President said further that officials of Sahagun’s stripe have no reason to continue in the service, particularly in the judiciary which calls for men of unquestioned honesty and integrity.
With two justices of the peace removed from office already, 1939 certainly doesn’t look like a very auspicious year for crooks in the judiciary. For they’re apparently going to get rough treatment at the hands of the President.