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SC orders deeper probe vs. Baguio judge linked to illegal drugs

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The Supreme Court has ordered a deeper investigation on a Baguio City judge President Rodrigo Duterte had implicated in the illegal drug trade.

The high court leaned on the report of retired SC Associate Justice Roberto Abad, who earlier cleared three judges also accused by Duterte of involvement in illegal drugs.

Abad, however, recommended the initiation of administrative raps against Judge Antonio Reyes of the Baguio City Regional Trial Court Branch 1 for alleged corruption.

In his report, Abad gave weight to the testimony of a certain Melchora Nagen who Judge Reyes had dismissed the drug charges against her and other suspects in exchange for money.

Nagen said she got out of detention by paying P50,000 through a certain Norma Domingo, a former drug detainee acquitted by Reyes, who later had used  her to negotiate payoffs from drug suspects charged before his court.

Authorities, however, could no longer locate Nagen.

An earlier report said Domingo issued a receipt for P300,000 a certain Richard Lagunilla had given her in exchange for his acquittal, while an anonymous letter pointed to the "pattern of bribery" that Domingo allegedly arranged for Reyes for drug cases.

The anonymous sender claimed that Reyes convicted his relatives for failing to raise the amount of money they were asked to pay, also alleging that lawyers and judges in Baguio City were aware of such anomalies.

Reyes has belied the allegations, saying he does not tolerate corruption. The judge recalled that he even charged one of his staff members for collecting money from suspects he had acquitted.

Reyes also said the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) gave him 16 commendations for "exemplary efficiency and dedication to duty."

As for the allegation that he improperly dismissed the drug case against Domingo, Reyes said that the dismissal was based on the prosecutor's admission during the trial that his witness against Domingo, a PDEA officer, had nothing to do with the operation that led to her arrest.

Anti-narcotics agents had planned in 2007 to entrap Reyes but they dropped the idea since payments to the judge were made through his driver, according to the report.

Adopting Abad's report, the SC ordered on February 21 the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) to make an inventory of cases decided by Reyes to determine whether there is basis for the allegations against him.

The OCA has also been tasked to investigate whether Reyes' driver took bribe money from litigants on Reyes' behalf and to request the National Bureau of Investigation to locate Nagen and other witnesses identified by Abad in his report. —LBG, GMA News

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