SC forms panel to probe CA bribery

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE Supreme Court yesterday created a three-member panel composed of retired justices to investigate a bribery scandal at the Court of Appeals involving a corporate dispute over control of Manila Electric Co.

In a special en banc session, the court set up an investigating committee, led by retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Carolina Grino-Aquino, to investigate allegations of irregularity in the way the Eighth Division of the appeals court had ruled, as well as claims by Associate Justice Jose Sabio Jr. that a businessman acting on behalf of the Lopez group, which controls Meralco, had offered him P10-million to step aside for a justice with whom they were “more comfortable.”

Sabio also accused Associate Justice Vicente Roxas of coming out with a decision on the Meralco dispute without reading the arguments by the Lopez group or the Government Service Insurance System, which is seeking to wrest control over the power distributor.

The two other members of the panel are retired Justices Flerida Ruth Romero and Romeo Callejo Jr.

The panel starts daily hearings on Aug. 7, and has until Aug. 21 to complete its investigation.

Three justices—Chief Justice Reynato Puno and Associate Justices Consuelo Ynares-Santiago and Antontio Carpio—inhibited themselves from the proceedings yesterday, citing different personal reasons.

Last week, businessman Francis Roa de Borja criticized Sabio and accused him of soliciting a P50-million bribe to rule in favor of the Lopez group.

De Borja said he had been acting on his own when he met Sabio to discuss the Meralco case.

Sabio said De Borja was lying and added he would be filing bribery and perjury charges against the businessman.

A lawmaker from Nueva Ecija urged the House of Representatives to investigate the scandal.

Nueva Ecija Rep. Gilbert Violago, who is set to file a resolution this week, also wants Congress to draft bills that would provide stiffer penalties against bribery.

Other lawmakers urged the Supreme Court to speed up its investigation of the scandal to repair any damage to the appeals court’s integrity.

Power distributor Meralco said it welcomed an audit of its books ordered by the Energy Regulatory Commission.

In a statement, Meralco vice president for corporate communications Elpi Cuna said they were willing to accommodate the audit by the Commission on Audit.

“In fact, we will provide the CoA representatives with all the necessary assistance, including the office space they will need while working here in Meralco,” Cuna said.

The Energy Regulatory Commission informed Meralco of the audit in a letter dated July 30.

The audit is being made in response to a request from the National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reforms, which is representing consumers who have been challenging Meralco’s power rate increases.