MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 4) The Supreme Court has dismissed an associate justice for violating the Code of Judicial Conduct and penalized four others in the bribery controversy at the Court of Appeals.
In a 58-page per curiam decision, the high court, voting 12-1, dismissed Associate Justice Vicente Q. Roxas because of his ?undue interest? in the Manila Electric Company?s case against the Government Service Insurance System.
At the same time, the high tribunal said Roxas failed to rule on several motions, including a motion for his inhibition before issuing a ruling that voided the Securities and Exchange Commission order stopping Meralco from including proxy votes in its board elections on May 27.
The high court -- citing multiple violations of the canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct, grave misconduct, dishonesty, undue interest and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service -- also ordered the forfeiture of all his benefits except accrued leave credits due to. He is barred from working in any branch of the government, including state owned and controlled firms.
On the other hand, the original whistle blower in the bribery scandal, Associate Justice Jose Sabio, was found guilty of simple misconduct and conduct unbecoming of a justice of the Court of Appeals and was suspended for two months without pay.
Although Sabio signed the temporary restraining order to stop the SEC from investigating the proxy votes contrary to the stand of his brother, Presidential Commission on Good Government Chairman Camilo Sabio, his "unusual interest in holding on to the Meralco case seems to indicate that he may have been actually influenced by his brother," the high court said.
It also said that Sabio's continued communication with businessman Francis De Borja, despite the latter?s alleged attempt to bribe him was "highly inappropriate and shows poor judgment on the part of Justice Sabio who should have acted in preservation of the dignity of his judicial office and the institution to which he belongs."
Presiding Justice Conrado Vasquez was severely reprimanded "for his failure to act promptly and decisively in order to avert the incidents that damaged the Court of Appeals, while Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes was found guilty of simple misconduct with mitigating circumstance and was reprimanded.
Associate Justice Myrna Dimaranan-Vidal was found guilty of conduct unbecoming of a justice of a Court of Appeals and was "admonished to be more circumspect in the discharge of her judicial duties."
The four justices were also warned that a repetition of the same or similar offenses would warrant more severe penalties.
Ten Supreme Court justices voted for Sabio?s two-month suspension while one each voted for dismissal, a six-month suspension and a reprimand with credit given for being the whistle blower.
On the other hand, eight justices voted to reprimand Reyes and five voted to suspend him for one month.
Voting on the sanctions imposed on the other appellate court justices was unanimous.
Only Chief Justice Reynato Puno and Associate Justice Antonio Carpio have been allowed to inhibit from the case.
The high court referred the case of Camilo Sabio to the Office of the Bar Confidant and told the Department of Justice (DoJ) to investigate De Borja.
Roxas left early from his office at the Court of Appeals after reports leaked that he has been dismissed.
Sabio, on the other hand, said he would file a motion for reconsideration before the high court.
Earlier in the day, the Philippine Daily Inquirer obtained a copy of the report of the three-man panel that investigated the bribery case at the Court of Appeals and found Roxas, Sabio Jr., Reyes, Vasquez, and Vidal liable.
The panel members, composed of three retired justices, said Sabio's version that he was offered a P10-million bribe by an unnamed emissary of the Manila Electric Co. to inhibit himself from the case was "more credible" than that of De Borja.
De Borja, who felt alluded to, said Sabio told him about being offered a Supreme Court seat and money to rule in favor of the Government Service Insurance System, and that the magistrate wanted P50 million to reject the offer.
But the panel members found that Sabio had "unusual interest in holding on to the Meralco case" and that this "seemed to indicate that he may have been actually influenced to 'help GSIS'" as his brother and PCGG chairman Sabio had advised. This constituted a violation of the code of judicial conduct, it added.
It also said the PCGG chairman?s phone call to his brother Justice Sabio to convince him of the GSIS stand showed that they both violated the Code of Professional Responsibility.
In the case of Roxas, the panel found him "dishonest and untruthful" since he attached a fabricated transcript of deliberations. There were also falsehoods in the supposed transcript, he added.
Roxas also showed "undue interest and unseemly haste" in light of his "rush to judgment."
The panel said Roxas prepared a decision even before the parties had filed their memoranda, and added that he "cheated the parties' counsel of time, effort and energy they invested in the preparation of their ponderous memoranda."
"He made a mockery of his own order for the parties to submit memoranda, and rendered their compliance a futile exercise," it said.
The panel also found "completely false" Roxas? account on why he brought a copy of the decision to Vidal.
As for Vasquez, the panel said he was indecisive in handling the dispute between Reyes and Sabio on which division should decide on the Meralco case. It also criticized his silence, inaction and indifference to the alleged bribery attempt.
The panel found Reyes discourteous to Vasquez for ruling on the case even though the presiding justice had yet to hand down his opinion.
As for Vidal, the panel said she was "too compliant" when she signed the Meralco decision without reading the memoranda and without deliberation.
The panel also found that Roxas violated the Code of Judicial Conduct when he failed to resolve several motions before deciding on the case.
The high court also it was not the first time Roxas failed to resolve a pending motion.
It cited the case of Orocio v. Roxas where Roxas failed to act on a motion despite the promulgation of the main case. He was fined P15,000 and warned that future commission of act of impropriety "will be dealt with more severely."
Roxas is the third Court of Appeals Associate Justice who has been dismissed from service.
Justice Demetrio Demetria was removed form the bench in 2001 after he was found guilty of interceding on behalf of alleged drug queen Yu Yuk Lai.
In 2007, the high court sacked Justice Elvi John Asuncion for gross ignorance of the law and delaying motions of consideration filed before his division. Asuncion was also accused of accepting bribe money.