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The Court of Appeals Scandal Deepens

August 1, 2008

The fire threatening to gut the Court of Appeals appears to have become a bigger conflagration.

Now the so-called ‘mystery man’ has come out.

Mr. Francis Roa De Borja confirms he spoke to Justice Jose Sabio. De Borja makes no categorical denial he had offered the justice a P10-bribe in exchange for Sabio to inhibit himself in the court’s deliberations on the temporary restraining order stopping the Securities and Exchange Commission order to halt the MERALCO board elections.

But he reveals a disturbing twist: He claims Justice Sabio told him the government had also offered him “blandishments” to favor Winston Garcia and the GSIS, including elevation to the Supreme Court.

Garcia has issued a quick denal on the matter.

But let’s take the scandal in the context of an earlier June 28 Philippine Daily Inquirer piece written by Gerry Lirio:

The bigger equally disturbing picture that emerges is that two divisions of the Court of Appeals had actually been jostling with each other to decide on the case and that early on presiding justice Conrado Vasquez’s intervention was sought by his colleagues.

The insightful PDI report says, in part, ”

“The decision issued by the 8th Division of the Court of Appeals last week is not likely to settle the controversy between the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) over the election recently of the utility’s directors.

On the contrary, the decision has reportedly triggered an internal protest by justices belonging to another appellate court division, who claimed jurisdiction over the case and questioned why it was “hurriedly” removed from their sala, according to documents obtained by the Philippine Daily Inquirer Sunday.

The 8th Division on July 23 had voided the order issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) stopping and invalidating the Meralco elections on May 27, which was won by nominees of the Lopez family which controls the company.

The order, released to the press the following day, was signed by the division’s head, Justice Bienvenido Reyes, and its two members—ponente Justice Vicente Roxas and Justice Apolinario Bruselas Jr.

The GSIS, led by its president and general manager Winston Garcia, had challenged the Lopez family’s leadership of Meralco and sought the SEC’s intervention. Garcia demanded the validation of all the 4,483 Meralco proxies before voting could be allowed.

In its decision, however, the 8th Division ruled that the SEC had no jurisdiction over the case filed by the GSIS against Meralco, and that a regional trial court was the proper venue for controversies over elections in corporations.

The decision triggered scathing remarks from Justice Myrna Dimaranan Vidal, a member of the Special 9th Division, who said the 8th Division was not the proper body to rule on the GSIS-Meralco row.

In a letter to Presiding Justice Conrado Vasquez Jr. dated July 24, Vidal questioned the decision of the Reyes-led division. How could the 8th Division issue an order “much to her regret and consternation” when it was the 9th that had been hearing the complaint of alleged irregularities in the Meralco election, she said.

It was also the 9th Division that issued the temporary restraining order (TRO) on the SEC order to Meralco on May 30, she said.

Her “deepest regret,” she wrote, was that she had already signed a similar decision for the 9th Division, but the three justices of the 8th Division did not even bother to inform her “as a judicial courtesy at least” of her “hurried” removal from the case.

Aside from Vidal, the other members of the 9th Division are Justice Jose Sabio, chair, and, curiously, Roxas, who was also the ponente of the case.

“Under what basis was the case suddenly transferred to the 8th Division, and why was it that neither the undersigned nor the acting chair, Justice Sabio, of the Special 9th Division were not consulted thereof? And foremost, what happened to the decision which the undersigned signed after devoting her precious time and effort in carefully and laboriously examining the voluminous records of the case?” Vidal asked.

Sabio is expected to write a similar letter to Vasquez, according to CA sources.

Sabio’s division was called a special division because it was the result of the reorganization of the 23-division, 64-justice appellate court.

Available records do not show that either Reyes or Bruselas heard the arguments in the case, a source in the court claimed.

Even before the 8th Division promulgated its decision, both Reyes and Roxas were at a loss as to their jurisdiction over the GSIS-Meralco conflict. They wrote separate letters asking Vasquez to settle the issue.

Roxas sent his letter to Vasquez on July 21 while Reyes sent his on July 22, a day before the ruling was promulgated.

Vasquez replied in a letter dated July 24, saying he initially had doubts about his authority in the matter, but in as much as both Reyes and Roxas had sought his legal opinion, he was constrained to express that he “sincerely believed” that it was the Special 9th Division which issued the TRO and had been hearing the case that should rule on the case.

“With this opinion, it is sincerely hoped that the present predicament/controversy will be laid to rest, and whomsoever is dissatisfied with its outcome may elevate the matter to the Supreme Court, for final disposition,” he said in the letter, a copy of which was seen by the Inquirer.”

Justice Vasquez apparently failed to sort out his colleagues’ squabble in time.

The scandal that has broken out is rocking the Court of Appeals to its very foundations and the onus is on the Supreme Court now to sort out this thoroughly sordid mess.

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