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CA justices vow to overcome controversy

By Leila Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:39:00 09/16/2008

Filed Under: Judiciary (system of justice)

MANILA, Philippines?Fresh from a scandal that cost one of their own his job, the justices of the Court of Appeals on Monday signed a covenant vowing to save the institution?s reputation and restore the public?s faith by being moral, fair and righteous.

Present at the signing were Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno and Justice Adolfo Azcuna, around 30 Court of Appeals justices and court employees who wore pins with the legend ?We Shall Overcome.? Banners with the same message were also seen around the court.

In the covenant, read by Justice Portia Alio-Hormachuelos, the justices acknowledged that the appellate court?s reputation had suffered because of the controversy arising from the decision in Manila Electric Co.?s case against the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).

They were also distressed by the criticism heaped on the court.

?The recent turn of events has plunged the credibility of our court to its lowest. Our reputation as an institution has been badly tarnished. We have been subjected to sweeping generalizations, have been called names, have been despised and insulted. Yes, the tide of adverse public opinion has left us battered and bruised. And we are silently hurting. Our hearts cannot help but grieve,? the justices said in the covenant.

Not an instant recovery

Puno said the Court of Appeals? recovery would not be instant or easy. He agreed that the controversy had brought the court down to its lowest level and that ?the fall of the court has taken place.?

?Let me just emphasize that the road to moral recovery is a long and tortuous road. You have taken the first step,? he said.

Puno also reminded the justices and court employees that the law could not be separated from morality.

?This is a recognition that our legal universe revolves around the sun of morality, that our laws are based on morality and that our judges are called upon to be creatures of high ethics,? he said.

Improper conduct

The controversy stemmed from allegations of improper conduct against the justices involved in Meralco?s case against the GSIS. After an investigation, the Supreme Court dismissed Justice Vicente Roxas for showing undue interest in the case and dishonesty, among other offenses.

Justice Jose Sabio Jr., who had bared an alleged P10-million bribe try by a supposed Meralco emissary, was suspended for two months for discussing the case with his brother who is an executive branch official. CA Presiding Justice Conrado Vasquez Jr. was severely reprimanded for failing to act promptly and prevent the scandal while Justice Bienvenido Reyes was reprimanded for his discourtesy to Vasquez. Justice Myrna Dimaranan Vidal was admonished for signing the Meralco decision without reading the memoranda.

For his part, Vasquez said he would accept the Supreme Court?s final ruling on the controversy and called on the others to do the same because this was ?the best way to uphold the dignity of the Court of Appeals.?

Speaking before his fellow justices, he said: ?As your presiding judge, I have found that the institution will take precedence over my opinions and emotions. I am committed to protect its integrity no matter how excruciating the pain, no matter what the cost, even if it hurts my very own family.?

The covenant signing was held in the Court of Appeals courtyard in front of the main building after the 8:30 a.m. flag ceremony.

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