CA affirms Sabio’s perpetual disqualification from public office
MANILA, Philippines — The Court of Appeals has affirmed the Office of the Ombudsman’s decision to perpetually disqualify from holding public office Camilo Sabio — the former chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government — for trying to influence his brother, then a Court of Appeals justice, during the ownership squabble that engulfed the Manila Electric Co. in 2008.
In an eight-page decision dated March 31 and released last Friday, the appellate court’s 13th Division denied the petition for review filed by Sabio, seeking the nullification of the decision rendered by the Ombudsman on October 25, 2011, that found him guilty of grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
Aside from the perpetual disqualification to hold elective and appointive positions in government, the Ombudsman ordered Sabio’s civil service eligibility canceled and his retirement benefits forfeited.
“[T]rying to intercede on behalf of another litigant to influence in any manner the outcome of the dispute pending in court of law falls below the standard required a public servant … Accordingly, a public servant must exhibit at all times the highest sense of honesty and integrity not only in the performance of his official duties but in his personal and private dealings with other people,” the court said in the decision written by Justice Sesinando Villon.
The other division members, Justices Rodil Zalameda and Pedro Corales, concurred in the ruling.
Based on court records, Sabio called his younger brother, then appeals justice Jose Sabio Jr., to inform him that he has been named third member of the division to which the Meralco case has been raffled.
Meralco was then in the middle of an ownership dispute that began in May 2008 after the Government Service Insurance System, which held four of the 11 director’s seats in the firm, questioned before the Securities and Exchange Commission the alleged invalidated proxy votes used by the Lopez family in the board election.
After the Court of Appeals issued a temporary restraining order favoring the Lopez group, Justice Sabio called a press conference and claimed that an emissary of Meralco tried to bribe him with P10 million to have a case transferred to another appeals court justice.
The PCGG chair later told a panel of investigators formed by the Supreme Court that he made the call to his brother after he was asked by a GSIS official to help the government’s case. Justice Sabio, on the other hand, also admitted to having been called and tried to be convinced by the PCGG chief to decide in favor of the government.
In February 2012, the Ombudsman found Sabio, by then retired, guilty of misconduct for violating legal and ethical rules and for unduly prejudicing and compromising the image and independence of the judiciary.
Affirming the Ombudsman, the Court of Appeals ruled: “A judicious reading of the assailed joint decision of the Ombudsman would show that the same was legally justified, being supported by competent evidence on record and was not rendered in a capricious or whimsical exercise of judgment.”
In September 2008, the Supreme Court, after evaluating the findings of the panel, penalized the appeals justices who handled the Meralco case. The decision-writer, Justice Vicente Roxas, was dismissed; Sabio was suspended for two months; and justices Bienvenido Reyes and Myrna Dimaranan-Vidal were reprimanded and admonished.
The GSIS later divested its stake in Meralco in favor of San Miguel Corp. and its private partners while the Lopezes also sold most of their stocks to businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan’s group of companies. SFM
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.