THE SABIO LETTER
July 26, 2008
HON. CONRADO M. VASQUEZ, JR.
Court of Appeals
Maria Orosa St., Ermita, Manila
RE: C.A. G.R. SP No. 103692
ROSETE et al vs. SEC et al
Dear Presiding Justice Vasquez:
The attendant circumstances, the manner by which the decision in the above case was arrived at, and how the decision was promulgated behooved me to write this urgent complaint. Unless immediate and thorough investigation thereon be undertaken by this Court, both the individual and institutional integrity of the justices and of this Court will undoubtedly be tarnished. If that happens, the public’s confidence in the judicial process will be irreparably undermined and damaged.
The genesis of this complaint:
The above case was raffled to Ponente, Justice Vicente Roxas, who at that time was its Senior member, with Justice Bienvenido Reyes, chairman and Justice Myrna Vidal, Junior member of the Ninth Division. Since Justice Reyes was on leave at that time and considering that a TRO was prayed for, a raffle was made for an acting Third Member, who happened to be Justice Jose Mendoza. However, because Justice Jose Mendoza was formerly connected with Petitioner MERALCO, another raffle was conducted and I took over and acted as chairman.
On May 30, 2008, convinced of the urgency of the matter, and the merit of the prayer for the issuance of a TRO, I signed the TRO prepared by Ponente Justice Roxas who surprisingly personally brought it to my office at that time. Justice Roxas was told that we should schedule the case for hearing on oral arguments which was to be done on June 23 and 24, 2008.
Sometime on June 16 or 17, 2008, Justice Bienvenido Reyes returned from vacation. To my puzzlement, on June 20, 2008, I received a copy of a letter sent by Justice Edgardo Cruz, addressed to Justice Bienvenido Reyes, with an opinion that Justice Reyes should take over the case and for me not to continue.
Thereupon, I called you up and told you that I found it strange that Justice Reyes never told me about the matter in spite of the fact that we were seated together several times on separate occasions. If you recall, I commented then that I smelled something fishy about the move. For one, the alleged opinion was a personal opinion of Justice Edgardo Cruz, who acted in his personal capacity. I conveyed to you that I wondered why the matter was not openly and deliberately discussed with you.
You were informed then that it was my considered opinion that I was still the proper party to hear the case. On the morning of July 23, 2008, just before the scheduled hearing, I went to Justice Martin Villarama Jr., a more senior, experienced and respected member of this Court for consultation and guidance. Justice Villarama advised me that my stand was correct and therefore I should remain in this case.
Thus, the hearing as scheduled on the morning of June 23 proceeded, where I presided and all parties joined in the spirited arguments on the pros and cons of the petition. After the oral arguments, the parties were directed to submit their respective memoranda simultaneously within fifteen (15) days from that date, addressing all the issues directed by the Court. Incidentally, before the hearing, Justice Roxas requested me if he could read a prepared paper. Finding it to be a kind of scripted speech, I told him it was restrictive and not proper for an open hearing.
Then sometime on July 1, 2008, a Makati businessman whom I knew way back then, called me up and requested for an urgent meeting. Since I had classes from 6 pm to 8 pm that said businessman waited to see me in the Law School after my class. It turned out that he was brokering for MERALCO. He started by explaining to me the problem between Justice Reyes and myself, and who should continue to handle the case. I was surprised why he came to know about this matter considering that it was an internal problem and that it only happened very recently. He then proceeded to explain to me that their lawyers wanted to directly challenge my stand but another lawyer advised them that it might become messy. So, they were talking of a win-win situation, which meant offering P10M for me to give way to Justice Reyes. I politely declined the offer and told the emissary that it was not only a matter of principle but that it will affect the integrity of the Court. Before he left, he told me that they were still hoping that I could see it their way. In their eagerness to succeed on that aspect, the emissary even called up a close family friend in Cagayan de Oro to help them convince me to accept the offer.
If you recall, the morning after, I went to see you in your office and informed you of the attempt to have me ousted from the case. Justice Villarama was likewise informed by me of the said disturbing incident.
Again, sometime on July 4, the emissary frantically tried calling me. To put an end to the pestering calls, I told the emissary that to accept the offer would not only bother my conscience forever, but also that I could not possibly face my wife, my two daughters—one a lawyer and the other a Bar candidate, as well as the rest of my family. I already discussed my stand with my family and to suddenly change my stand would have definitely affected them. Besides, I told him: “How can I reconcile my being a member of Philja’s Ethics and Judicial Conduct Department, being MCLE lecturer and Ateneo’s Pre-Bar reviewer in Legal and Judicial Ethics, if I accepted the offer?” His feeble answer was, “we are not doing anything illegal since we do not ask you to decide one way or the other.” I told him, “It is a matter of principle.”
Before we ended the conversation, the emissary said that they will be forced to resort to other means to have Justice Reyes assume the chairmanship. I countered that since that would involve the integrity and reputation of the Court, they will have to contend with me.
On July 4, 2008, Justice Roxas was frantically getting in touch with me to discuss the case while I was on official leave. I told Justice Roxas that I still needed ample time to read the memoranda of the parties to intelligently discuss the case with him. Justice Roxas told me that he will have the memoranda sent to me immediately.
Surprisingly, on Monday, July 7, 2008, an urgent motion for Justice B. Reyes to assume the chairmanship was filed by Petitioner MERALCO. If you again recall, we had a discussion on the matter and you finally advised me to discuss the matter with Justice B. Reyes.
Sometime in the afternoon of July 8, 2008, Justice B. Reyes came to see me in my office, to discuss, among others, the urgent motion. I told Justice Reyes that I found the motion rather strange and even referred to it as stupid. I further told Justice Reyes that in my more than nine years in the Court, I never came across such a kind of pleading; and that the proper pleading to file should have been a motion to have me recuse or inhibit myself.
I also told Justice B. Reyes of the P10M offer for me to give way to him. It was then that I confronted Justice B. Reyes with the following questions:
“If you will insist on assuming the chairmanship, after you have been told of the P10M offer, what will I think of you now? Why should MERALCO insist on you assuming the chairmanship and have me ousted?”
“Is it because they are certain of your loyalty and they are uncertain with mine?”
“Can you blame me now if I will think that you are a part of this whole scheme or shenanigan?”
“Does not the timing alone stink of corruption? After they failed to convince me of their offer, now they will use you to oust me?”
“Why did they (MERALCO) actively participate in the hearing on the 23rd and never raised any question regarding the supposed irregularity of my presiding over the hearing?”
“Why do you insist on assuming the case? Are you not aware that several days after the issuance of the TRO, respondents (GSIS) filed a motion for inhibition and motion to lift the TRO? Who then has the right to resolve such motions?” (Sad to say that up to this time, said motions have been left unresolved.)
“Under the circumstances do you expect me to give way to you?”
His feeble reply was “I am afraid that they will file a case of non-feasance against me.”
I told him that this was not a case of non-feasance and explained to him how that could not be possible, having taught the subject for some time.
The next day, Justice B. Reyes went to see Justice Villarama to seek his advice on the impasse. According to Justice Villarama, he advised Justice Reyes to lay off the case and allow me to continue and to resolve the urgent motion for assumption of Justice Reyes.
In the morning of July 11, I prepared a resolution referring the “Urgent Motion for Justice B. Reyes to Assume the Chairmanship” to the respondents for comment. I forwarded the resolution to the office of Justice Roxas who was in possession of the rollo. Again, sadly, the said resolution died a lonely death in the office of Justice Roxas, for it was never released.
Then on July 14, before the flag-raising ceremony, I requested Justice Roxas for a meeting regarding the case, since I had already read the memoranda submitted. Initially, Justice Roxas agreed, but after our snacks at about nine o’clock he advised me that he cannot attend the meeting because he had another matter to attend to. He also said he could not be available in the afternoon. Since that time, I had been trying to get in touch with Justice Roxas for a meeting, but he could not be reached in his office and neither did he answer my text messages for a meeting. Justice Vidal had also been eagerly awaiting this meeting.
I came to know later that as early as July 11, Justice Myrna Vidal already signed the ponencia only to be advised by Justice Roxas that he needed the decision back and could not forward it to me because he still had to incorporate some 10 pages which he forgot to include in the decision. I was disturbed by the fact that even if only few days have lapsed since the memoranda were submitted, Justice Roxas could already write and prepare a more than 50-page decision.
I also learned that a corrected decision where Justice Vidal was unceremoniously ousted was signed by a new member, Justice A. Bruselas, Jr. on July 17, although promulgated on July 23, when I was on official leave. Again, why was Justice Vidal unceremoniously removed when the case was with the Special Ninth Division of which she was a regular member? A case of one blunder after another.
But the worst was yet to happen in this case. On July 21, 2008, Justice Roxas filed with you, as Presiding Justice (PJ), an interpleader petition. Justice B. Reyes also wrote you a letter on July 22, 2008, requesting you to rule on the impasse. Without waiting for your ruling on the matter—which you did on July 24, 2008—they already promulgated the decision on the 23rd. Was it because they anticipated your opinion to be adverse to their stand that they disrespected your office by promulgating the decision earlier?
Above premises considered, I urge an investigation. At stake is not only the individual integrity of the justices but also the institutional integrity of the Court. Canon 2 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct clearly provides that “integrity is essential not only to the proper discharge of judicial office, but also the personal demeanor of judges.” Section I thereof provides: “Judges shall ensure that not only is their conduct above reproach, but that it is perceived to be so in the view of a reasonable observer.” In fact in one case, the Supreme Court said: “In the judiciary, moral integrity is more than a cardinal virtue. It is a necessity.” (Fernandez vs. Hamoy, 436 SCRA 186)
With the events that transpired as narrated, and in light of the high mandate imposed by the New Code of Judicial Conduct, as well as the pronouncements of the Supreme Court, there is a need for a no-nonsense investigation by this Court, if only to protect and defend its integrity and to encourage public confidence in the dispensation of justice.
Very respectfully yours,
JOSE L. SABIO, JR.