FOR transgressions of the Code of Judicial Conduct, committing “irregularities and improprieties” prejudicial to the integrity of the judiciary, five justices of the Court of Appeals were meted sanctions by the Supreme Court ranging from dismissal, suspension and reprimand in connection with the Manila Electric Company (Meralco)-Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) bribery scandal.

Meted the severest sanction of removal from the service and forfeiture of retirement benefits (except for accrued leave credits) was CA Justice Vicente Roxas, the ponente of the controversial July 23 decision that nullified the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) order prohibiting the use of proxy votes by Meralco in its boardroom battle with GSIS last May 27.

The other main protagonist in the case, Justice Jose Sabio Jr., who blew the whistle on the alleged P10-million bribery attempt by Cagayan de Oro businessman Francis de Borja for him to relinquish the chairmanship of the CA’s Special Ninth Division, was suspended for two months without pay for “simple misconduct and conduct unbecoming of a justice.”

The Supreme Court, meanwhile, reprimanded CA Presiding Justice Conrado Vazquez for his failed leadership in handling the Meralco case. Eighth Division Chair Bienvenido Reyes and Sixth Division member Myrna Dimaranan-Vidal were admonished for not taking appropriate action.

The sanctions were based on the 59-page report of the SC panel composed of retired SC Justices Carolina Grino-Aquino, Flerida Ruth Aquino and Romeo Callejo. The panel’s investigation revealed “irregularities and improprieties committed by the Court of Appeals justices, in connection with the Meralco case…which are detrimental to the proper administration of justice and damaging to the institutional integrity, independence and public respect for the judiciary.”

Of the new Code of Judicial Conduct, the panel noted violations, particularly by Sabio, of Canon 1 on judicial independence. Canon 1 provides that:

Judicial independence is a pre-requisite to the Rule of Law and a fundamental guarantee of a fair trial. A judge shall, therefore, uphold and exemplify judicial independence in both its individual and institutional aspects.

The CA justice admitted that his brother, Presidential Commission on Good Government Chairman Camilo Sabio, called him up twice to influence him to support the GSIS in its battle to wrest control over Meralco from the Lopezes. Sabio never informed Vazquez about his brother’s phone calls.

In discussing the Meralco case with de Borja, Sabio also violated the seal of confidentiality in pending court cases.

For such acts, the panel found Sabio in breach of the following pertinent sections of the Code:

  • Section 1. Judges shall exercise the judicial function independently on the basis of their assessment of the facts and in accordance with a conscientious understanding of the law, free of any extraneous influence, inducement, pressure, threat or interference, direct or indirect, from any quarter or for any reason.
  • Section 4. Judges shall not allow family, social or other relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment. The prestige of judicial office shall not be used or lent to advance the private interests of others, nor convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.
  • Section 5. Judges shall not only be free from inappropriate connections with, and influence by, the executive and legislative branches of government, but must also appear to be free therefrom to a reasonable observer.

The other two justices, Reyes and Vidal, were only admonished for simple misconduct. Reyes was cited for being “disrespectful” to Vazquez as he signed the decision penned by Roxas without waiting for Vasquez to settle the issue as to which division — his or the Special Ninth Division chaired by Sabio — would promulgate the decision on the Meralco case.

Vidal, on the other hand, was found to be “too compliant” particularly when she deviated from the internal rules of the CA, allowing herself to be rushed by Roxas to sign the Meralco decision on July 8, 2008, without reading the parties’ memoranda and in the absence of any deliberations among members of the division.

While there have been fewer justices than judges found culpable for violations of the ethical standards, the CA justices in the Meralco-GSIS bribery case are among the few who have been sanctioned with the New Code of Judicial Conduct in effect.

Last year, another appellate court justice, Elvi John S. Asuncion, was dismissed from service for gross ignorance of the law and manifest undue interest in a case. Asuncion was also meted a three-month suspension for unduly delaying the resolution of numerous pending motions for reconsideration, in violation of Section 5, Canon 6 of the new Code which provides that ‘judges shall perform all judicial duties, including the delivery of reserved decisions, efficiently, fairly and with reasonable promptness.'”

The first CA justice to be dismissed from service, Demetrio Demetria, was found guilty in 2001 of violating Rule 2.04 of the old code for interceding in the case of suspected drug queen Yu Yuk Lai at the Department of Justice.

Promulgated by the Supreme Court for the Philippine judiciary on April 27, 2004, and which took effect on June 1, 2004, the new Code of Judicial Conduct reinforces the existing Canons of Judicial Ethics and the old Code of Judicial Conduct as a set of standards for the ethical conduct of judges (including justices).

A cornerstone of then Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr.’s reform program, the Code was patterned after the Bangalore Draft Code of Judicial Conduct endorsed at the Round Table Meeting of Chief Justices held at The Hague, The Netherlands in November 2002, with certain amendments to suit the country’s distinct legal and judicial culture.

Read the Philippine Code of Judicial Conduct, with annotations.

The Code contains six canons — one more than the 1989 Code — dealing with judicial independence, integrity, impartiality, propriety, equality, and competence and diligence. According to the Supreme Court, Its nuanced and often overlapping rules are meant to be respected by judges in both their public and private lives.

The Code’s basic and guiding principle, as laid down in the high tribunal’s past decisions, is that a judge not only must possess competence in the law but also have moral integrity. “Magistrates are measured not only by their official acts, but also by their private morals, to the extent that these are externalized.”

2 Responses to When justices go bad: Breaching the code of judicial conduct



September 11th, 2008 at 9:23 pm

The SC noted that THE ELEMENTS OF CORRUPTION, CLEAR INTENT TO VIOLATE THE LAW OR FLAGRANT DISREGARD OF ESTABLISHED RULE wasn’t manifested by Jose Sabio’s behavior that’s why a Simple Misconduct was handed down. A rather misplaced judgment, I should think.

Well, anyway, the SC will most likely get away with their verdict on Jose Sabio but lest it be forgotten, Dishonesty lies at the top end in the spectrum of gravity of misconduct

Jose Sabio definitely committed a Lie of Omission when he didn’t inform the Presiding Justice about his brother’s phone call. It would have significantly alter Conrado Vasquez’s take on the matter.

Dishonesty is one of the Grave Offenses and corresponds to a Dismissal.



September 20th, 2008 at 6:31 pm

This whole issue of 5 CA justices being involved in the bribery case has two aspects, namely legal and ethical.The case is primarily legal because first and foremost it involves magistrates and second it also involves violations of the legal canon. On the other hand, it has an ethical dimension to it because it involves the moral dilemma of big time cases being settled by back-channel maneuverings etc. While the High Court may find that the justices’ actions do not fully violate the letters of the law, i believe that the actions had done more damage to the ethics of presiding over legal disputes. If the Meralco case has been settled beforehand via phone calls and room visits, not through division hearings, then litigants in other cases might as well play cara y cruz or even “bato bato pick’ to settle legal scores.

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