Wake Up, Philippines!

Settling CA mess: who broke rules?

Posted in Court of Appeals, Judiciary, Scandal/Expose/Mess by Erineus on February 18, 2009

Sans evidence of cold cash, bribery in the Court of Appeals’ Meralco vs. GSIS is unprovable. Mere say-so of contending justices cannot establish guilt. So the three investigators picked by the Supreme Court are focusing on who broke the rules. The Code of Judicial Conduct, Rules of Court, and Internal Rules of the CA were written to make fraud harder to commit. The canons also help pinpoint liability. Both professors of legal ethics, accused Justice Vicente Roxas and accuser Justice Jose Sabio know that.

Sabio twits Roxas for “unusual interest” in the case. Roxas concedes to no breaches. Still his admitted actions make the probers “suspicious”. For one, there was “unseemly haste” as ponente in issuing in June the temporary restraining order prayed for by Meralco. Roxas hand-carried the draft to the office of Justice Myrna Vidal’s and even waited for her to return from lunch — typically a task for court staff. Then, he issued a decision in July without waiting for Presiding Justice Conrado Vasquez Jr. to resolve his own plea against Sabio acting as chairman of the 8th Division. The verdict came ahead of answers to side issues, like a petition for his inhibition.

Roxas acted oddly too. He kept the rollo (case files) that normally is entrusted to the court clerk. From sheer memory he typed the transcripts of his deliberations with chairman Bienvenido Reyes and associate Apolinario Bruselas.

Accuser Sabio’s actions were odder. As he himself swore, he asked Roxas for the rollo on June 17-18, preparatory to the June 23 oral arguments. This he asserted as acting chairman of the Special 9th Division, although real chairman Reyes already had returned from vacation. Vasquez meantime reorganized the CA; ponente Roxas and chairman Reyes landed in the 8th division, with Bruselas. Seeking amity, Vasquez asked CA rules committee head Justice Edgardo Cruz to settle the Sabio-Reyes tiff. When Cruz opined in favor of Reyes, Sabio belittled him as “junior”, and sought a sympathetic view from older Justice Martin Villarama.

Under CA rules, a case moves to any new division the ponente goes — in this instance, with Roxas to the 8th, incidentally now chaired by Reyes. A case stays with the ponente and his old division-mates only when granting a writ of preliminary injunction, a new trial, or an execution pending appeal. None of the conditions existed for Sabio to stay on. In insisting on chairing the oral arguments, elbowing out Reyes, he too showed unusual interest.

Sabio swore that old pal Francis Roa de Borja had offered P10 million to swing to Meralco. Roa in turn claimed it was Sabio who mentioned P50 million as the right price to switch. He says-she says carries no weight in court. But the Code of Judicial Conduct, reiterated by the Rules of Court, states that a judge should take no part in a proceeding where his neutrality might be questioned. CA rules in turn require a justice disqualified under the foregoing canons to notify at once his division members and the raffle committee. Sabio should have reported the bribe offer to Vasquez; he did only a month later. He should have inhibited; instead he held on.

More telling was the phone call to Sabio on raffle morning from elder brother Camilo, head of Malacañang’s PCGG. Camilo disclosed something Sabio had yet to be officially told — that the case had just been raffled to him as acting chair. Camilo then unabashedly argued for Palace-backed GSIS. Sabio reported neither the leak nor the attempt to corrupt a public officer. Yet the phone call was graver reason to recuse, being a violation not just of the lawyer’s oath but the Revised Penal Code.

It’s good that everything’s out in the open. The Supreme Court now has a chance to clean up the suspicious Appellate Court.

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So you’re Chinese, pure or part, traditional or modern or somewhere in between, Christian at least in name, and conflicted with self and others. Watch Golden Child and have a good laugh or sob about yourself. David Henry Hwang’s family drama runs at the CCP Little Theater (832-3661, 832-1125 loc. 1620/1621). It’s in Filipino on the last two weekends of August; in English in extension on the first weekend of September.

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And only this Friday the 22nd at 5 p.m., till 5 in the morning, is Truthfest, a gathering because “it’s about time.” Civic, religious, political, business and environment activists join up with musicians and artists to sing, dance, paint and shout the truth. At Baywalk, Roxas Blvd., Manila, performers include Grace Nono, Noel Cabangon, Bayang Barrios, John Arcilla, May Bayot, Ballet Philippines, Tanghalan Pilipino, and various rock bands. Free, if you “will not take any more of their abuse or violence against you ever again.”

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E-mail: jariusbondoc@workmail.com

View previous articles from this author.

By Jarius Bondoc

Updated August 20, 2008 12:00 AM

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