3 retired SC justices to probe CA bribery case


By Leila Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:18:00 08/05/2008

MANILA, Philippines—After a special en banc session, the Supreme Court Monday formed a panel that will investigate a scandal rocking the Court of Appeals in connection with irregularities surrounding the latter’s decision on the battle for control of Manila Electric Co. between the Lopez family and the Government Service Insurance System.

The panel, composed of three retired Supreme Court justices, was directed to hold daily hearings and submit its findings on Aug. 21.

Heading the panel is retired Associate Justice Carolina Griño-Aquino, with retired Justices Flerida Ruth Romero and Romeo Callejo Jr. as members.

Supreme Court spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez said the panel would determine whether the Court of Appeals justices involved in the Meralco-GSIS case acted improperly.

It would also look into the reported P10-million attempted bribery on Justice Jose Sabio Jr., allegedly by a businessman acting as a Meralco emissary.

“They will be tasked with investigating the proprieties of actions of the justices in the decision of the Court of Appeals and also the allegation in the attempt to bribe a justice of the CA,” Marquez told reporters.

Urgency

Marquez said the tribunal’s decision to hold a special en banc session showed that the issue hounding the second highest court of the land was important.

“The fact that the case was immediately calendared in a special en banc session … that already itself shows the urgency and importance of the matter,” he said.

The 8th Division of the Court of Appeals on July 23 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 that controls the company.

The Court of Appeals order, which was released to the media 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 had challenged the Lopez family’s leadership of Meralco and sought the SEC’s intervention.

Management shake-up

The state-run pension fund, which owns 25 percent of Meralco, wants to shake up the management because it believes its majority stockholders, the Lopez family, have not done enough to bring down electricity prices.

Winston Garcia, GSIS president and general manager, 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.

Puno, Santiago, Carpio inhibit

Three Supreme Court justices inhibited themselves from the case.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno declined to participate because Sabio’s daughter is on his staff.

Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago inhibited herself from the case because her daughter works for Meralco, while Justice Antonio Carpio recused himself because he used to work for the Villaraza, Cruz, Marcelo and Angangco law firm, which represents the power utility.

Unceremoniously ousted

The controversy over the appellate court’s decision arose after Sabio and Vidal protested their unceremonious ouster from the case even though they were among those who heard oral arguments on it.

In his letter to Court of Appeals Presiding Justice Conrado Vasquez, Sabio called the circumstances surrounding the decision “fishy.”

Sabio also said that a businessman had attempted to offer him P10 million in exchange for inhibiting himself from the case and paving the way for another justice to chair the division that would decide on the case.

Feeling alluded to, businessman Francis de Borja executed a sworn statement saying that Sabio had informed him that the government had offered the associate justice a Supreme Court seat and money to favor the GSIS position.

When De Borja asked what it would take for Sabio to resist the government’s offer, the justice supposedly replied: P50 million.

Sabio said De Borja’s statements were all lies.

The Court of Appeals last week held a rare en banc session to discuss allegations regarding the Meralco case and decided to elevate to the Supreme Court the issue on the propriety of the justices’ actions.

CA internal rules

Over at the GSIS, its chief legal counsel Estrella Elamparo said the 9th Division chaired by Sabio should have decided on the Meralco case.

In a statement, Elamparo said that under the Internal Rules of the Court of Appeals, a case would stay with the original justices who heard it when the case had already been given due course and had already been submitted for decision.

She said the rules state: “When, in an original action or petition for review, any of these actions or proceedings, namely: (1) giving due course; (2) granting writ of preliminary injunction … the case shall remain with the Justice to whom the case is assigned for study and report and the Justices who participated therein, regardless of their transfer to other divisions in the same station.”

Elamparo added that when the oral arguments were concluded on June 23, the petition was deemed to have been given due course.

“There is no doubt that the special 9th Division gave due course to the petition after it set the same for oral arguments, required the parties to submit their memoranda and considered the petition submitted for resolution,” she said, quoting from the July 30 letter she sent Vasquez.

Elamparo also said the participation of the 9th Division’s justices in the case required in-depth analysis and were not just “token involvement.”

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