SC finds dead judge guilty of extorting P300K from drug suspects, forfeits benefits meant for heirs

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Although Butuan City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 4 Judge Godofredo Abul, Jr. had died in 2017, the Supreme Court (SC) still found him guilty of demanding as much as P300,000 from drug suspects and forfeited the retirement benefits that would have been released to his heirs.

In a recent 11-page en banc decision, the SC said Abul’s death during the pendency of his administrative case “shall not terminate the proceedings against him, much less absolve him,” since the investigation was completed before he passed away.

It declared Abul guilty of gross misconduct and said that had he not died, he would have been dismissed from service.

“If death intervenes before he has been dismissed from service, the appropriate penalty is forfeiture of all retirement and other benefits, except accrued leaves,” read the per curiam decision.

The investigation concerned the allegations of Fr. Antoni Saniel, director of the Prison Ministry of the Diocese of Butuan, that Abul demanded P200,000 to P300,000 in exchange for the release of detained drug suspects or the dismissal of their cases.

The priest submitted the affidavits of Hazel Reyes and Anna Marie Montilla. They claimed to have been approached by a certain Naomi Saranggani, the wife of a detainee whom she said the judge released in exchange for money. Montilla said she spoke to Abul over the phone and then in person.

The investigating team found that Abul decided the drug case of Saranggani’s husband Walid in haste and without regard to procedural rules, casting doubt on its regularity.

Abul denied going to the provincial jail to talk to Reyes and Montilla. He argued the two witnesses and the priest had no personal knowledge, and also attacked the regularity of the notarization of the affidavits.

But, the SC cited Reyes and Montilla’s sworn declarations in saying “there appeared to be sufficient grounds to hold Judge Abul administratively liable for extortion as charged against him.”

Even setting aside the veracity of the extortion claim, the SC said that “by simply meeting and talking with them as the accused whose cases were then pending in his sala, Judge Abul already transgressed ethical norms and compromised his integrity and impartiality.”

Despite the lack of direct evidence that he got paid off, the SC said the acquittal of Saranggani’s husband and his coaccused was highly questionable for being premature and grossly unprocedural. Apart from the haste and the disregard for the prosecution’s arguments, he even promulgated the decision without the presence of the accused.

This gave credence to the corruption allegation, the SC said.

As for Abul’s death, the SC said it would not be ousted of its jurisdiction since it had already acquired it, and especially as he was “fully afforded due process during the investigation.”

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