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Court of Appeals Scandal: The Fairest Justice Money Can Buy?

July 31, 2008

The Court of Appeals (CA) is in crisis. It is holding an emergency session today over the revelation of a bribery attempt in the still simmering GSIS-MERALCO war and the sensational incident at the recent stockholders meeting of the Philippines’ largest power distributor.

The GSIS, wielding its 33 percent share of the utility, tried but failed to engineer a management revamp over what the none-too-tactful Winston Garcia claimed was MERALCO bad management which he says “is the cause of high electricity rates.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission hastily issued an order to stop the stockholders meeting but MERALCO simply ignore it.

And so the legal battle shifted to the Court of Appeals, the latest episode of which saw the CA voiding the SEC order.

Now the Philippine Daily Inquirer banner story reveals:

By his own account, a Court of Appeals justice was offered P10 million to inhibit himself from a case that Manila Electric Co. had filed to stop an attempted takeover by the Government Service Insurance System.

The offer was made to him on July 1 through a Makati businessman, Justice Jose Sabio Jr. said in a letter dated July 26 to Presiding Justice Conrado Vasquez Jr., a copy of which was obtained by the Philippine Daily Inquirer Wednesday afternoon.

In an interview Wednesday morning, Sabio said he would hold nothing back in the court’s en banc session scheduled Thursday to discuss the issue of the Meralco case.

Asked if he had informed Presiding Justice Conrado Vasquez about any bribery offer made to him in relation to the case, Sabio replied: “Everything, all details, will be discussed. I can just say, no holds barred. If I’m asked to detail everything, I will. I’ll be honest.”

Sabio and Justice Myrna Dimaranan-Vidal of the appellate court’s former 9th Division had protested the issuance of the decision on the Meralco petition on July 23.

In that decision, the court voided the order of the Securities and Exchange Commission stopping the hotly contested May 27 election of the Meralco board, over which the power firm retained control.

Sabio and Vidal described the circumstances surrounding the decision as “fishy,” adding that they had heard the oral arguments on the case but were not among those who signed the decision.

Those who did sign the decision were Justice Vicente Roxas, the designated ponente, and Justices Bienvenido Reyes and Antonio Bruselas. The three make up the 8th Division, to which Roxas was transferred from the 9th Division, when the case was pending.

According to Sabio, the businessman, whom he has known for some time, requested an urgent meeting and waited to see him until his law classes ended at 8 p.m. on July 1.

“It turned out that he was brokering for Meralco,” Sabio said.”

This scandal comes just a day after the remark of Mr. Oscar Lopez that “it is as if Marcos had not left,” and that the government’s target “is not really MERALCO but ABS-CBN.”

Coffee shop talk around Manila is describing the statement of Lopez as just short of a declaration of war against President Arroyo who has 20 months left in her term.

The Court of Appeals becoming embroiled in the controversy adds the dimension of how the integrity of judiciary is perceived to have been damaged in recent years over politically-colored appointments and of decisions being written not by judges and justices but by the verr law firms of powerful litigants.

The situation is such that the quality of court decisions has even been described as “the fairest justice money can buy” with the alleged practices reaching all the way up to the Court of Appeals.

Now the cover has been blown.

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