Sandigan denies judge’s plea on graft charges

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    THE Sandiganbayan has junked the appeal of Tacloban City Regional Trial Court Judge Crisologo Bitas on the denial of his demurrer to evidence concerning two counts of graft filed against him for alleged partiality in granting bail to persons involved in trafficking women.

    In a resolution dated January 8, 2021, the anti-graft court’s Fifth Division affirmed its October 23, 2020 pronouncement that Bitas acted “in complete disregard of the Rules of Court” when he allowed human trafficking defendants Danilo Miralles and Lynna Brito to post bail without even waiting for them to ask the court to do so.

    Associate Justice Maria Theresa V. Mendoza-Arcega penned the ruling with Associate Justices Rafael R. Lagos and Maryann E. Corpus-Mañalac concurring.

    Government prosecutors noted that a human trafficking charge is non-bailable but the judge did not order the arrest of Miralles and Brito but permitted them to be released on P40,000 bail each without even conducting a bail hearing.

    Case records showed Miralles owned and operated MV Schooner Complex, an entertainment club, while Brito was the supposed caretaker of the establishment.

    The club was raided by the Tacloban City PNP in 2009 for allegedly forcing women, including minors, to perform lewd shows on stage.

    In his motion, Bitas claimed he did grant the bail arbitrarily contrary to the allegation, since he actually conducted a hearing.

    While acknowledging that he may have erred, he said the infraction is not commensurate to acting with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.

    He said the quick grant of bail to Miralles and Brito was anchored on his finding that setting another hearing for bail was a superfluity since he expected that the same evidence and witnesses will be presented anyway.

    The court was unimpressed.

    “After a careful consideration of the arguments presented by the parties, and in consideration of the facts of the case and evidence submitted, this Court finds that the present motion fails to persuade. The instant motion is mere rehash of the arguments already passed upon by the Court,” the Sandiganbayan said.