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The original sin

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:25:00 08/13/2008

Filed Under: Judiciary (system of justice), Graft & Corruption

Chairman Camilo Sabio of the Presidential Commission on Good Government called up his brother, Justice Jose Sabio Jr. not just once, but twice. The first time was on May 30, to lobby his brother to adopt the position of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) versus Manila Electric Co. (Meralco). This was hours before the Ninth Division of the Court of Appeals (temporarily headed by Sabio) issued a temporary restraining order in Meralco?s favor. Camilo called up Jose at 8 a.m., when the court?s practice is to hand down its decisions at 10 a.m. Then, after the Court of Appeals decided the case with finality on July 23, Camilo called up Jose again, asking why he hadn?t signed the decision.

When Camilo called the first time around, he informed Jose that he was going to be the acting chairman of the Special Ninth Division of the court; and that furthermore, a TRO against the Securities and Exchange Commission order that the GSIS desired was being prepared. Camilo suggested to Jose that the latter shouldn?t sign the TRO. When Camilo called once more, it was to ask why the 8th Division, and not the Special 9th Division, which incidentally Jose had lobbied strenuously to keep on heading even after Justice Bienvenido Reyes, the person he was substituting for, was back on the job.

What has been unfolding as the Greatest Legal Show on Earth as far as Philippine lawyers are concerned so far validates the old saying that whenever you point a finger at someone, you point three fingers at yourself.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Romeo Callejo Sr., one of those conducting the investigation, bluntly asked Justice Sabio why he didn?t bring up the intervention of his brother previously?or castigate his brother. ?Why did you not report your brother?s attempt to influence you? That was unethical. You did nothing; you are a professor of ethics. Did you not consider that your brother?s attempt was criminal?? Callejo asked.

Sabio?s replies alternated between the irrelevant (his brother was older than he, he said) to patent hair-splitting (there was no outright offer of a bribe from his brother). They only reduced the reasonable doubt so far supporting Sabio by reducing the options the justice operated under to three: he was hopelessly naďve; he has been too clever for his own good; or he is a bumbling prisoner of circumstance, who has blown the lid off a legal system so thoroughly tainted it cannot absolve itself the longer the inquiry continues.

For the original sin, it seems to have been established now by Justice Sabio?s own testimony, was committed by his own brother. When Chairman Sabio talked to Justice Sabio on May 30, it was an obvious effort to influence the workings of the court (and a tacit admission that the courts are riddled with moles who report to the Palace). When Sabio didn?t squeal on Sabio, he condoned the older Sabio?s crime. It also now calls into question Justice Sabio?s squabble with fellow Reyes over who should have jurisdiction over the case.

And it also explains why Justice Sabio would, in turn, on July 1, meet lawyer Francis de Borja to discuss a case he had every reason to know would be brought up by a party friendly to Meralco. It?s either that the Ateneo de Manila Law School?s professor of legal ethics had no comprehension of the subject he teaches or he is a plain and simple hypocrite.

And it provides circumstantial evidence for concluding that Sabio was playing off both sides to see who might bid highest, confirming, incidentally, many details in De Borja?s affidavit while calling into question the completeness, and ultimately the veracity, of Sabio?s own statements.

Justice Sabio came forward to virtuously blow the whistle. But now the question is: Why so selectively? And while he denied allegations of Palace blandishments to do the GSIS? bidding, he conveniently left out his brother?s intervention. He is looking more and more like a man who got a juicy Palace offer but tried to cash in quickly by basically making it obvious to the other side he would be open to a counteroffer.

The problem with trying to play both sides off against each other is that sometimes it leaves the double-dealer left holding nothing but an empty bag.

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