Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Going to the Dogs

PerryScope: Perry Diaz

With all the scandals and anomalies which have erupted during Gloria Arroyo's tumultuous reign, it seems that the Philippines is going to the dogs or could it have gone already to the dogs. With a highly politicized military and an abjectly dysfunctional Congress, the Supreme Court appears to be the only branch of government that has not yet deteriorated. However, some members of the Judiciary have used their position to achieve ends other than protecting the law and safeguarding the constitution of the land.

In my article, "Reign of the Kleptocrats (January 19, 2007)," I said of former Justice Secretary Hernando "Nani" Perez: "The Perez corruption case is one of the most despicable corruption cases because, as the chief guardian of the law, he brazenly broke the law that he swore to protect. He was responsible for the prosecution of law-breakers and now he is prosecuted for breaking the law."

Gloria appointed Perez, an intimate friend, as the Top Lawman of the land after she assumed the presidency on January 20, 2001 when Joseph Estrada was ousted President during the "People Power" EDSA II revolution. Four days later, Perez approved the controversial IMPSA deal in which he allegedly received a $2-million bribe for his ruling favorable to the Argentine-based company. It was also alleged that this amount was part of a $14-million bribe given to Arroyo administration officials. The First Gentleman, Mike Arroyo, was also implicated in the scandal.

Recently, a "bombshell" was dropped involving the two Sabio brothers in the GSIS-Meralco feud. It all started when Associate Justice Jose Sabio Jr. of the Court of Appeals complained that a certain Francis de Borja who, on behalf of Meralco, offered him a P10-million bribe to inhibit himself from the case filed against Meralco, presumably a move that would benefit Meralco. As soon as Justice Sabio disclosed the offer of bribery, de Borja countered and alleged that Justice Sabio wanted P50 million instead. According to de Borja, Sabio told him that Malacanang had offered him a large amount plus a promotion to the Supreme Court. Apparently, Sabio would have preferred P50 million to a promotion to the High Court. Needless to say, Sabio denied de Borja's allegation.

As all of these events were going on, Jesus Santos, a lawyer of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo and a member of the GSIS Board of Trustees, called Camilo Sabio -- older brother of Justice Sabio and Chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) -- to ask for "help" on behalf of GSIS General Manager Winston Garcia. Santos later admitted that he indeed called Chairman Sabio on May 30, 2008. In an interview with dzBB radio station, Santos said: "We are not trying to influence the courts. We were just asking for help for GSIS president and general manager Winston Garcia, for his campaign to give justice to consumers and fellow Filipinos abused by Meralco's policies." Would anybody believe that?

The scandal prompted Senator Ping Lacson to call for the disbarment of Santos and PCGG Chairman Camilo Sabio. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court also formed a panel to investigate the role of the PCGG Chairman in the bribery scandal. But like what had happened in several scandals involving government officials, Malacanang hastily sent Sabio on an "official" trip to Brazil, Austria, and the United Kingdom from August 14 to 30. When his brother Justice Sabio was summoned to testify before the Supreme Court investigation panel, he admitted that his brother Camilo called him twice to influence him to decide in favor of GSIS. With his testimony, the link from Winston Garcia to Justice Sabio was established with Justice Sabio's brother Camilo as the conduit.

On June 12, 2008, several senators called for Camilo Sabio's resignation or removal from office. It is interesting to note that Camilo Sabio was arrested in September 2006 by the Senate for ignoring a Senate subpoena to answer accusations that he and other PCGG commissioners dissipated funds from sequestered Marcos properties. What I found abominable is that Sabio is supposed to be the anti-corruption crusader and advocate for "good government" but as it has turned out, he may have betrayed his duty to the people he swore to protect. What a shame.

Last September 1, 2008, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) published a paid statement seeking the resignation of Court of Appeals justices involved in the bribery scandal and influence peddling in the GSIS-Meralco case. The statement said that "resignation would salvage what is left of the integrity of the Court and is a necessary sacrifice that needs to be made by those whose names have been dragged into the scandal." Now is the opportune time for the Judiciary to clean up house and restore high ethical standards among its members from the Supreme Court down to the Municipal Courts.