MANILA, Philippines -- Former Senate President Jovito Salonga, founder of the judiciary watchdog group Bantay Katarungan or Sentinel of Justice, said Saturday there was widely perceived corruption in the Court of Appeals and called for a cleanup in the appellate court.
The 88-year-old Salonga, mentor to a good number of magistrates and a frequent amicus curiae of the Supreme Court, made the remarks days after an appellate court justice and a businessmen traded accusations of bribery and extortion over a case involving the Manila Electric Co. and the Government Service Insurance System.
?It is true that there is bribery in the CA,? Salonga told the Inquirer. ?It should already be stopped. The bribery should be exposed. It should be the beginning of legal reforms in our system of justice.?
Asked whether Sabio's revelation of an alleged P10-million bribe offer for him to inhibit himself from Meralco's case against the GSIS was a positive development, Salonga said: ?Yes, undoubtedly.?
Fr. Joaquin Bernas, dean emeritus of the Ateneo de Manila School of Law, told the Inquirer that the charges between Sabio and businessman Francis Roa-de Borja were bad for the judiciary but he welcomed the Supreme Court?s intervention.
?The allegations will not do the judiciary any good but the investigation of the Supreme Court will,? Bernas said in a brief telephone interview.
De Borja countered Sabio's charges by claiming the magistrate had mentioned the P50 million as the amount he would accept to turn down an alleged government offer of a Supreme Court seat and money if he favored the GSIS in its dispute with Meralco. The case, which was subsequently decided by another branch of the appeals court, ruled in favor of Meralco.
Salonga would not give the names of people in the Court of Appeals allegedly involved in bribery and other forms of corruption.
?Your newspaper and I might be sued for libel. But the notoriety is known,? Salonga said.
Salonga said the lawyer-members and even the ?student monitors? of Bantay Katarungan know who these personalities are and how the corruption works in the appellate court.
Students from various law schools do volunteer work for the watchdog group.
?They know who these people are,? Salonga said.
Bernas, an eminent constitutionalist and also an adviser to the Supreme Court in important cases, begged off from making any further comment on the issue of bribery involving Sabio, De Borja, and the power distribution utility.
?I don't know the facts,? Bernas said.
Bernas did say that while he didn?t know De Borja, he knew Sabio to be a principled man. Sabio teaches legal ethics at the Ateneo and has received unequivocal support from his fellow members of the faculty and students.
?I consider (Sabio) to be an honest man,? Bernas said.
Salonga said he didn?t know Sabio personally and declined to give his views on whether Meralco was capable of offering bribes to justices to have its way in the judiciary.
?I was a lawyer for Meralco. I would be biased,? Salonga said.
Salonga said Sabio's revelation was yet another sign that there's a need to reform the Court of Appeals and other courts.
?We, in Bantay Katarungan... have been exposing and underscoring the need for reforms in our system of justice,? Salonga said. ?We have written to the Judicial and Bar Council and from time to time the appointing power on the need for reforms in specific instances not only in the CA but in the other courts.?
A recent victory for Bantay Katarungan was the Supreme Court's rejection of the appointment of Sandiganbayan Justice Gregory Ong's appointment to the High Tribunal in 2007.
It was Bantay Katarungan and Salonga's other non-government organization, Kilosbayan, that questioned Ong's appointment to the Supreme Court on account of his being born a Chinese citizen.
Opposition congressman and former law school dean Cagayan De Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez said he salutes Sabio for his revelation.
?This may be an initial black eye for the Court of Appeals...but if (Sabio) just remained silent nothing will happen,? said Rodriguez, a lawyer and former law school dean.
Sabio, like Rodriguez, hails from Cagayan De Oro.