Municipal and Regional Trial Court judges in Region 7 are maintaining their neutrality on the impeachment case against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
Negros Oriental RTC Branch 30 Judge Rafael Crescencio Tan Jr. Monday made it clear that the stand of Negros Oriental judges, as well as likely those of Cebu, Mandaue, Lapu-lapu and Bohol, is to stay neutral and let the legal process take its proper course.
“We support the call for judicial independence, propriety and neutrality. Based on Canon 4, Section 26 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary, judges are supposed to be impartial and independent,” said Tan.
“We won’t side with anybody; we don’t call for the resignation of Chief Justice Sereno, but we are for judicial independence,” the statement read.
The House of Representatives' justice committee on Monday approved the committee report and the articles of impeachment against Sereno.
Meanwhile, seven judges from Region 7 will attend a forum in Manila on April 13 to validate and finalize the suggested framework for plea-bargaining, although this is already being availed of by individuals accused of violating Republic Act 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
Two of the seven are officers of the Philippine Judges Association, they are Tan of Dumaguete City, and RTC Judge James Stewart Ramon Himalaloan.
The five others selected to represent Region 7 are Sesinio Bertodazo from Bohol, Altone Miralles, Gilbert Moises, Stela Alma Singco-Caruso, and Macaundas Haji Rasul of Cebu.
Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and prosecutors from the Department of Justice are also expected to attend the plea-bargaining forum.
Tan said the suggested plea-bargaining framework was prepared by Judge Frank Lobrigo of Camarines Sur, who was hailed for his decision on plea-bargaining, but the Supreme Court declared a portion unconstitutional.
Among the suggested framework for plea-bargaining is the reduction of the offense from Section 11 to Section 12 which is from possession, to possession of dangerous paraphernalia, or from Section 11 to Section 16 which is a much lesser offense.
Tan said this will definitely reduce court dockets when an accused immediately pleads guilty to a lesser crime. In fact, in his court sala, Tan said he has already granted several motions, re-arraigned and sentenced offenders who pleaded guilty to a lesser crime. There are instances when an accused, who has been detained for more than two years, is immediately ordered released upon availment. Another case is when the penalty is six months and one day to two years, when probation can be applied.
However, an individual accused of drug trafficking cannot avail of probation, Tan said.
There will be stages in the suggested framework on plea bargaining without necessarily amending RA 9165, Tan said. As in any other cases, plea bargaining is allowed, like from a murder case to homicide.
Meanwhile, the Justice on Wheels will be back in Negros Oriental on April 20, with one mobile court room and local judges are mandated to conduct marathon hearings that will result in either acquittal or dismissal of cases.
On that day, judges will be required to render at least one judgment each, Tan said.*JG
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