By Czarina Ong Ki
The Sandiganbayan Seventh Division has convicted Labor Arbiter Jesus Orlando Quiñones of his breach of conduct charge for soliciting money in exchange for reversing a decision he had already rendered.
Quiñones, from the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) Sub-Regional Arbitration Branch No. V, Naga City, was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt for violating Section 7(d) of R.A. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials.
He was sentenced to imprisonment of two years and one day, and ordered to pay a fine of P5,000. Quiñones was also perpetually disqualified from holding public office.
On November 10, 2008, Quiñones rendered judgment on the case docketed as SRAB V Case No. 04-00050-08 entitled “Susan Bance, et. al. vs. University of Saint Anthony, et. al.”
University of Saint Anthony was the losing party, so Quiñones demanded from its lawyer, Atty. Santiago Ortega, the amount of P2 million in exchange for his intervention in securing a reversal of the decision with the NLRC.
The anti-graft court stressed in its ruling that labor arbiters are in charge of labor controversies. For Quiñones to solicit money and willingly reverse a decision he has already rendered, it truly “tests public confidence and faith in our system of government,” the decision said.
There were “variances” in the testimonies of Quiñones and Ortega, the court noticed. Ortega said that Quiñones solicited money from him, while Quiñones claimed that Ortega pointed a gun at him and displayed aggressive behavior because of his unfavorable ruling.
However, the court said it was “unnatural” for Quiñones’ secretary not to have called the police or asked for any assistance from other people when she heard the shouts of Ortega and Quiñones during the confrontation.
The anti-graft court added that Quiñones should have kept his distance from Ortega. “Being a Labor Arbiter, whose main task is to adjudicate labor cases, and a magistrate, complainant should have refrained from talking with Atty. Ortega Jr., being a party to the case he decided,” the decision said.
In contrast, the anti-graft court found Ortega’s version of the events as “straightforward and plausible.”
Ortega said that Quiñones offered to help him get the decision reversed in exchange for P2 million. He became outraged by the accusations and decided to walk out of the office.
“On the other hand, the version of the accused, minus the gun-toting incident, is plain and simple denial,” the court ruled.
“Stripped of its bells and whistles, the main defense of the accused is that the solicitation incident did not occur during Atty. Ortega’s visit to his office. His bare denial, without strong corroborative evidence to the contrary, will thus necessarily collapse in light of the positive testimony of Atty. Ortega,” it added.
The 47-page decision was written by Chairperson Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta with the concurrence of Associate Justices Zaldy Trespeses and Georgina Hidalgo.