MANILA – The Court of Appeals (CA) has junked the arrest warrant issued against Jude Sabio, the lawyer who filed a communication with the International Criminal Court (ICC) against President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.
In a 15-page decision dated March 29, a copy of which ABS-CBN News obtained Saturday, the CA 9th Division ruled that there was no basis for a Trece Martires City, Cavite judge to order Sabio’s arrest over his non-compliance with the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) program for lawyers.
All Philippine lawyers are required to take MCLE classes every 3 years.
CA Associate Justice Emily Aliño-Geluz, as then Trece Martires City Regional Trial Court Branch 23 Judge, had issued an arrest warrant against Sabio on March 7, 2018 after Sabio failed to pay the P2,000 fine which the judge imposed as his MCLE compliance certificate had expired.
Sabio asked the judge to reconsider her order but she ignored the motion and instead issued another warrant of arrest in place of the previous unserved one in April 2018.
The President appointed her as CA associate justice on April 30, 2018 shortly after she issued the arrest warrants against Sabio.
In its ruling, the appellate court said Geluz gravely abused her discretion when she imposed the penalty of a fine with imprisonment and later on issued the warrants of arrest against Sabio.
“While it is true that non-compliance with MCLE requirement merits a fine, nowhere is it provided in the MCLE rules that subsidiary imprisonment shall be imposed for non-payment or insolvency. Worse, nowhere is it stated that the courts may even penalize non-compliance with MCLE rules,” read the CA decision penned by Associate Justice Geraldine Fiel-Macaraig.
According to the CA, under Bar Matter No. 850, non-compliance with the MCLE requirements results only in the listing of the non-compliant lawyer as a delinquent member of the Bar and subject to the disciplinary power of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).
It added the judge should have informed the IBP Committee on Bar Discipline about Sabio’s non-compliance instead of declaring him in contempt of court.
“To put things into perspective, the public respondent [Geluz] should not even have caused the petitioner’s arrest for contempt for disobeying her Order to pay a fine, for she has no authority to impose the said fine in the first place,” the decision read.
The appellate court, however, did not act on Sabio’s contention that Geluz should have inhibited from the case, noting that Sabio’s claim of the judges’ alleged vindictiveness did not constitute clear evidence to justify his plea.
Sabio said his client had previously filed an administrative case against Geluz before the Office of the Court Administrator.
Although the Court agreed that the judge “would have done better to recuse herself” from the case, it noted that Geluz’s subsequent appointment to the CA had rendered the motion moot.
In a text message to ABS-CBN News Saturday, Sabio welcomed the CA decision.
He said the issuance of the warrant of arrest was connected to the communication he filed with the ICC against Duterte’s war on drugs.
“The CA decision in my favor confirms the unjust decision of Judge (now CA Justice) Geluz to arrest me due to the MCLE; her egregious action is part of a devious conspiracy between her, [Senator Manny] Pacquiao and Duterte to impede my legal work on the ICC case, but they failed. My quest for justice lives on,” he said.
On April 24, 2017, Sabio filed a 77-page communication with the office of ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda accusing Duterte and high-ranking government officials of committing crimes against humanity through mass murder or extra-judicial executions.
Bensouda announced on Feb. 8, 2018 that she was opening a preliminary examination on the war on drugs in the Philippines. This prompted Duterte to withdraw from the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC, more than a month later.
The Philippines’ formal withdrawal from the ICC took effect on March 17, 2019.
Two petitions are currently pending before the Supreme Court questioning the validity of the withdrawal.