TWO CEBU judges probing the multi-million estafa case filed by Greentech Development Corporation owner Kaiser Tan against businesswoman Michelle Go-Chu revealed that they have been receiving death threats and social media attacks accusing them of bribery. 

The two judges—Judge Judilyn Hugo Tapia-Menchavez of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 59 in Toledo City and Judge Ronald Caramba Tolentino of RTC Lapu Lapu City—both believed that the death threats and online attacks that they have been receiving are undeniably connected to the large-scale estafa case filed by Tan against Go-Chu and couple Lorenzo, Jr. and Jerlyn Joyce Baltonado. The two judges have also sought the assistance of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to pin down the perpetrators of the death threats.

Judge Tapia-Menchavez earlier issued a warrant of arrest against Go-Chu and the Baltonado couple last January based on the complaint filed by Tan. Go-Chu filed an omnibus motion for the suspension of the proceedings against her, a recall of the warrant of arrest and suspension of its implementation, and the filing of an ex-parte motion for the issuance of hold departure order against her. Judge Tapia-Menchavez decided in favor of Go-Chu’s motion and cancelled her warrant of arrest and ordered for a reinvestigation, casting doubt on the multimillion-peso estafa complaint case filed by Tan.

Not long after this decision, Judge Tapia-Menchavez said she started receiving death threats and online attacks, accusing her of accepting bribes. She has since been coordinating with the Cybercrime Division of the NBI who, according to the judge, already has sufficient proof to believe that one of the parties in the case is behind the death threats and the online attacks. Judge Tapia-Menchavez decided to voluntarily inhibit from the case, but emphasized that it is out of her desire to prevent a possible declaration of mistrial. She adds that she wants to focus working with the NBI to find out who the people behind the death threats are.

For his part, Judge Tolentino disclosed receiving similar death threats against him and his immediate family, prompting him to voluntarily inhibit from the case. In his letter to the NBI, Judge Tolentino said that the death threats may be connected to the case he is handling filed by Tan against the Baltonado couple and Go-Chu. He likewise urged the NBI to investigate the matter and find the people behind the death threats.

In a press conference on March 29, Atty. Estrella Elamparo, legal counsel of complainant Go-Chu, strongly condemned the perpetrators of the death threats and the malicious attacks against them on social media and asked the Supreme Court (SC) to intervene.

“This matter needs to be taken seriously especially since a lot of judges have already been killed while performing their sworn duties. Since 2016, at least 66 judges, prosecutors, and lawyers have been killed so we are asking the SC to step in and probe into these death threats being received by the Cebu judges and help shed light on the perpetrators,” Atty. Elamparo said.

Because of this development, Go-Chu, through Atty. Elamparo, filed a motion for the transfer of venue for the estafa case filed against her by Tan.

Atty. Elamparo said, “Considering the sequence of events, to avoid potential bloodshed and any miscarriage of justice, it is but just to order the transfer of venue from the province of Cebu to any court within the National Capital Region, which the SC may deem proper.”

“A transfer of venue will be beneficial to everyone working on the case. It will secure the safety of the accused, the presiding judges, and their immediate family against threats to their life and other acts of intimidation. Additionally, it will avoid trial by publicity and undue local pressure, which will promote orderly administration of justice and guarantee public confidence in the judiciary,” Atty. Elamparo added.

Atty. Elamparo further emphasized that transferring the venue of the case will guarantee the accused Go-Chu’s right to a speedy trial and a speedy disposition of cases, considering the propensity of the private prosecutor to shop for more favorable judges through baseless and frivolous motions for inhibition. (PR / EV Mail March 27-April 2, 2023 issue)