The Supreme Court acted swiftly in meting out punishment on the erring Court of Appeals justices involved in the GSIS-Meralco case. Barely a week after the investigating panel composed of ex-SC Justices Grino-Aquino, Romero and Callejo submitted their findings and recommendations, the High Court imposed sanctions supposedly commensurate to the offenses of those involved. The ponente of the questionable decision favoring Meralco, Justice Vicente Roxas, was kicked out of the CA for dishonesty, having exhibited undue interest in the case, discourtesy to his fellow magistrates and failing to act on pending motions before handing down the decision. He even fabricated a transcript of deliberations between the justices who signed the questioned decision, according to the investigating panel’s findings.
Whistleblower Justice Jose Sabio was suspended for two months without pay. This after admitting that he met with Meralco emissary Francis De Borja and was asked by his elder brother Camilo Sabio, chair of the PCGG, to rule in favor of GSIS. He was scolded for “clinging” to the case even after the presiding justice of the division handling the case, Justice Bienvenido Reyes, for whom Sabio temporarily substituted, had returned from a vacation. Sabio refused to turn over the reins to Reyes.
CA Presiding Justice Conrado Vasquez was severely reprimanded for “failure of leadership” and his inability to speedily resolve the conflict over jurisdiction between Sabio and Justice Reyes. Justice Reyes was found guilty of simple misconduct. Justice Myrna Dimaranan Vidal was admonished for being “too compliant” and signing the decision merely on the importunings of Justice Roxas and without reading the case records.
All’s well that ends well ? Not quite.
Businessman and Meralco intermediary Francis De Borja was heard to whine that Sabio was given a slap on the wrist when he should have been dismissed. I have to agree. At the very least, his suspension could have been longer, as he is surely guilty of grave misconduct and conduct unbecoming of his exalted position. It appears that, far from being the blameless snitch be made himself out to be, Sabio was himself a major player in the whole affair. He was certainly approachable, and gave his ear to both sides of the controversy. His acts may be said to constitute undue interest in the outcome of the case.
Justice Vasquez was also less than forthcoming in not disclosing a potential conflict of interest , in that his sister and two daughters are working for the GSIS. Therefore, a simple reprimand seems too light for what is obviously serious dishonesty on the part of the highest official of the appellate court.
And why was the personal lawyer of presidential hubby Mike Arroyo, Atty. Jose Santos, who was appointed to the GSIS board and tried to intervene in behalf of the government insurance fund, not made to answer for his admitted meddling ? It was at Santos’ behest that Commissioner Camilo Sabio called up his younger brother, Justice Sabio, to ask the latter to favor the GSIS.
The most compelling question, of course, is who the persons are behind Justice Roxas’ extraordinary efforts in behalf of Meralco.
In fact, a lawyers’ watchdog group, Operation Clean Hands Inc., called on Justice Roxas to reveal who influenced him to act the way he did “in order to complete the cleansing of the judiciary”. In a statement, the group said:
[An] Investigation should be conducted on who influenced, motivated or corrupted Justice Roxas to act dishonestly and untruthfully. It is a safe assumption, based on the circumstances, that Justice Roxas did not do what he did without the enticement or prodding from either a party-litigant, a litigant’s friend, a lawyer or law firm.
Not that some measure of poetic justice has not been served. The whistleblower has himself had the whistle blown on him. The professor of legal ethics learns a real-world lesson in judicial mores.
The chances that the justices involved in the scandal will be considered for eventual appointment to the SC have been rendered nil or non-existent.
Justice Roxas has also been disgraced, perhaps irredeemably, and by some ironic twist of fate, his most virulent tormentors are his own fraternity brothers in Sigma Rho of the U.P. College of Law. SC Justice Antonio Carpio inhibited himself from deciding on the disciplinary case against the CA justices by saying that his former firm represents Meralco. Conveniently, this excused him from ruling on the dismissal from the judiciary of a Sigma Rho frat bro. However, the head of Operation Clean Hands Inc. is outspoken former Solicitor General Frank Chavez, a Sigma Rhoan. And prominent Sigma Rho alum Senator Juan Ponce-Enrile has gone on record demanding that Roxas be disbarred as well.
He deserves to be booted out of the judiciary. In fact, he should be disbarred.
The Department of Justice has also been directed to look into the possible criminal liability of the persons involved. This whole sordid business is far from over.
Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez believes that Sabio’s acts constitute impropriety at its highest level and is a more serious administrative offense which calls for a more severe penalty.
Raul Pangalangan points out the many unanswered questions regarding how the CA scandal was handled and hopes the SC will not miss this opportunity to send a strong message that it will not tolerate corruption.
This is one of those rare moments in legal history when the stories that are usually heard in hushed tones in the corridors are suddenly documented for all to see. The Supreme Court decision should aim not merely to punish but to teach. It must expose a story that many judges and lawyers have seen and not told and, now by telling, steel them for those moments when, tempted, they might yield.