Justice Ruben Reyes Gets Swift Justice

A Supreme Court investigating panel has found sufficient evidence pointing to retired Associate Justice Ruben Reyes as the one who leaked the unpromulgated and confidential decision on the citizenship case of Negros Oriental Rep. Jocelyn Limkaichong. Aside from Reyes, the High Court also found two members of Reyes’ staff liable for the leakage.

In a unanimous decision, the en banc SC then found its former member liable for grave misconduct and fined him P500,000 to be charged to his retirement benefits. The High Court also disqualified Reyes from holding office in any government agency, including government owned or controlled corporations. He also faces disciplinary sanctions as a member of the Integrated Bar of the Philiipines, possibly suspension from the practice of law. Ouch!

Others might see it as a slap in the wrist, as the fine constitutes only about 10% of what he will receive in retirement benefits. He has also enjoyed the other perks given to a retiring SC justice, including the traditional world tour with his wife at the Court’s expense.

But that still hurts, for a lawyer and magistrate of his stature. And half a million is still half a million, especially in these hard times. And so Justice Reyes wailed: “I can’t believe they are holding me responsible. I have the least reason to do that and the least motive.”

But notice that he could not categorically say that he didn’t do it, one reason why the investigating panel found him “notably evasive”. Instead of meeting the issue head-on, which an innocent man would do, he prevaricated. And got spanked for it.

Recall that the delay in the promulagtion of the decision on the case was brought to public attention by businessman Louis Biraogo, who mysteriously got an advance copy.

Congresswoman Limkaichong won by 7,746 votes over Olivia Paras, wife of former Rep. Jacinto “Jing” Paras, in the 2007 congressional elections. The Paras camp had sought to disqualify Limkaichong from being a candidate over questions about her not being supposedly a natural-born Filipino. Biraogo was instrumental in filing the petition against Limkaichong. He and Jing Paras are fraternity brothers in U.P.’s Upsilon Sigma Phi.

The sudden disclosure was more than an embarassment to Chief Justice Reynato Puno, as Biraogo accused the CJ of deliberately sitting on the citizenship case and favoring Limkaichong — an allegation that could have formed the basis for the rumored ouster bids against the chief magistrate. Malacanang reportedly wanted Puno out of the way because of his antipathy to constitutional change, and was orchestrating moves to ease him out.

The source of the leak was pinponted as Justice Reyes. Which begs the question: why’d he do it ?

Accepting an outright bribe would be too crass. One possible reason is that Reyes was expecting some payback from Malacanang, in the form of a cushy sinecure or a juicy board seat or seats in any number of corporations. He was just feathering his retirement nest and was therefore being extraordinarily cooperative. But with the SC decision, that avenue has effectively been barred. And now he faces even more woes as his license to practice may be suspended or even revoked. And there was nothing his brods in Ateneo’s Fraternal Order of Utopia, Justices Renato Corona and Arthur Brion, could do to save his ass. In fact, Justice Corona was a member of the investigating panel which recommended the sanctions against Reyes. Neither can Malacanang intercede, considering the chilly relations between the CJ and GMA. Reyes has been left twisting in the wind.

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