Jun 202013

Two Sandiganbayan justices who have been embroiled in controversies—one for a widely publicized case and the other in a citizenship row—on Friday faced the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) for their bid to become the next highest official of the anti-graft court.

During her interview, Sandiganbayan Justice Teresita Diaz-Baldos of the Second Division stood by her controversial decision to approve the plea bargain agreement of retired Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, saying it was better than having him acquitted.

Garcia was accused of pocketing P303 million while still in the Armed Forces of the Philippines. On March 16, 2010, the Sandiganbayan approved the Ombudsman’s request for Garcia to enter into a plea bargaining agreement that would allow Garcia to plead guilty to two lesser offenses, return around half of what he allegedly stole from government coffers, and post bail.

In her JBC interview, Baldos said she thinks the government should be more careful in releasing to the public copies of statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth, saying these can be used to harrass public officials.

“There should be guidance in maintaining the confidentiality of these public documents,” Baldos stressed.

Citizenship controversy

Next to be interviewed was Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Gregory Ong, who earlier became the subject of a citizenship controversy, with Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio questioning Ong’s Filipino citizenship before the Supreme Court due to his Chinese roots.

Ong was originally appointed by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, but his appointment was rejected by the SC en banc due to questions on his citizenship.

In his defense, Ong said that while his parents were Chinese citizens, his father was naturalized as a Filipino citizen when Ong was just 11 years old. Ong said he was also able to secure a certification from the Bureau of Immigration and the Department of Justice that he is a natural-born citizen.

In May this year, the SC en banc upheld its declaration that Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Gregory Ong is a natural-born Filipino citizen and denied a plea to oust him as a magistrate of the anti-graft court. 

In late 2007, a Pasig Regional Trial Court had granted Ong’s petition to be recognized as a natural-born citizen. In August, Arroyo appointed Ruben Reyes instead of Ong in the Supreme Court, after the latter withdrew his appointment due to the controversy.

Baldos and Ong are vying for the post vacated by Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Francisco Villaruz, who turned 70 years old earlier this month.

On the first day of JBC’s public interviews, five candidates were grilled: Sandiganbayan associate justices Amparo Cabotaje-Tang and Efren Dela Cruz, Court of Appeals associate justice Apolinario Bruselas Jr, Interior Undersecretary Rafael Antonio Santos, and Abra provincial prosecutor Nestor Tolentino. —KG/YA, GMA News

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