Excerpts from SC panel’s report

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:37:00 09/10/2008

Presiding Justice Conrado M. Vasquez Jr.’s failed leadership as head of the Court of Appeals

He had been indecisive in dealing with the turmoil arising from the Meralco case. He vacillated and temporized on resolving the impasse between Justice Jose Sabio Jr. and Justice Bienvenido L. Reyes over the chairmanship of the division that should hear and decide the Meralco case.

He failed to take action on the reported bribe-offer by Meralco to Sabio. He hesitated to assert his leadership of the Court even when the parties repeatedly urged him to lay down the rule for them to follow. Was he hampered by the fact that he has relatives— two daughters— employed in the GSIS, and a sister who is a consultant thereof? He pleaded lack of authority. Was he not aware then, or did he discover too late, that… he is in fact authorized to act “on any matter” involving the Court and its members?

He should have convened the Court en banc as soon as the alleged bribery attempt on Justice Sabio was reported to him, for it was an attempt to corrupt a member of the Court, calling for the “protection and preservation of the integrity of the judicial processes” of the Court, hence an administrative matter cognizable by the Court en banc.

Vasquez admitted his “lapses in judgment.”

What is as appalling to the public as the reported attempt to corrupt a member of the Court of Appeals, was the silence, inaction and indifference that it elicited from the Presiding Justice who failed to recognize it as a crime and an outrage to the Court itself, requiring his immediate and forceful action and that of the Court en banc to deter similar future inroads upon the independence, integrity and honor of the Court.

Vasquez appeared to be unaware of some deficiencies or defects in the administrative procedures currently practiced in the Court of Appeals.

Irregular and improper conduct of Justice Vicente Q. Roxas

1. His inaction, as ponente [writer of the decision], on several motions of the parties

2. Roxas was dishonest and untruthful.

(a) Roxas admitted that the “Transcript of Final Decision,” which is supposed to be a transcript of the deliberation on July 14, 2008 of the Eighth Division on the final decision in the Meralco case was not a true “transcript” of the minutes of the meeting, but purely a “transcript from memory” because no notes were taken, no stenographer was present, and no tape recorder was used.

The so-called “transcript” is a fabrication designed to deceive that there had been compliance — when actually there was none — with the prerequisite of the IRCA [implementing rules of the CA] that consultation and/or deliberation among the members of the Division must precede the drafting of a decision.

(b) The statement in the “transcript” that it was a “recap from our previous deliberations” was another falsehood because there had been no previous deliberations.

(c) The reference in the “transcript” to a “Final Report of Justice Roxas” was also false for Roxas admittedly did not submit a “report” as ponente… The “Final Report” which he submitted was admittedly the decision itself, which he and Justice Bruselas Jr. had already signed. The “Final Report” was merely the title of the page that served as the cover of the decision.

(d) Although the parties were given 15 days after the hearing on June 23, or up to July 8, to simultaneously submit their memoranda and memoranda of authorities… Roxas prepared the decision before the parties had filed their memoranda in the case and submitted it to Justice Dimaranan-Vidal for her signature… His “rush to judgment” was indicative of “undue interest and unseemly haste,” according to J. Romero.

He cheated the parties’ counsel of time, effort and energy that they invested in the preparation of their ponderous memoranda which, as it turned out, neither he nor the other members of the Eighth Division bothered to read before signing his decision. He made a mockery of his own order for the parties to submit memoranda and rendered their compliance a futile exercise.

(e) Roxas’ testimony that when he brought the Meralco decision to Dimaranan-Vidal… it was only a draft for her to read, because she asked if she may read it, not for her to sign it, is completely false. The testimony was labeled by Dimaranan-Vidal as a lie, and she called Roxas a liar, because she did not ask to borrow the decision for her reading pleasure, but Roxas personally brought it to her office for her to sign as a member of the Special Ninth Division.

(f) Roxas was thoughtlessly disrespectful of a colleague… when he unceremoniously discarded, shredded and burned the decision that Dimaranan-Vidal had signed, because he allegedly forgot that Dimaranan-Vidal and Sabio had already been “reorganized out” of the Special Ninth Division as of July 4, hence, out of the Meralco case.

The truth, it seems, is that Roxas, who had consulted Justice Villarama Jr. on which Division should decide the Meralco case, may have been convinced that it should be the Special Ninth Division. That is why he brought his decision to Dimaranan-Vidal for her signature. However… while Dimaranan-Vidal was patiently poring over his decision, Roxas was persuaded to bring his decision to the Eighth Division (to which he and Justice B.L. Reyes belong after the July 4 reorganization of the Court), it may have dawned on him that if the case remained in the Special Ninth Division, Sabio might dissent, requiring the Presiding Justice to constitute a special division of five.

If he (Roxas) should fail to obtain a majority of the Division on his side, he would lose his ponencia; someone else would become the ponente (perhaps Sabio). That may be the reason why he junked Sabio and Dimaranan-Vidal (even if the latter concurred with his decision) because he was unsure of Sabio. He chose to cast his lot with his companions in the Eighth Division — Reyes and Bruselas — with whom he and Meralco were “comfortable.”

(g) Roxas was disrespectful to Presiding Justice Vasquez Jr., whose ruling on his “Interpleader Petition” he sought on July 21, but he promulgated the Meralco decision two days later on July 23, without waiting for Vasquez’s ruling which came out on July 24… Vasquez was embarrassed and humiliated by Reyes’ and Roxas’ lack of courtesy and respect for his position as head of the Court.

Irregularities and improprieties committed by Justice Jose L. Sabio Jr.

1. Sabio’s telephone conversation with his brother, PCGG Chairman Camilo Sabio

…. As both Secretary Camilo L. Sabio and Justice Sabio, Jr. are lawyers, they should know that Secretary Sabio’s phone call to Justice Sabio constituted a violation of Canon 13 of the Code of Professional Responsibility for lawyers.

Ironically, both of them found nothing wrong with brother Camilo’s effort to influence his younger brother’s action in the Meralco case, because both believe that our Filipino culture allows brother-to-brother conversation, even if the purpose of one is to influence the other, provided the latter does not agree to do something illegal.

For his part, although Justice Sabio against his brother’s advice, did sign the TRO in favor of Meralco, his unusual interest in holding on to the Meralco case, seemed to indicate that he may have been actually influence “to help GSIS” as Secretary Sabio had advised.

By allowing his brother to influence his conduct in the Meralco case, Justice Sabio violated Sections 1, 4 and 5, Canon 1 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippines Judiciary.

Justice Sabio was remiss in his duty to inform the Presiding Justice about Secretary Camilo Sabio’s call to him which he admitted was unethical as his brother tried to influence him.

2. Francis de Borja’s cell phone call to Justice Sabio, on May 31 was a wake-up call that Sabio should have heeded.

De Borja who describes himself in his affidavit as a deal maker or project packager, met Justice Sabio some 10 years ago when the latter was still an RTC Judge in Cagayan de Oro.

De Borja said in his Affidavit that: “Having enough confidence in our friendship” he decided to call up Justice Sabio on his cell phone on May 31 “to talk about the Meralco/GSIS/SEC case.”

Knowing the nature of Borja’s profession, Justice Sabio, should have been wary of the former.

Sabio’s action of discussing the Meralco case with De Borja was highly inappropriate and indiscreet.

The investigating panel finds more credible Justice Sabio’s story about De Borja’s P10-million bribe-offer on behalf of Meralco, than De Borja’s denial that he made such an offer.

However, Sabio was again remiss in his duty to make a full disclosure of the bribery attempt when he mysteriously withheld the name of De Borja as the bribe-giver.

Justice Bienvenido L. Reyes was discourteous to Presiding Justice Vasquez

Reyes addressed a letter on July 22 for Vasquez, reiterating his request that Vasquez decide which Division of the Court of Appeals [will handle the Meralco case]. The Presiding Justice told him and Roxas who had filed an interpleader the previous day, that he would study the matter. However, Reyes and Roxas decided not to wait for Vasquez’s opinion/ruling. Without withdrawing the interpleader petition nor his (Reyes’) letter request …they promulgated the Meralco decision on July 23. Vasquez was completely taken aback when he learned about it on July 24… He felt belittled and humiliated by the discourtesy of the two justices to him.

Justice Myrna Dimaranan-Vidal was too compliant

Vidal deviated from the IRCA when she allowed herself to be rushed by Roxas to sign the Meralco decision…without reading the parties’ memoranda and without the deliberation among members of the Division required by the IRCA. She knew that the TRO would not expire until July 30 … yet she allowed herself to believe Roxas’ misrepresentation that signing the decision was urgent. Her compliance with certain dissembling practices of other justices of the Court, in violation of the IRCA, showed weakness and lack of independence on her part.

Prepared by Kate Pedroso and Schatzi Quodala, Inquirer Research

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