MANILA – The Supreme Court (SC) has turned down the petition of a former Ilocos Sur congressman questioning the refusal of Sandiganbayan magistrates to inhibit from cases against him.
In a 13-page resolution uploaded on the SC website Monday, the Second Division, through Associate Justice Henri Jean Paul Inting, dismissed the petition filed by Salacnib Baterina in 2018.
Baterina, who represented Ilocos Sur’s First District from 1997 to 2007, questioned the 2018 resolutions of the anti-graft court’s Second Division that declined his request for the inhibition of Associate Justices Frederick Musngi, Oscar Herrera Jr., and Lorifel Pahimna from handling his cases before the Ombudsman.
“The Court finds that respondents (Sandigan justices) acted well within the scope of their jurisdiction and authority when they denied petitioner’s request for inhibition. There is no showing of bias or prejudice on the part of respondents that will necessitate the grant of the extraordinary writ of prohibition,” the SC said.
“As things stand, petitioner (Baterina) failed to sufficiently show in the present petition that respondents gravely abused their discretion denying his request,” the ruling added.
The cases filed by the National Bureau of Investigation with the Ombudsman involved the use of the Priority Development Assistance Fund, or the pork barrel, by former Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Undersecretary Mario Relampagos, employees Rosario Nuñez, Lalaine Paule, and Marilou Bare, and a number of lawmakers, including Baterina.
The Ombudsman claimed PHP35 million were released to the Technology Resource and Livelihood Center through three Special Allotment Release Orders by then-DBM secretary Rolando Andaya Jr.
The amount was then transferred to the Philippine Development Foundation Inc. and Kaagapat Magpakailanman Foundation Inc., allegedly to cover the implementation of various livelihood projects in Baterina’s jurisdiction.
In May 2016, the Ombudsman found probable cause to indict Baterina and others for malversation, direct bribery, and graft.
Baterina sought the quashal of the information against him in May 2017 for alleged violation of his constitutional right to due process but the Sandiganbayan denied his motion for lack of merit in September.
By February 2018, Baterina filed the request for inhibition of the three judges on the grounds of bias, partiality, and prejudice, and said the magistrates already prejudged the case against him.
During his arraignment Baterina refused to enter a plea and the Sandiganbayan ordered a plea of not guilty be entered on his behalf.
“Needless to say, the movant seeking the inhibition of the respondents is duty-bound to present clear and convincing evidence of bias to justify the request (for inhibition). However, in the case before the Court, petitioner failed to satisfy the burden and merely imputed bias based on conjectures and speculations. In other words, petitioner did not show strong and compelling evidence to establish that there was actual bias and partiality on the part of respondents,” the court said. (PNA)