SC gives panel 10 days to finish bribe probe

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE Supreme Court yesterday gave the panel of former justices a 10-day extension, or until Sept. 4, to submit its findings on a bribery scandal at the Court of Appeals.

The panel had originally been told to submit its findings by Aug. 21 on allegations bribes had been offered or sought in the corporate dispute between the Government Service Insurance System and the Lopez group over control of power distributor Manila Electric Co.

But Chief Justice Reynato Puno yesterday granted a request for more time from former Justice Carolina Griño-Aquino, who heads the panel.

“The panel has been conducting the investigation morning and afternoon every working day, but foresees that it will not be able to finish the investigation and submit its report and recommendation to the Honorable Court on Aug. 21, 2008,” Aquino said in her letter to Puno.

The panel has been conducting daily hearings since Aug. 7.

At the resumption of hearings yesterday, another panel member, former Justice Romeo Callejo, scolded the chief legal counsel of the GSIS, Estrella Elamparo, for seeking the inhibition of Justice Vicente Roxas on the basis of unfounded allegations that he met with Meralco lawyers.

Callejo noted that Elamparo filed a motion for inhibition against Roxas even though her only evidence against him was an anonymous phone call.

“If there is one particular lesson, I want you to remember in this panel hearing is that you [Elamparo] must be candid, and that facts and evidence should be offered in the motion to inhibit, instead of attacking the reputation of a member of the judiciary,” Callejo said.

Callejo also inquired whether it had been necessary for Elamparo to bring the pleadings personally to Roxas, when a messenger could have done it.

“Your honor, the case is considered very urgent for GSIS, so I decided to file the pleadings personally to the receiving section and to Justice Roxas,” Elamparo said.

She added that nothing in the Code of Conduct stopped lawyers from filing their own pleadings.

But Callejo admonished Elamparo to refrain from doing so, saying it would cast doubt on her integrity and the judge she visits.

In her testimony yesterday, she denied Roxas’ allegations that the purpose of her May 29 visit to his office was an effort to influence him in favor of the GSIS.

Elamparo had earlier said she and six other GSIS lawyers were in the Court of Appeals on May 29 because they were filing a motion seeking a re-raffle of the Meralco case, as they were not represented when the designated decision writer was selected.

She also denied Roxas’ allegations that she and a colleague, Orlando Polinar,had tried to barge inside his private chambers.

“We formally introduced ourselves to staff present and stated our name and offices. We even had time to ask a research lawyer of Justice Roxas present whether we could present our pleadings to him personally. And when the staff lawyer declined, we then requested permission to just leave our pleadings before going our way,” Elamparo said.

She said that she and Polinar stayed only for five minutes.

Elamparo said she had no knowledge of whether top GSIS officials had discussed the case with Presidential Commission on Good Government chairman Camilo Sabio, older brother of Justice Jose Sabio, who first raised the bribery alarm.

In his testimony, the justice admitted that his brother had called him twice to lobby in favor of the GSIS, but said he would not be swayed.

The PCGG chairman has been ordered to appear before the panel, but left the country shortly after the hearings began, and said he would be unavailable until after Aug. 21.

The extension of the panel’s deadline will mean it can call the PCGG chairman to testify on his role in the brewing scandal.

At yesterday’s hearings, the panel also granted a motion from the lawyer of Justice Bienvenido Reyes to compel the GSIS to produce documents showing the job descriptions and pay grades of the relatives of Presiding Justice Conrado Vasquez working for the state pension fund.

The petition was filed after Roxas, in his testimony, suggested that Vasquez was partial to the GSIS because he had relatives working there.

A white paper that Roxas presented was stricken from the record because it could not be verified.

In granting the petition, the panel overrode objections from Vasquez, who denied Roxas’ allegations.

Vasquez had earlier said the allegations against him were an attempt by “Meralco to bring them all down.”

Also at yesterday’s hearing, Justice Sabio traded insults with businessman Francis Roa de Borja, who accused him of soliciting a P50-million bribe to inhibit himself.

Sabio had accused De Borja of brokering for the Lopez group by offering him a P10-million bribe.

In cross-examining De Borja, Sabio cited unnamed friends who said they called the businessman “Mr. Commissioner”—suggesting he was known for arranging kickbacks in government deals.