June 21, 2024

The former presiding judge of the Baguio anti-drugs court has been found liable of the administrative charges lodged by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) in August 2017.
In a resolution dated Nov. 10, 2020, the Supreme Court en banc found former Regional Trial Court Branch 61 presiding judge Antonio Reyes guilty of gross ignorance of the law, gross misconduct, and flagrant violation of Canons 1, 2, and 3 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct.
Forfeiture of benefits except accrued leave credits and perpetual disqualification from reemployment or appointment to any public office, including government-owned and controlled corporations, have been imposed on Reyes who retired in November 2017.
The SC said had Reyes been in active service during the issuance of the resolution, he would have been removed from office plus the penalties included in the resolution.
Reyes was found to have accepted bribes in exchange for the dismissal or acquittal of cases, have accepted plea bargaining agreements despite prohibition in Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, and dismissed cases on impulse even when the prosecution has yet to conclude its presentation of evidences or witnesses.
In 2016, Reyes, along with six other judges, was named by then newly-elected President Rodrigo Duterte as among those allegedly involved in illegal drugs. Of the seven, four, including Reyes, were in active service.
Due to the President’s announcement, the SC designated now retired Justice Roberto Abad to conduct a fact-finding investigation on the allegations against the judges. On Feb. 16, 2017, Abad recommended the filing of an administrative case against Reyes, which the SC accepted and directed the OCA to audit the cases that Reyes decided. The SC also requested the National Bureau of Investigation to locate the witnesses mentioned in Abad’s report.
On Aug. 14, 2017, the OCA submitted its report, which contained affidavits of people who have once been charged for violating the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, their relatives, a former staff, lawyers, anonymous letters, and interviews from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, court employees, and lawyers who all said that Reyes, through his staff, demanded money in exchange for the dismissal or acquittal of cases.
A certain Norma Domingo, Edwin Fangonil, and Jun Alejandro, all staff members of Reyes, were mentioned as those who negotiate and accept money in behalf of the judge. A certain Pastora “Paz” Putungan, a bondswoman, and a known fixer at the Justice Hall of Baguio, according to the OCA, had also asked money from an accused or their family member claiming she can talk to the judge to dismiss or acquit a case.
The OCA said it is well-known in legal circles in Baguio that acquittals or dismissals carries a price of between P200,000 to P300,000. Reyes’s alleged modus operandi was to prepare two decisions – one for acquittal and one for conviction. It said that if the payment were given on time, the accused will be acquitted. If the money is not delivered before the promulgation of decision, he will render a conviction. If an accused files a motion for reconsideration together with money, he will reverse the conviction.
The audit conducted by the OCA found questionable acquittals and dismissals. There was also an instance where Reyes reversed a conviction after the filing of a second motion for reconsideration – a move that the SC said cannot be done by the same judge who rendered a conviction.
The SC said Reyes violated the rules of court by motu propio dismissing cases without giving enough time for the prosecution to be heard.
Reyes denied all the allegations saying these are baseless, dubious, questionable, sweeping, and hearsay.
The SC said that while some information gathered came from anonymous sources, these were confirmed by the OCA in its judicial audit.
“Clearly, respondent judge should be held administratively liable for gross misconduct since there is evident presence of corruption,” the SC said, adding Reyes was not only remiss in the discharge of his judicial functions, he also damaged the integrity of the judiciary when he was accused of corruption.
“A judge is a visible representation of the law and justice. He should be beyond reproach and must conduct himself with the highest integrity. Even a suspicion of illegal dealings concerning the judge loses the public’s faith and confidence to the judiciary. The inclusion of respondent judge in the President’s narco list is a cause of concern for the judiciary. More so when such allegations are supported by the affidavits of numerous persons and confirmed by the judicial audit and investigation conducted by the OCA,” the SC said.
Those who signed the resolution are Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta, associate justices Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Marvic Leonen, Alfredo Caguioa, Alexander Gesmundo, Ramon Paul Hernando, Rosmari Carandang, Mario Lopez, Edgardo delos Santos, Samuel Gaerlan, and Ricardo Rosario. – Rimaliza A. Opiña