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Peralta’s major challenge: To be an independent justice

By NEWSBREAK

Peralta's major challenge: To be an independent justice

Newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Diosdado Peralta survived a
minor bump in his bid for the High Court, but he now has to face the
challenge of proving his independence in a tribunal, which observers
say, could turn into an Arroyo court.


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The 56-year-old Peralta was chosen over Justice Martin Villarama, who
got the nod of the majority of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) with
seven votes, his colleague in the anti-graft court Francisco Villaruz,
appellate court Justice Portia Hormachuelos and Ateneo law dean Cesar
Villanueva, all of whom got five votes each along with Peralta.

He is the second member of the Sandiganbayan special division, which
convicted deposed president Joseph "Erap" Estrada of plunder in
September 2007, to be elevated to the SC. The first one is Justice
Teresita de Castro, who was appointed as SC magistrate on December 4,
2007.

Abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak reported in early December that Peralta
emerged as the frontrunner in the race to the High Court after the JBC
disqualified Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera and Rodolfo Robles, two
aspirants to the SC who reportedly have ties with the president.

Devanadera is Arroyo’s political ally in Lakas,while Robles’s father, a
former governor of Quezon province, is a friend of the late Arroyo
patriarch, the former Pres. Diosdado Macapagal.

Peralta himself has links to President Arroyo. His father, Manila Court
of First Instance Judge Elviro Peralta, also enjoyed the friendship of
the late president. Justice Peralta was named after Pres. Arroyo’s
father.

He was also nominated by Erlinda and Carlos de Leon, Arroyo’s special
assistants and relatives, to the Office of the Ombudsman in 2007. He
lost the position to Merceditas Gutierrez, a classmate of the First
Gentleman.

‘Go-between’

Peralta handled three politically sensitive decisions before 2008 draw
to a close. He reversed himself on the case of former justice Secretary
Hernando "Nani" Perez who has been cleared of graft and
robbery-with-extortion charges. Perez is an ally of President Arroyo
and former boss of Gutierrez at the Department of Justice.

Peralta initially found ground to pursue the charges against Perez. But he later junked these on the basis of a technicality.

He also penned the decisions on two civil cases regarding the coco levy
funds in November 2007 – one which awarded 20 percent of the San Miguel
Corp. shares to Cojuangco, and another one which upheld 72.2 percent of
the shares in the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) as public funds.

His participation in Cojuangco’s coco levy cases almost got him in hot
water. A former ACCRA lawyer, Ernesto Francisco, filed an opposition
letter at the JBC, saying that Peralta should have inhibited himself
from the said cases because he used to be a "go-between" for ACCRA when
he was still a prosecutor in the 1990s. The lawyer expounded that ACCRA
had connections with Cojuangco as stated in Republic of the Philippines
v. Eduardo Cojuangco, et al.

The Presidential Commission on Good Government alleged that ACCRA
lawyers have "acted as nominees-stockholders" of companies in
Cojuangco’s stead during the early ‘80s.

Francisco, who also objected Peralta’s nomination to the Ombudsman in
2005, wrote in his affidavit that when he was still working as a lawyer
in ACCRA, he was instructed by one of the firm’s supervising partners
to meet Peralta and follow up on one of the firm’s cases pending then
at the MTC.

He added that the meetings became more frequent, as he would also
follow-up with Peralta "certain incidents" and a favorable decision for
a case, which they eventually got.

Peralta assailed Francisco’s claims in a comment he filed at the JBC
dated Dec.19, 2008 as "malicious" and "baseless." He also debunked the
lawyer’s opposition as a rehash of his earlier objection in 2005 and
stressed that he "has never interceded in any case before any court,
tribunal or administrative body."

He also gave a similar response to Abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak, when
asked about allegations that he interviewed some aspirants to the Court
of Appeals and the Sandiganbayan in informal set-ups, such as meetings
in coffee shops.

Inhibited

Peralta, however, did not flinch when the court granted a motion for
inhibition filed by Francisco in People of the Philippines vs. Pedro F.
Cuerpo et al.

Then the chair of the first division, Peralta told
Abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak in a prior interview that he inhibited from
the said case after "the lawyers of the private complainants requested
it."

The private complainants include six irked residents of the town in
Rodriguez, Rizal, who asked for the suspension of the town Mayor Pedro
Cuerpo for allegedly ordering the demolition of their homes.

Peralta also inhibited from Republic of the Philippines v. Ferdinand
Marcos, et al, upon discovery that his wife, then assistant solicitor
general and now appellate court justice, actively prosecuted the case.

The case involves various foundations allegedly formed by the Marcoses
and their agents and successors. The government sought the forfeiture
of their assets on the ground that they are ill-gotten.

Criminal law expert

While he is accused of "fixing" cases when he was still a prosecutor,
Peralta was also hailed for his work. He was awarded "Outstanding
Public Prosecutor" of Manila in 1991 and 1994, and was nominated for a
similar recognition in the Awards for Judicial Excellence for 1991 and
1993.

Before convicting Estrada, he sent Bureau of Internal Revenue cashier
Dominga Manalili to jail in 2001 in the first case of conviction for
plunder.

A known criminal law expert, Peralta entered the judiciary in September
1994 as Presiding Judge of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 95
and was promoted as Presiding Judge of the Special Criminal Court on
Drug Cases in Quezon City in September 2000.

Before joining the Sandiganbayan in 2002, he served as Second Vice-Executive Judge Regional Trial Court Quezon City in 2001. (abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak)

RELATED STORIES
• Fast facts on Diosdado Peralta
• Ex-Accra lawyer opposes Peralta nomination to SC
• Peralta is new SC justice–Malacañang
• Diosdado Peralta is new Supreme Court Justice

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