Questions raised on ‘delay’ in prison sentence execution vs Jing Jing Espinosa

A prominent lawyer in Iloilo City has expressed surprise, and disbelief, that a prison sentence imposed on Jesus “Jing Jing” Espinosa Jr. was not immediately carried out after the Regional Trial Court Branch 31 received a Resolution from the Supreme Court upholding his conviction for frustrated murder four years ago.

Atty. Eldrid Antiquera, a former Iloilo City Councilor and legal assistant of the late Raul M. Gonzalez when he served as Justice Secretary, told Aksyon Radyo Iloilo that the circumstances that caused the delayed execution of the jail sentence should be investigated to make sure there was no hanky-panky.

“The Supreme Court takes these things seriously, because such negligence can thwart the course of justice,” Antiquera said. In many cases, court officials found to have been remiss in their duties have been suspended for similar omissions, he added.

Rosenia Jover, OIC Clerk of Court of Branch 31, issued a notice of hearing to both the prosecution and the defense lawyer, as well as the bail bond companies, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016, to tackle the revocation of the P200,000 bail bond for Espinosa.

Another court official told me that the revocation of the bail bond is the first step toward the issuance of a warrant of arrest to put Espinosa behind bars and begin serving his prison sentence.

notice-of-hearing

NOTICE OF HEARING ON THE REVOCATION OF BAIL BOND SET FOR OCT. 4, 2016. (Photo credit: RMN 774)

Espinosa, also known as “Bondying” in the order of battle of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), was found guilty as an accomplice for frustrated murder when he and two others shot and wounded Mark Serra in Barangay Monica on November 24, 2002.

Espinosa was able to submit a paraffin test report showing that he was negative for nitrate powder burns during his trial and was meted out a lighter sentence of six months and one day of prision correccional as minimum to eight years and one day as prision mayor as maximum.

He was convicted way back in 2006 by then RTC Branch 31 judge Rene Hortillo.

Espinosa appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeals. In a decision handed down on July 14, 2008, the Court of Appeals Eighteenth Division upheld the trial court’s ruling.

The case was elevated to the Supreme Court on a petition for review on certiorari. But the Supreme Court, in a Resolution dated May 30, 2011, denied the appeal for failure of petitioner Espinosa to substantially show any reversible error in the C.A. decision. The decision was declared “final and executory” by the Supreme Court on October 24, 2011.

Following judicial procedure, the case records were remanded to the Court of Appeals which in turn sent back the files to the lower court, Branch 31.

The markings on the documents show that RTC Branch 31 received the by registered mail on September 7, 2012. At the time, RTC Branch 31, along with all other courts of the RTC and Iloilo City MTC, were housed at the De Paul College campus in Jaro district as the Hall of Justice was undergoing refurbishing and repair.

The records affirming the conviction virtually vanished then, and it was only last July this year, during the conduct of an inventory of cases, that the same was noticed. Or so OIC Clerk of Court Rosenia Jover said.

For Antiquera, that explanation should not be accepted “hook, line and sinker.”

This discovery was made public only last Monday in The Daily Guardian and this blog, along with interviews with Aksyon Radyo Iloilo anchorman John Paul Tia and RMN 774 anchors Novie Guazo and Regan Arlos.

Indeed, the excuse is too shallow to be accepted. Almost every year, trial courts are mandated by the Supreme Court to conduct inventories of cases. This means RTC Branch 31 should have discovered this oversight in 2013 or 2014.

But why did it take four years?

drilon-with-kap-dabing

Monica barangay captain Keith “Dabing” Espinosa, wife of Jing Jing Espinosa, poses with the most powerful man in Iloilo City — Senator Franklin Drilon.

There are speculations that somebody powerful may have intervened to “bury” the case records, and it was only after President Rodrigo Duterte came to power that it was resurrected.

 

Jing Jing Espinosa faces ‘delayed’ prison sentence

 

A conviction for frustrated murder on Monica barangay kagawad Jesus “Jing Jing” Espinosa Jr. had long been affirmed by both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, but because of the topsy-turvy files at the temporary quarters of Regional Trial Court Branch 31 in September 2012 at the De Paul College campus, the case records were buried out of sight.

And it was only during an inventory of cases conducted by RTC Branch 31 that court personnel discovered the case folders remanded by the Court of Appeals for implementation of the decision handed down by then RTC Branch 31 presiding judge Rene Hortillo imposing a prison term for Espinosa.jing jing gets ready to rule iloilo city

“By the time we found the case folders containing the decision of the Court of Appeals and order from the Supreme Court affirming the conviction, Judge Hortillo had already retired, and we could not proceed with the case,” a court official told The Daily Guardian over the weekend.

The official said it was only recently that RTC Branch 34 Presiding Judge Yolanda Panaguiton-Gavino was designated as acting Presiding Judge, and she is expected to report to her assigned sala in Branch 31 today, Monday, September 26, 2016.

“This case will be among the first to be taken up with Judge Gavino,” the official said.

She added that under court rules and procedures, Judge Gavino will issue a warrant of arrest against Espinosa and his companion, Robinito “Bord” Malaga, for them to be put to jail and serve the penalty for frustrated murder.

the-daily-guardian-front-page-sept-26-2016Espinosa and Malaga were found guilty for shooting and seriously wounding Mark Serra, a resident of Barangay Monica, at around midnight on November 24, 2002. A third accused, Cris Rudy Balidiong, died during the pendency of the case.

Espinosa was meted a prison term of six months and one day of prision correccional as minimum to eight years and one day of prison mayor as maximum. Malaga was sentenced to a more severe prison term of eight years and one day of prision mayor as minimum to 14 years, 8 months and one day of reclusion temporal as maximum.

Case records show that Serra was walking towards home from a dance hall in Barangay Concepcion that night when he passed by a foot walk where he saw Balidiong, Espinosa and Malaga standing on both sides.

Just as Serra passed by the three, Balidiong just shot him without provocation.

Although wounded, Serra was able to run away, during which time he saw Espinosa and Malaga emerging from the shadows with hand guns and firing at him but missed.

Both Espinosa and Malaga gave chase, their guns firing. Serra was hit on the left shoulder and right side of his back, court records show.

It was only when Serra reached the house of his first cousin that his attackers fled.

Serra was rushed to the Iloilo Mission Hospital where he had to undergo an operation to save his life.

In convicting Espinosa and Malaga, then RTC Branch 31 Presiding Judge Hortillo said there was no way Serra could not have identified his attackers, as he lived in the barangay, and the area where the attack took place was lighted.

In his decision dated June 20, 2005, Hortillo swept aside the defense of denial put up by the accused and pronounced them guilty of frustrated murder.

However, Espinosa filed a motion for reconsideration on the ground that the trial court failed to give weight to the PNP Crime Laboratory report showing that he was negative for powder burns.

In an amended order, Hortillo reduced the penalty for Espinosa as an accomplice in the crime.

Espinosa filed an appeal before the Court of Appeals which upheld the ruling of Hortillo on July 14, 2008. He then filed a petition for review with the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court denied the appeal on May 30, 2011. An entry of judgment declaring the decision final and executory was made on October 24, 2011.

The markings on the case records show that these were sent by registered mail by the Court of Appeals on August 23, 2012 to RTC Branch 31 which had by then moved to its temporary sala at the De Paul College campus.

The Department of Public Works and Highways declared the Hall of Justice unsafe for occupancy and undertook refurbishing works to improve the structural integrity of the building.

The case records were marked “Received” by RTC Branch 31 on September 7, 2012.

The records also indicate that Espinosa’s counsel at the time, the late Atty. Felipe Macahilig, received a copy of the decisions at around the same time.

But the chaotic condition of the files at the temporary Hall of Justice led to the misplacement of the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court records.

During the whole month of July this year, RTC Branch 31 personnel conducted an inventory of cases along with the rest of the judiciary and it was only then that the oversight on the enforcement of the decision was discovered.

All the courts and other agencies that held office at the Hall of Justice were ordered to evacuate from the Hall of Justice on February 25, 2012 after a strong earthquake caused cracks on its walls and floors.

This is the second prison sentence to be imposed on Espinosa.

In 1995, he was also convicted for the murder of a deaf-mute in Barangay Monica. He was sentence to serve an indeterminate sentence of 10 years and one day as minimum to 17 years and four months as maximum.

He was released from the Bilibid prison after serving the minimum prison sentence.

 

 

Mabilog: no need to get NBI clearance for drug lord to be his friend

As early as 2012, there have been media criticism about the closeness of reputed drug lord Jesus “Jing Jing” Espinosa Jr. and City Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog.

But Mabilog simply shrugged off such criticism. He never felt it was wrong for him to be photographed with Jing Jing Espinosa, who boasted about his closeness to the local chief executive in his social media account back then.

This newspaper front page speaks volumes of how Mabilog protected the drug lords of Iloilo City.

 

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Odicta’s release illegal?

The release of Melvin Odicta Sr. from the National Bilibid Prisons in 1995 continues to be a burning issue among lawyers.
A few night ago, a municipal trial court judge and two lawyers told me the Muntinlupa City RTC executive judge who issued the release order by virtue of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus did so without legal basis.
“If it was an application of the indeterminate sentence law under the new law amending the prison sentences for illegal drugs, then there should have been an application with the Parole and Pardon Board,” the judge said.
It was purely an executive function which needed approval of the President of the Republic, the two lawyers added.
Besides, the three of them echoed my earlier observation — based on Supreme Court decisions — that a petition for habeas corpus is not a proper remedy for convicted felons.
The release order was, in effect, an illegal act overturning the decision of an equal court which was affirmed by the Supreme Court.
It is turning out that Jun Alojado Capulot has succeeded in opening up a huge can of worms that could bring down an empire in Iloilo City.

More questions on Odicta habeas corpus

After I exposed the circumstances that surrounded the release of Melvin “Boyet” Odicta Sr. on June 7, 1995, particularly on the dubious legality of the writ of habeas corpus issued by Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 276 Judge Norma C. Perello, I was swamped with more leads that raise more questions about the whole affair.

Over coffee, I solicited the view of retired Guimaras RTC Judge Merlin Deloria on whether or not the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus was proper in basically shortening the prison sentence of Odicta, who was convicted for selling marijuana to undercover narcotics agents of the defunct PC/INP way back in March 1993 and sentence to life imprisonment.

At first, Judge Deloria was reluctant to give his opinion. He was totally in the dark about the case, he said. So I outlined to him the facts of the case from the conviction by the Iloilo RTC to the Supreme Court affirmation of the conviction and then the filing of the petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

After I had covered the breadth and length of the case in a span of 10 minutes, Judge Deloria asked me the question: “Where was he detained at the time he filed the petition for a writ of habeas corpus before the Muntinlupa RTC?”

Judge Deloria was once my professor in Taxation in law school, and I always admired his sharp analytical mind that made him one of the favorite professors in all the years he was teaching at the University of San Agustin in Iloilo City.

At once, I saw his brilliant mind at work with that question.  The National Bilibid Prison was in Muntinlupa City, making the RTC Branch 276 a proper venue for the filing of such action. But I knew that Odicta wasn’t confined at the Bilibid prison. He was serving his sentence at the Sablayan Penal Colony in Mindoro Occidental.

Judge Deloria’s question tackled the issue of jurisdiction. If Odicta was confined in Mindoro Occidental, then the Muntinlupa RTC had no jurisdiction over him.

The doubtful legality of the writ of habeas corpus as legal basis for Odicta’s release from prison didn’t end there. Judge Deloria said he didn’t think the habeas corpus proceedings was sufficient to overturn the final conviction and sentence to life imprisonment based on R.A. 7659 that revised the schedule of penalties.

There should have been a separate petition for Odicta to avail of the shorter prison term under R.A. 7659, according to Judge Deloria.

With this development, the Aksyon Radyo Iloilo management is planning to file a petition before the Supreme Court seeking the nullification of the writ of habeas corpus. Odicta had filed a libel complaint against anchorman Jun Capulot, station manager and anchorman John Paul Tia and the chief executive officer of Manila Broadcasting Co.

This mulled petition to nullify the writ of habeas corpus may result in Odicta being sent back to prison and wait for a proper judicial order applying the shorter jail term in his favor.

 

Syjuco couple charged in P6.2 million ghost cellphone deal

PRESS RELEASE

The Office of the Ombudsman has filed criminal charges against 2nd district Rep. Augusto “Boboy” Syjuco and his wife Judy for conspiracy to commit estafa, falsification of public documents and violation of the anti-graft and corrupt practices law in connection with the ghost purchase of 1,582 units of Nokia 1100 cell phones in December 2004 before the Sandiganbayan.

In a 21-page verified complaint filed by the Field Investigation Office (FIO) of the Ombudsman, the spouses Syjuco were pinpointed as the masterminds for this “shrewdly crafted” scheme to defraud the government based on documents and testimonies submitted by former Iloilo provincial administrator Manuel “Boy” Mejorada.

“The sad part of the entire transaction was that everything was only on paper… nothing more!” the complaint said. “In other words, the money was delivered to and received by the supplier without actual delivery of the cellphone units,” it added.

Mejorada expressed jubilation upon receiving a copy of the complaint yesterday. The complaint was dated April 4, 2011.

“This is a vindication for me after the Syjucos tried to make it appear that my accusations are fabricated,” Mejorada said. “The Ombudsman had no choice but to file charges because of the overwhelming evidence I submitted,” he added.

The Ombudsman FIO also filed an administrative case of misconduct against members of the DOTC bids and awards committee (BAC) for resolving “in scandalous haste” the contract for the 1,582 units of cell phones seven days before the supplier submitted a certification from Smart Communications that he was an exclusive dealer of the company.

The complaint asked for the preventive suspension of these BAC members.

The Ombudsman validated the narration of facts made by Mejorada on what transpired in this anomalous transaction, particularly the involvement of the Syjuco spouses in getting the transaction done.

It noted that then 2nd district Rep. Judy Syjuco wrote DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza informing him about the issuance of two (2) special allotment release orders (SARO) for P6.249.528.00 for a supposed communications project for her constituency.

Mrs. Syjuco made a request that the agency use the alternative mode of procurement thru direct contracting.

The Ombudsman noticed that Mrs. Syjuco’s letter was dated almost simultaneously as the SAROs. “Apparently, Rep. Judy Syjuco already had prior knowledge about her realignment of funds,” the investigators noted.

Her letter was received by Mendoza’s office on Dec. 20, 2004.

The next day, Dec. 21, the BAC granted Mrs. Syjuco’s request and adopted a resolution authorizing direct contracting with a favored supplier, who had already submitted a letter quotation to her office.

The investigators pointed out that it was Rep. Judy Syjuco who had contacted the supplier to submit a letter quotation as the project was never published in the first place.

Even then, the graft probers established that the supplier’s certification as a Smart distributor was issued only on January 4, 2005, or 12 days after the letter quotation was submitted.

The government procurement law allows agencies to resort to direct contracting on items that are supplied by a company as exclusive dealer.

The certification itself was found to have been “shrewdly crafted” to make it appear that the supplier was a distributor for cellphones when his company was actually a distributor for “Smart e-Load”, the investigators said.

The probers described the supplier’s use and submission of the certification as “a deceit of the highest order.”

Interestingly, the DOTC had issued a purchase order for these cell phones on Dec. 23, 2004, or five days before the BAC issued a resolution awarding the contract to the supplier.

“In short, all the documents relative to the purchase of the communications equipment were prepared in scandalous haste in order to beat the deadline of Dec. 31,” the complaint said.

The complaint gave credence to the transcript of the broadcast aired over Aksyon Radyo on the interview with Director Venancio Santidad, head of the DOTC’s Procurement, Supply and Property Management Service (PSMPS) in which he named then TESDA secretary Augusto Syjuco as the one personally making follow-ups for the transaction.

The Ombudsman probers obtained testimony from Smart Communications officers to the effect that the supplier never bought Smart Nokia 1100 cell phones from the telecommunications giant.

In addition, the complaint disclosed that then Sta. Barbara municipal mayor Isabelo Maquino stated, under oath, that he had never received the cell phones as the documents tried to make it appear. His signature on the Invoice Receipt for Property was forged, Maquino said.

“In fine, the former congresswoman, (Rep. Judy Syjuco) indubitably had a direct hand in the submission of a spuriously signed document made as basis for DOTC to issue the disbursement voucher and the eventual issuance of LBP check for payment to the supplier,” the complaint said.

The complaint also listed two DOTC inspectors as co-conspirators, for, “without their assistance, the crimes could not have been consummated.” (30)

No return, no exchange

Former Iloilo governor Niel Tupas Sr. holds the singular distinction of having been indicted by the beleaguered Ombudsman, Merceditas Gutierrez, twice in a three-year period.

In January 2007, Tupas was slapped the penalty of dismissal and perpetual disqualification from public office for allegedly pocketing P20,000 that the Iloilo provincial government gave a national organization of provincial board members as financial assistance. Tupas stood his ground and refused to step down as he questioned the order before the Court of Appeals. It was nothing more than political persecution, he believed, because he withdrew his allegiance to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He was among the governors who sympathized with the Hyatt 10 over the “Hello, Garci” issue and stuck to the Liberal Party position of fighting the corrupt administration of GMA.

Tupas knew the risks, but he stood firm on principle. When the dismissal order came, he refused to kneel and beg before GMA through her lieutenant, then DOJ secretary Raul M. Gonzalez. This steadfastness nearly proved deadly. The GMA administration, using the Ombudsman order of dismissal, sent 300 heavily armed policemen to storm the Iloilo Capitol to forcibly remove Tupas. The timely fax transmission of a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the Court of Appeals in Cebu stopped the policemen in their tracks as they prepared for the final assault to break open the door to the governor’s office. People would have been hurt, or lives even lost, had that happened.

Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled that the Ombudsman order was invalid. Tupas was denied due process, and the penalty of dismissal was an overkill in relation to the alleged offense he committed. This is a classic example of the distorted sense of justice that Gutierrez dispenses: protect the plunderers while sending the small fry to the gas chambers. And this was clearly a fabricated charge that had no basis in truth and in fact.

As the wheels of justice ground to a complete halt in its supposed investigation of mega-anomalies like the ZTE-NBN scandal, P720-million fertilizer fund scam, the multi-million highway robbery of Boboy Syjuco, the Ombudsman’s machinery was revving when it came to cases filed against Tupas.

Just two weeks before the May 10, 2010 elections, the Ombudsman handed down the second decision on the supposed irregularity in the grant of a quarry permit to a businessman in Iloilo. This is now the case that leaped to the centerstage in this epic impeachment drama. In the most stupid of stupidity, the Ombudsman, through Over-all Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro, ruled that Tupas should suffer the severe penalty of dismissal from office AGAIN in the administrative aspect of the case.

But, as the stupid decision put it, Tupas was absolved of any liability in the administrative case under the Aguinaldo doctrine. Tupas overwhelmingly won over his opponent in the 2007 local elections by a 220,000 vote margin, which extinguishes his administrative liability, if ever, over an alleged offense committed in 2004. Any lawyer would know that the proper thing to do, as the case was filed in 2008, was to dismiss the administrative complaint outright on the basis of the Aguinaldo doctrine. Gutierrez, hiding behind Casimiro, did not. She used the case to harass Tupas.

Anyway, the criminal complaint was rushed to the Sandiganbayan less than 24 hours after the resolution was penned. The indictment served another purpose — negative propaganda against Tupas, who was running for Congressman of the 4th district of Iloilo against incumbent Rep. Ferjenel Biron. It was an express train that was intended to throw Tupas off-balance trying to fend off a warrant of arrest two weeks before the elections. Actually, the plan was to keep it under wraps and spring an ambush on Tupas by serving him a warrant of arrest a few days before the elections. It was by accident that I stumbled upon the story through the ABS-CBN website at 5 o’ clock a.m. The element of surprise was deleted.

Tupas filed a motion for reconsideration on the decision shortly afterwards. He lost to Biron in the face of super-massive vote buying, but his son, Niel Jr., trounced his first cousin, Rolex T. Suplico, the 5th district of Iloilo. As fate would have it, Rep. Niel Jr. was chosen to become chairman of the House justice committee, and it was on his laps that two impeachment complaints were lodged against Merceditas Gutierrez. The younger Tupas didn’t ask to be made justice committee chair; he didn’t orchestrate the filing of impeachment complaints against Gutierrez.

Sometime in the 2nd week of September 2010, Tupas was surprised to find Casimiro waiting at his office. The House justice committee had commence its work on the complaints, and had in fact poisted to vote on the sufficiency in form and substance. Casimiro engaged Tupas, in the presence of his legal assistant, Atty. Joenar Pueblo, in light talk about his father’s case. “It was really weak right from the start,” Tupas quoted Casimiro as saying. But the deputy ombudsman said he was ordered to indict the older Tupas just the same. It doesn’t take too much brain power to figure out who could order him to do that.

“Then, Casimiro told me the case can be dismissed by way of approving the pending motion for reconsideration,” Rep. Tupas said. Casimiro’s voice dropped in a conspirational whisper: “What can you offer the Ombudsman in exchange?”

It was a horse-trade that Casimiro had proposed — unethical, illegal and unprofessional. The Ombudsman will drop the case against the father provided the son treats Gutierrez with leniency and allow her to squirm her way out of the impeachment. A very tempting offer, indeed, said Tupas.

But Tupas said “no”. His father will face the case squarely. He will not hide. He will not drop to his knees and pray for reversal of the indictment. “I cannot abandon my principles in exchange for my father’s case,” the younger Tupas said. The former governor agreed. The same issue had been decided by a Regional Trial Court in Iloilo in 2005 after a full-blown trial. The quarry permit was validly issued, the individual who obtained it was qualified, and then Gov. Tupas did nothing wrong. That decision was, and is, the best evidence in favor of Gov. Tupas.

Rep. Tupas revealed this secret offer immediately after the Ombudsman, again through Casimiro, rejected the motion for reconsideration. “I didn’t disclose it earlier because I didn’t want to sidetrack the focus,” Rep. Tupas said. “But I continued to fulfill my mandate despite this sword of Damocles hanging over the head of my father,” he added. Now that the Ombudsman had revived the case in apparent retaliation to the unshakable principle shown by the younger Tupas, he felt this attempt to bargain with him had to be exposed.

Casimiro, as expected, denied having tried to lobby for his boss. But he can’t hide the fact that he visited the office of Rep. Tupas in September. I am told there was even a second visit in which Gov. Tupas was present; Casimiro came to reiterate the offer. The logbooks would show that he went to see the son at his office. Was it just a social call? Did Casimiro go there to have coffee and just engage in friendly banter? He was the one who signed the original decision, as often happens when Gutierrez wants to wash her hands from a case. Certainly, Tupas wouldn’t feel too comfortable chatting with a man who tried to fire his father a second time.

The firm position taken by Tupas has frustrated Gutierrez. Her usual tactics didn’t work this time. She tried to deal with a person who adopted a “no return, no exchange” policy. No barter, no withdrawal of cases. Now she wants to use the issue to cast doubt over the credibility of Tupas. However, her lies will not bring her anywhere. The public isn’t likely to be deceived. A coincidence? The resolution was dated August 10, 2010. The lapse of five months before it was signed only reinforces the story of Rep. Tupas. It was kept hanging to be used as a bargaining tool.

Merceditas Gutierrez has done the country grave wrongs. There is growing anger among Filipinos as details about her anomalies are revealed. It is the position of the Tupas family that they can take the blows for the sake of making sure that the ends of justice and equity are served. Gov. Tupas survived an assault by 300 heavily armed policemen. He is not about to run away from this case, much unlike Merceditas Gutierrez who is getting more desperate in trying to stop the impeachment process.