After killings, bill for marshals and bodyguards for judges pushed

MANILA, Philippines – In light of two recent killings of judges, Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta got the backing of House Deputy Speaker and Surigao del Sur Representative Johnny Pimentel to push for a bill that would create positions for marshals and bodyguards for judges.

“Our judges deserve strong protection, considering that they have become increasingly vulnerable to aggression and violence, presumably from disgruntled and hateful litigants,” Pimentel said on Wednesday, November 6.

Pimentel earlier urged Peralta to endorse to Congress a draft bill that would create an envisioned Philippine Marshals Service, similar to the United States Marshals Service.

Pimentel said the bill could initially create 3,000 positions which would form the regular court staff, and in the light of killings, secure judges and court personnel.

In a statement on Wednesday, Supreme Court Spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka said the creation of a security system for the judiciary remains among Peralta's 10-point program.

Hosaka said Peralta agreed it should be done through legislation.

"It would be best that this office or law-enforcement agency be 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," said Hosaka.

"We cannot allow these brazen attacks on judges to go on without a forceful answer," said Pimentel.

Judges killings

Two judges were killed in a span of a week this November – former Siargao Municipal Trial Court Judge Exequil Longos Dagala was killed inside his home in Siargao on November 1 while Tagudin, Ilocos Sur Judge Mario Anacleto Bañez was killed on board his vehicle in La Union on November 5.

Dagala and Bañez are the 6th and 7th judges to be killed in the Duterte administration, and the 43rd and 44th member of the legal profession killed since July 2016.

Before his death, Bañez acquitted a health worker accused by the military as a communist rebel.

Dagala, on the other hand, was tagged by by President Rodrigo Duterte in his narco-judges list.

In 2017, Judge Dagala was dismissed by the Supreme Court which found him guilty of immorality and gross misconduct over an anonymous complaint that he wielded an armalite during a scuffle over a land property in Siargao. The investigation also yielded information about Dagala's children from 3 different women, the basis of the immorality verdict.

Dagala was dismissed by the Supreme Court during the time of ousted chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

'Narco-judges'

Sereno then blasted Duterte's narco-judge list for being "premature" and putting the judges' lives at risk, a remark which earned her the ire of the president early on. Drug war critics also said the list undermined the independence of the judiciary.

In April 2019, the Supreme Court announced it would work with  Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to investigate the tagged narco-judges. Peralta was to be the lead coordinator for the Court.

Asked whether Dagala was investigated through that mechanism, and for the result of the investigation if any, Hosaka did not respond. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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