CEBU, Philippines—A lawyer’s group is urging couples who fell prey to marriage “fixers” in Cebu courts to come forward and file charges against those involved. The lawyers offered to provide legal assistance to stop the scam.
This appeal was contained in the resolution passed yesterday by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu City Chapter and signed by its president Briccio Joseph Boholst.
The IBP said the victims could file their complaints before the executive judges of either the Municipal Trial Court in Cities and the Regional Trial Court.
A copy of the complaint could be set to the IBP so the chapter could provide legal aid, the statement said.
The lawyers in Cebu City condemned the existence of a marriage racket , which they said gave the judiciary a “bad image”.
“The IBP Cebu City chapter condemns the’ marriage scam’ where those who seek to avail of a court-officiated marriage are overcharged or defrauded by unscrupulous individuals,” stated the resolution.
A nine-man team from the Supreme Court arrived in Cebu on Tuesday to look into the allegations that some Cebu court personnel were charging P2,000 to P10,000 to fast track arrangements for civil weddings.
Under the Rules of Court, the marriage solemnization fee costs only P300.
Some couples were also able to do away with a marriage license, a requirement for the ceremony, by availing of the exemption –a submission of an affidavit that showed they had been living in together for five years.
The investigating team found out that one judge had officiated 600 civil rites. In this batch, 50 percent to 75 percent of the couples involved presented affidavits of cohabitation.
The IBP Cebu chapter passed a separate resolution lauding RTC Executive Judge Fortunato de Gracia and MTCC Executive Judge Oscar Andrino for issuing a joint memorandum, ordering that the solemnizing magistrate would be chosen strictly through a raffle to put an end to the “scam.”
“The IBP Cebu City Chapter commends De Gracia and Andrino for issuing the joint memorandum that provides guidelines for court officiated marriages to reduce opportunities for corruption and other improper practices,” stated the resolution.
But during a meeting on Monday, the judges agreed that instead of using a raffle, a judge would be designated as solemnizing officer for the week. Yesterday, the investigating team from the Supreme Court continued their scrutiny of four remaining MTCC branches.
But there was no need to cancel hearings there because none were scheduled yesterday to allow court employees to inventory their cases, said Judicial Supervisor Rullyn Garcia.
The four were the courtrooms of Judge Monalila Tecson of MTCC Branch 1; Judge Oscar Andrino of MTCC Branch 5; Judge Donato Navarro of MTCC Branch 6; and Judge Francisco Seville, Jr. of Branch 7.
MTCC Branch 6 is temporarily being handled by Judge Seville pending the result of the request of Navarro to return his administrative power over his courtroom after he was ordered by the SC in 2005 to resolve all the pending cases in his sala.
Garcia said they finished their investigation of the first four MTCCs –Judge Monalila Tecson of MTCC Branch 1 Judge Anatalio Necesario of MTCC Branch 2; Judge Gil Acosta of MTCC Branch 3; Judge Rosabella Tormis of MTCC Branch 4 and Judge Edgemelo Rosales of MTCC Branch 8.
Also investigated was Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 24 of Judge Olegario Sarmiento.
Garcia said hearings resumed in these five courts after the inquiry was finished on Wednesday.
He refused to tell their findings which would be submitted to the SC.
Garcia clarified that the investigation was done after reports of the marriage scam were brought to the attention of the Chief Justice when he visited Cebu last Friday.
He said Judge Navarro, who earlier asked the Supreme Court to investigate the same activity, had nothing to do with their probe.
“The matter involving Judge Navarro is never a factor of this investigation. The reason we are here is because of the instruction of the Chief Justice to conduct an immediate investigation of this problem,” Garcia told reporters.
He also clarified that complaints against a judge who would officiate 40 marriages per day that was referred by the Ombudsman to the legal office of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) last year is still pending.
“It is not true that the complaint was dismissed. There was an action taken by the legal department of the OCA and that action was referred to the office of the Deputy Court Administrator Zenaida Elepano by Court Administrator Christopher Lock,” said Garcia.