In the wake of judge’s killing, Congress urged to pass law ensuring judges’ security

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 06 2019 07:59 PM

Office of Court Administrator: 31 judges killed since January 1999

MANILA – The death of a trial court judge in San Fernando, La Union Tuesday afternoon has renewed calls for Congress to pass a law creating a Philippine marshals system meant to safeguard the security of judges all over the country.

Philippine Judges’ Association (PJA) president Judge Felix Reyes made the call Wednesday afternoon, a day after Ilocos Sur Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Mario Anacleto Bañez was gunned down by unidentified suspects on board a motorcycle while inside his car and on the way home.

“With the series of unresolved killings of RTC judges, it is about time that Congress should consider passing a law creating a Philippine marshall under the Supreme Court which will provide security for judges and justices,” he said in a text message to ABS-CBN News.

31ST JUDGE KILLED SINCE 1999, 5TH UNDER DUTERTE ADMIN

Bañez is the 31st judge killed since January 1999 and the 5th under the term of President Rodrigo Duterte, according to data from the Office of the Court Administrator.

In all but 4 cases, the victims were shot dead, some of them sustaining multiple gunshot wounds.

Prior to Bañez, the latest judges killed were:

  • Butuan RTC Judge Godofredo Abul, Jr. – shot dead in Butuan City by an unidentified gunman on board a motorcycle on August 5, 2017
  • Camarines Sur municipal trial court Judge Ricky Begino – shot dead in Camarines Sur by a neighbor on June 12, 2018. The gunman was arrested and is facing a murder charge.
  • Ozamiz City RTC Judge Edmundo Pintac – shot dead in Ozamiz City by unidentified men on board a motorcycle on October 8, 2018. He handled the drugs and firearms cases against the Parojinogs
  • Zamboanga del Norte RTC Judge Reymar Lacaya – shot dead in Zamboanga del Norte by unidentified killer(s) on May 9, 2019. 

Meanwhile, former Municipal Trial Court Judge Exequil Dagala was gunned down by unidentified men while sleeping inside his house in Siargao on Friday.
 
The PJA has expressed alarm over the killings.

“The recent spate of killings of trial court judges have become a serious concern which has not yet been addressed by the concerned agencies. Although we are anxious of our own safety, incidents such as these will not diminish our resolve to perform our functions and duties to dispense justice,” it said in a statement. 

“Instead, we join hands and just trust the system to let justice prevail and rule of law reign. We shall remain steadfast and continue to be vigilant during these times of trials and challenges,” it added.

PHILIPPINE MARSHALS SYSTEM

The creation of a Philippine marshals system patterned after the United States system is part of newly-installed Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta’s 10-point program.

In his first flag-raising ceremony as top magistrate on October 28, he mentioned “strengthening the security of our justices, judges and halls of justice” either through legislation or through court initiative as among his priority.

This security system, according to SC spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka, would have the “objective of law enforcement which is primarily connected to Judicial functions, enforcement of court orders, safekeeping of evidence, and also investigation.”

Peralta earlier called the creation of a Philippine marshals system an “excellent solution” to the spate of killings, in his interview with the Judicial and Bar Council in October, although he expressed doubt if it can be done by the judiciary on its own.
 
“[W]hen one’s life is in danger, what we do is to seek help from the police agencies, which are not within our control and supervision. If we have the marshals then, they will be reporting to us, then judges’ lives will be safer; but the problem is: can the SC open positions for marshals without violating the rule that only the Congress can open offices?” he said.

In a statement Wednesday, Hosaka said having a law creating the marshals system is better to ensure that its authority can withstand scrutiny. 
 
“Considering the powers of the judiciary under the Philippine Constitution as well as the intended functions of the proposed security system, it would be best that this office or law-enforcement agency by created through a law in order to prevent its powers and authority from being questioned, as it will now be clearly based on and mandated by legislation,” he said.

The Supreme Court has yet to release details about the proposed marshals system although in an interview late last year, Reyes proposed hiring retired military and police personnel to serve as marshals.