Justice trains guns on CA chief, GSIS lawyers

By Leila Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 07:20:00 08/20/2008

MANILA, Philippines—On his third day on the stand on Tuesday, Court of Appeals Justice Vicente Roxas trained his guns on CA Presiding Justice Conrado Vasquez Jr. and lawyers of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).

Roxas presented what he termed “newly discovered evidence,” including the purported positions and high salaries of Vasquez’s relatives in the GSIS, and the alleged attempt of the state firm’s lawyers to “barge into” his private chambers.

Roxas said his first “evidence” was that Vasquez’s relatives—daughters Ruth and Agnes, niece Luisa Hernandez and sister Lenny de Jesus—were GSIS employees earning from P80,000 to P200,000 a month.

He said Vasquez did not disclose this to the CA en banc during its session on July 31.

Vasquez and GSIS lawyer Estrella Elamparo disputed the allegations, and Roxas later agreed that his information on the presiding justice’s relatives was hearsay.

Roxas was testifying at the daily hearing of the Supreme Court-created panel’s investigation of purported improprieties in the CA in connection with a case involving Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) and the GSIS.

The panel is composed of three retired justices of the high court—Carolina Griño-Aquino, Romeo Callejo Sr. and Flerida Ruth Romero.

Roxas, the ponente (writer) of the decision favoring Meralco, was also questioned on his being a fraternity brother of the lawyers of Meralco.

In response, he said such ties were of no moment and did not affect his decision-making.

‘Greater interest’

“The purpose of the first newly discovered evidence is to show that the presiding justice had a greater interest in the case,” Roxas said at the start of the hearing.

But in the afternoon session where he was questioned by Vasquez, Roxas conceded that the information on the salaries of the presiding justice’s relatives was just hearsay.

He said he got the names of Vasquez’s relatives and their supposed posts from an article in the newspaper Malaya, and learned of their salaries from a piece of paper given to him.

“So you’re saying it to the panel on hearsay?” Vasquez said.

Roxas agreed, saying the information was not of his own personal knowledge.

Retired Justice Callejo observed that since the article did not name the source of the information, it was “double hearsay.”

Vasquez moved that Roxas’ testimony on his relatives’ salaries be stricken off the record.

‘Out of the blue’

Roxas also accused Vasquez of “rushing” his July 24 opinion, stating that it was the CA’s special 9th Division that should rule on the Meralco vs GSIS case.

Vasquez issued the opinion in response to a query from Roxas stemming from a dispute on whether it was the special 9th Division of Justice Jose Sabio Jr. or the 8th Division of Justice Bienvenido Reyes that should decide the case.

“PJ (Presiding Justice) Vasquez came out of the blue after the decision was promulgated [on July 23], which would put in a bad light the 8th Division” Roxas said, adding:

“It’s my opinion the PJ rushed his letter, if I may be blunt about it, to embarrass the 8th Division.”

But Vasquez contended that when he issued his July 24 opinion, he was unaware that the July 23 decision favoring Meralco had been promulgated a day earlier.

Had he known, he said, he would not have issued his opinion because it would have been rendered useless.

Retired Justice Romero asked why Roxas would, by the same token, even ask Vasquez for an opinion on the matter when Roxas and another justice had signed the decision by that time.

Roxas said that when he asked Vasquez for an opinion, he knew that he would get no response because the latter had claimed to have no jurisdiction over the dispute.

Elamparo’s ‘gall’

Roxas’ next “evidence” was a recent discovery from his staff that GSIS lawyers, including its chief legal counsel Elamparo, had tried to “barge into” his private chambers on the day Meralco filed the petition against the GSIS and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

“The purpose is to show that Attorney Elamparo knew fully well, when she tried barging into the office of Justice Roxas, that she was committing a crime,” Roxas said, adding that Elamparo had also had the “gall” to allege that Meralco lawyers had met with him before a temporary restraining order was issued by the SEC on the inclusion of proxy votes at the May 27 Meralco board elections.

Elamparo, who also took the stand, denied barging into Roxas’ private chambers. She said that she and another GSIS lawyer did go to Roxas’ office, but only to give him a copy of their motion to defer action on the Meralco petition.

She also said they had introduced themselves as GSIS lawyers to Roxas’ staff, and did not get to meet the justice.

Frat ties

Roxas was also questioned on his ties with a Meralco lawyer and on his actions related to the case that “mystified” at least one panel member.

Retired Justice Aquino, the panel chair, asked Roxas about his being a member of the Sigma Rho fraternity in the University of the Philippines, and who among the Meralco lawyers were his fraternity brothers.

Roxas confirmed that Pancho Villaraza, Avelino Cruz, Simeon Marcelo and Reggie Angangco—of the well-known law firm bearing their surnames—were fellow Sigma Rhoans.

The Firm, as the law office is popularly called, represented Meralco during the oral arguments on the case.

Marcelo, a former Ombudsman, had earlier explained that the law firm was only recruited by Meralco in the middle of the case, for the oral arguments. He said it was chosen because of its expertise in intracorporate disputes.

Roxas said his being of the same fraternity did not affect his decision-making, and pointed out that a senator belonging to Sigma Rho had lost a case he had handled.

How many reasons?

Sabio questioned Roxas on the latter’s “zealous” guarding of the Meralco vs GSIS case.

“I wonder for how many million reasons you are guarding the case,” Sabio said.

Roxas objected to the question. Aquino sided with him and told Sabio to rephrase the question.

Roxas said he was not giving special attention to the case, and that he treated all his cases the same way.

Romero questioned Roxas on his giving a copy of his draft decision to Justice Myrna Dimaranan Vidal, who was not a member of the 8th Division to which Roxas was transferred.

He maintained that the copy he gave to Vidal was just for her reading pleasure and was not intended to be signed.

But Vidal said his claim was “preposterous” in light of his earlier testimony that he personally handled all papers related to a case to keep them confidential.

Advice to inhibit

Justice Martin Villarama told the panel of his suggestion to Roxas that the latter inhibit himself from the case.

Roxas had sought Villarama’s opinion on the dispute between Sabio and Reyes.

According to Villarama, he was then hearing unpleasant things concerning the Meralco vs GSIS case. He said he told Roxas that with or without a motion to inhibit, his advice to the latter was to run from the case “because there might be problems.”

He said Roxas’ response was: “I think I will follow your suggestion.”


My Take:

Now, now.

It’s mud slinger’s game now.  But this is a welcome development to Filipino people.  Now we really can say that justice here in the Philippines is tainted by corruption, and we need general overhauling to clean it and to expect genuine justice.

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