MANILA -- The Angeles City judge who granted bail to the primary suspect in the kidnap-slay of South Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo has voluntarily inhibited herself from trying the kidnapping and carnapping case.
In an order dated September 2, Angeles City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 56 Judge Irin Zenaida Buan granted the second motions for inhibition filed by Department of Justice prosecutors and co-accused SPO3 (Police Chief Master Sgt.) Ricky Sta. Isabel and former NBI agent Jerry Omlang.
"To continue trying these cases (despite the previous denial of the first motion for inhibition) will already be counter-productive if not prejudicial to the Presiding Judge," she said.
"The allegations/arguments of the movants readily reveal their inner disposition towards the Presiding Judge clearly signifying their discontent to the latter's rulings as well as their obstinate belief that the Presiding Judge cannot remain impartial in trying these cases," she added.
In May, prosecutors asked Buan to inhibit from 3 cases she is handling after she allowed Police Lt. Col. Rafael Dumlao III to post bail while denying the similar plea of co-accused Sta. Isabel and Omlang.
According to the prosecutors, Buan allegedly sat on the motion for 2 months, rejecting it in open court only during the July 31 hearing, in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct which requires judges to administer justice "impartially and without delay."
Dumlao is accused of masterminding Jee's kidnapping and killing in October 2016, for which he is facing a kidnapping for ransom with homicide charge.
He is also facing 2 other criminal cases along with 3 other suspects: kidnapping and serious illegal detention of Jee's helper, Marissa Morquicho, and carnapping of Jee's sports utility vehicle.
In April, Buan granted Dumlao bail after finding that the evidence against him is not strong and the prosecution witnesses have not proved a particular act that clearly established his complicity in the abduction and killing of Jee.
In their first motion, prosecutors argued Buan did not consider the statements of former co-accused turned state witness SPO4 Roy Villegas who claimed that Dumlao harassed and threatened him not to identify Dumalo as one of the perpetrators.
Villegas tagged Sta. Isabel as the one who killed Jee inside Camp Crame in October 2016 after abducting him -- a claim Sta. Isabel denied.
Villegas also said Dumlao was the team leader of the "bogus" operation to abduct Jee while PO2 Baldovino testified it was Dumlao who gave instructions to Sta. Isabel and later on ordered him to execute affidavits and pin the blame on Sta. Isabel.
Insisting that Dumlao was part of the conspiracy as he was the "team leader, their mastermind, and was the instigator of the crime," prosecutors said Buan's grant of bail solely to Dumlao "smacks of discriminatory treatment to the other accused, who are similarly situated as co-conspirators."
In her order, Buan acknowledged the impossibility of removing doubts of bias against her.
"To insist on trying these cases despite a continuing call for recusal will already conjure an erroneous image of a judge holding on to a case under a continuous cloud of doubt," she said.
"To the mind of the Presiding Judge, this is counterproductive because no matter how regular the exercise of judgment or discretion is done, the same cannot dissuade movants from their belief that the Presiding Judge is biased. In order that the proceedings in these cases will not be stalled, the Presiding Judge considers it prudent to recuse from these cases," she explained.
The killing of Jee had sparked international outrage against the Philippine government's war on drugs.
It led to a temporary halt in the government's anti-drug war campaign dubbed Oplan Tokhang.
President Rodrigo Duterte himself apologized to the South Korean government for Jee's death.