Wake Up, Philippines!

Overstepping its bounds

Posted in Complaints, Congress, Court of Appeals, Judiciary, Supreme Court by Erineus on February 20, 2009

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If there is a complaint against a court decision or the conduct of a judge or justice, the complaint should be brought to the Supreme Court, which has disciplinary powers over members of the judiciary. Summoning those members to a congressional inquiry to explain a judicial act may be entertaining to watch, especially when there are suspicions that justice might have been sold to the highest bidder, but Congress will be overstepping its bounds. This is a slippery slope that members of Congress would do well to avoid.

The issue cropped up amid reports that the House of Representatives is planning to summon Court of Appeals Justice Apolinario Bruselas and members of his division as well as Judge Nina Antonio-Valenzuela of the Manila Regional Trial Court. A year ago the judge had issued a temporary restraining order on the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, which had planned to institute action that would have protected depositors from the collapse of rural banks belonging to the Legacy group of companies. As BSP officials have explained, quick intervention would have averted disaster.

When the case went up the Court of Appeals, the BSP’s hands were tied further, with the CA upholding the lower court’s TRO. Lawmakers have pointed out that this violated the New Central Bank Act of 1993, which prevents the courts from blocking BSP investigations of fraud. The law also gives the BSP a free hand to move immediately in cases where banks face insolvency.

It is not surprising to learn that there might be members of the judiciary who do not know the law, since too many people have joined this branch of government based chiefly on the right connections rather than capability. The public has long suspected that there is big money to be made in the issuance of TROs, especially in cases involving business transactions.

But if the Manila judge and CA justices have erred, a complaint must be filed against them with the Supreme Court, possibly by the BSP. The high tribunal can then determine guilt and impose the appropriate punishment. This task does not belong to the legislature, whose members might see a precedent and decide to have a say in every controversial judicial decision, the way they are already interfering in decisions on the implementation of development projects. What lawmakers can do is to strengthen the regulatory environment and prevent a repeat of the Legacy mess.

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

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By Jarius Bondoc

Updated August 20, 2008 12:00 AM

Court of Appeals mess

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

The news headlines coming out lately undoubtedly confirm that the culture of corruption in public service has been institutionalized. But this is no reason for the citizenry to accept this as a fact of life in government. On the contrary the public should be more indignant in denouncing the anomalies being exposed.

To be sure, graft and corruption is already established for quite sometime in the executive and legislative department. Hence it is no longer shocking to hear and read about deals in these offices that are grossly disadvantageous to the government. The latest expose about the CHED (Commission on Higher Education) call center project and the Land Bank loan to QUEDANCOR have just further lengthened the list of the previous scams plaguing this administration notably the Joc-Joc Bolante fertilizer fund scandal and the huge commissions or “tongpats” in hundreds of millions of US$ paid to brokers with strong connections in this administration for the aborted ZTE-NBN Broadband project and the abandoned North Rail project.

Then there are also the anomalous mega deals in the Comelec particularly the Mega Pacific Consortium automated counting machines project that was declared null and void by the Supreme Court itself because of obvious violations of law; and the infamous “Garci” dagdag bawas scandal involving some military generals who reportedly received financial rewards and promotions.

Graft and corruption in public service are now deeply rooted obviously because of the government’s reaction to these anomalies that led to lack of clear and conclusive findings. Instead of actively and expeditiously pursuing the cases and digging deeper into the truth or falsity of the exposes, the government uses “executive privilege” in refusing to cooperate with the investigators.

Instead of initiating the moves to investigate the allegations and gather the necessary evidence to determine whether its detractors are telling the truth or not, the government assails its detractors for “making accusations without evidence and privilege speeches without accountability”. The move to suppress the truth about these revelations seems to be very evident in this kind of stance.

The lackadaisical attitude and delayed action of the Ombudsman is also a contributing factor. Since the time of the exposes up to now, the Ombudsman has not come out with any resolution on these anomalies. On the contrary it has even dismissed the complaints against the Comelec officials who were found indictable for violations of law by the Supreme Court itself.

More disturbing is that certain corrupt practices have penetrated even our Judiciary. What used to be mere unfounded but apparently plausible rumors concerning the shady deals in all levels of our courts of justice circulating in coffee shops and cocktail circuits are now being denounced by some of the magistrates themselves. Now, none of the three branches of government can still categorically claim that its offices are not tainted with corruption.

This is more unfortunate in the case of the Judiciary because it is supposed to be the last bulwark of democracy, the government department where people expect to be relieved from a kind of hunger more intense than their hunger for food — the hunger for justice.

The public exposure of the behind the scenes maneuvering and bickering among the justices of the Court of Appeals (CA) on the high profile case of GSIS vs. Meralco is really unfortunate. It has further eroded (hopefully not beyond repair) the trust and confidence in our courts of justice. It could have been avoided because the issues therein are not controversial enough to
necessitate the “lobbying” of the parties involved. In other words, it is not one of those cases where the decision could be and is actually subjected to outside pressure but still looks correct precisely because the facts and the law give enough judicial discretion for the court to “correctly” decide either way without being suspected of succumbing to pressure.

In this case, based on the facts and the law, the CA decision is the only correct one that could have been made. Had it decided otherwise, it would be glaringly erroneous as would easily raise the suspicion that it was pressure laden. Hence, if it were not for Justice Jose Sabio’s revelations involving internal administrative matters that do no affect the merits of the case, the  ecision looks unassailable. The justices concerned could have just threshed out among themselves this purely internal issue.

Nevertheless, Justice Sabio’s move to go public may after all be good for the country. It may, and it should trigger the needed judicial clean up that is long in coming. In going public, Justice Sabio is apparently motivated by a desire to put a stop to these undesirable behind the scenes practices in our courts. In fact, because of his bold move, Mr. Francis Borja, the unnamed businessman also had to come out and the SC had to step in.

Obviously Justice Sabio and Mr. Borja have their own version of what transpired especially on the question of whether there was a bribe offer or a bribe proposal coming from either of the contending parties to the case. This is not a question that can be decided by public opinion shaped by media on who has a better reputation for credibility. A statement coming from a credible person must also be inherently believable. Hence, since the Supreme Court is already investigating the case, it would be advisable for them to desist from further making press statements and instead show to the SC the inherent truthfulness of their respective versions.

In this judicial investigation, the SC should adopt measures that would lead to clear, credible and conclusive findings and really meaningful and lasting clean up of the judiciary. It must avoid the lack transparency displayed by other government departments without however jeopardizing the integrity of the process because of undue publicity and inaccurate reporting.

Note: Books containing compilation of my
articles on Labor Law and Criminal Law (Vols. I and II) are now
available. Call tel. 7249445.

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E-mail at: jcson@pldtdsl.net

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A LAW EACH DAY (Keeps Trouble Away)
By Jose C. Sison

Updated August 05, 2008 12:00 AM