Shari’a Court Judges Fined for Improprieties in 2014 Shari’a Bar Exams

September 16, 2019

The Supreme Court (SC) has fined two Shari’a Circuit Court judges for their actuations and misjudgments that cast serious doubts into the integrity of the 2014 Shari’a Bar Examinations held on January 19 and 26, 2014.  

In a 13-page Resolution promulgated on July 24, 2019, the Court’s Third Division found Judge Kaudri L. Jainul of the Shari’a Circuit Court, Isabela City, Basilan, the appointed Chairperson of the Board of Examiners, and Judge Samanodden L. Ampaso of the Shari’a Circuit Court, Tamparal, Lanao Del Sur, the designated translator of the 2014 Shari’a Bar, guilty of Conduct Unbecoming of a Judge and ordered them to each pay a fine of Php10,000, with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts shall be dealt with more severely.

The SC concurred with the findings of the Office Court Administrator (OCA) that there is no concrete proof that there was a leakage of questions during the 2014 Shari’a Bar examinations. It held that the evidence at hand readily points to the appearance of impropriety caused by Judge Ampaso’s designation as the translator of the examination questions. “Although no harm was actually inflicted in the Shari’a Bar examinations by such designation, it is the impression of impropriety that it created that casts a rather bleak picture of undue preference on the image of the Judiciary. [N]o matter how miniscule such appearance of impropriety is, the Court is duty-bound to forever maintain an untarnished image as the last bastion of democratic society where pure justice is expected and dispensed.”

The SC further said that the OCA was justified in not giving credence and weight to Judge Jainul’s contention that he had no knowledge that Judge Ampaso had relatives who would be taking the exams. Apparently, Judge Ampaso’s three children took the same Shari’a Bar Examinations where he was appointed as translator. The SC said “the fact remains that Judge Ampaso had full access to the questions when he translated the questions from English to Arabic xxx two days before the first week of the examinations xxx.” The Court also noted that he was billeted at a hotel located only a few kilometres away from where his children stayed, “[making] communicating the questions to his children highly possible.”

The SC found it more logical to conclude that Judge Ampaso was not initially appointed as examiner by Judge Jainul because he had relatives taking the exams and not because he was a former examiner. Moreover, Judge Jainul never refuted Judge Ampaso’s claim that he had accepted his appointment as translator because he assured Judge Ampaso that there was nothing wrong with the appointment.

Likewise, the SC also said that Judge Ampaso is not totally without fault. “Evidently, Judge Ampaso had serious doubts on the propriety of his appointment. He, nonetheless, acceded when he was assured by Judge Jainul that such appointment was allowed and convinced himself that he was merely following the order of his superior. As a learned magistrate, Judge Ampaso should have been more circumspect in accepting his appointment despite the statement of Judge Jainul because in his heart and by his initial refusals, he knows that such designation is highly irregular and questionable.”

Citing Canon 4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary which requires judges to exemplify propriety at all times, the Court held that Judges Jainul and Ampaso failed to exercise caution and prudence in their actions as expected of them as judges not only in the performance of their judicial duties, but in their professional and private activities as well.

The judges could neither be charged with a graver offense nor severely punished because at the time the controversy took place, there was no sufficient procedures or guidelines yet by which the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) officials, the examiners, the translator, and the Office of the Bar Confidant could have been properly guided in preparing and administering the Shari’a Bar Examinations.

The SC pointed out that “the only silver lining” to this unfortunate incident, lest similar incident occur in the future, was that the Court was constrained to draft the Rules for the Special Shari’a Bar Examinations which was prepared by the Committee and approved by the Court En Banc (Bar Matter No. 2716, July 14, 2015). The said rules now govern all succeeding Shari’a Bar Examinations and have accorded the exams even greater credibility and assured our Muslim brothers and sisters that only the most qualified and competent individuals will be eligible to join the pool of Shari’a Counsellors, allowed to practice, and be appointed in any of the Shari’a Courts.

Among the peculiar features of the Shari’a Bar Examinations is that an examinee can opt to take the exams in Arabic and not in English language because some of the examinees obtained their training and studied abroad such as Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. For this purpose, a translator is always designated to translate the questions, which are in the English language into Arabic, a couple of days before the examinations. For the 13th Shari’a Bar, Judge Ampaso was the appointed translator.

(A.M. No. SCC-14-20-J, OCA v. Judge Jainul; Judge Ampaso, July 24, 2019)

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