Rosete v. SEC (A.M. No. 08-8-11-CA; September 9, 2008)

CASE DIGEST: RE: LETTER OF PRESIDING JUSTICE CONRADO M. VASQUEZ, JR. ON CA-G.R. SP NO. 103692 [Antonio Rosete, et al. v. Securities and Exchange Commission, et al.]

FACTS: On April 15, 2008, Justice Bienvenido L. Reyes (Justice Reyes), then Chairperson of the Ninth Division of the CA, filed an application for leave from May 15, 2008 to June 5, 2008. Justice Jose Mendoza (Justice Mendoza) was then designated as Acting Chairman of the Ninth Division during the absence of Justice Reyes.

On May 29, 2008, officers, directors and/or representatives of the Manila Electric Company (Meralco), filed with the Court of Appeals a petition for certiorari and prohibition with prayer for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order (TRO) against the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). side from the application for immediate issuance of a TRO, petitioners prayed for the issuance of a preliminary injunction that should thereafter be declared permanent, as well as a declaration of nullity of the cease and desist and show cause orders issued by the SEC.

The case was raffled to Justice Vicente Roxas (Justice Roxas). But due to the information from Atty. Elamparo of GSIS that legal representatives of Meralco allegedly tried to influence Justice Roxas, GSIS filed an ex-parte motion to have the case re-raffled and for Justice Roxas to be inhibited from participating in the case on the ground that he used to be a lawyer of the Meralco. The motion was granted.

Meanwhile, Atty. Elamparo "received a telephone call from somebody who did not identify herself but (who) said that she had important information regarding the Meralco case." The unidentified caller told Atty. Elamparo that "a TRO was already being prepared and that certain Meralco lawyers had in fact been talking to Justice Roxas."

Likewise, Justice Sabio received a telephone call in his chambers from his older brother, Chairman Camilo Sabio (Chairman Sabio) of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) and a certain Mr De Borja. Chairman Sabio informed his brother that he (Justice Sabio) had been named the "third member" of the division to which the MERALCO¬GSIS case had been raffled. Justice Sabio was surprised as he had not yet been "officially informed" about the matter. Chairman Sabio likewise informed him that a TRO had been prepared. Chairman Sabio then tried to convince Justice Sabio "of the rightness of the stand of the GSIS and the SEC," and asked his brother to help the GSIS, which "represents the interest of the poor people." Justice Sabio told his brother that he would "vote according to [his] conscience" and that the most that he could do was "to have the issuance of the TRO and the injunctive relief scheduled for oral arguments," at which the respondents "must be able to convince" him that the TRO indeed had no legal basis.

Thereafter, Justice Jose Sabio Jr. (Justice Sabio) was assigned as Acting Chairman of the Ninth Division by raffle.

Justice Roxas brought to the office of Justice Sabio, for the latter’s signature, the TRO which he had prepared, already signed by himself and Justice Dimaranan-Vidal. Convinced of the urgency of the TRO, Justice Sabio signed it on condition that the case will be set for oral arguments.

Thus, the Special Ninth Division composed of Justices Sabio, Roxas and Dimaranan-Vidal, issued the Resolution granting the TRO prayed for by the petitioners and directing the respondents to file their respective comments (not a motion to dismiss) to the petition within ten days from notice, with the petitioners given five days from receipt of that comment within which to file their reply. It also set the hearing for the application for issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction.

Justice Reyes came back from his leave and a question arose as to who should have the records of the case, is it Justice Sabio (Acting Chairman of 9th Division) or Justice Reyes. Justice Sabio insisted that the rollo should be with him.

Justice Reyes wrote Presiding Justice Vasquez a letter calling the attention of Justice Cruz as to who between him and Justice Sabio should receive the case. Justice Cruz responded that the issuance of a TRO is not among the instances where ‘the Justices who participated’ in the case shall ‘remain’ therein." Hence, Justice Cruz opined that "notwithstanding the issuance of the TRO (not writ of preliminary injunction), the case reverted to the regular Chairman (Justice Reyes) of the Ninth Division upon his return."

Justice Sabio, in turn, opined that "a temporary restraining order is part of the injunctive relief or at least its initial action such that he should be the one to chair the Division." But before Presiding Justice Vasquez was able to resolve the matter, Justice Reyes went ahead with Justice Roxas and decided on who should be the chairman over the said case.

Subsequently, Mr. De Borja again called up Justice Sabio, seeking to meet with him for an "important" matter. Mr. De Borja intended to influence Justice Sabio to side with Meralco. At that time, Mr. De Borja was carrying a "sealed" brown paper bag, which he was handling "as if something important" was inside. However, Justice Sabio did not know if the bag contained P10 million. De Borja, however denied such allegations and countered instead that it was Justice Sabio who solicited P50 Million from him.

On July 4, 2008, the reorganization of the Court of Appeals became effective and brought Justices Reyes, Roxas and Bruselas to the Eighth Division. Justice Reyes went to see the Presiding Justice about the urgent motion for him to assume the chairmanship of the Division.

Meanwhile, Justice Roxas brought to the office of Justice Dimaranan-Vidal "the final decision on the MERALCO case" bearing his signature, which he gave to Justice Dimaranan-Vidal for "concurrence/dissent." According to Justice Dimaranan-Vidal, Justice Roxas explained to her the "rationale for his conclusion." Justice Roxas went out for a while and returned "with an expensive looking travelling bag" from where he pulled out the "purported final decision." Before the close of office hours, Justice Roxas returned to the chambers of Justice Dimaranan-Vidal to check if he (Justice Roxas) had signed his decision. When she replied that yes, he had signed it, Justice Roxas said he would pick it up the next day

After "a careful and judicious study" of the more than 56-page decision of Justice Roxas, Justice Dimaranan-Vidal signed it. True to his word, Justice Roxas personally picked up the decision that day "purportedly for the action of the Acting Chairman, Justice Sabio," who was then on leave of absence.

ISSUE: WHETHER CERTAIN JUSTICES OF THE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED IMPROPRIETIES AND VIOLATIONS OF THE CODE OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT HELD: Justice Roxas, for inexcusably failing to act on a number of motions of the parties prior to the promulgation of the Decision is found to have violated Section 5 of Canon 6 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct which mandates that judges shall perform all judicial duties, including the delivery of reserved decisions, efficiently, fairly and with reasonable promptness." Thus, it has become well-settled in jurisprudence that even just undue delay in the resolving pending motions or incidents within the reglementary period fixed by law is not excusable and constitutes gross inefficiency. Moreover, Justice Roxas is guilty of gross dishonesty. The so-called "transcript" is a fabrication designed to deceive that there had been compliance - when actually there was none -- with the prerequisite of the IRCA that consultation and/or deliberation among the members of the Division must precede the drafting of a decision. His testimony that when he brought the Meralco decision to Justice Dimaranan-Vidal on July 8, 2008, it was only a draft for her to read, because she asked if she may read it, not for her to sign it, is completely false. Under Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, dishonesty is considered a serious offense that may warrant the penalty of dismissal from the service.

Moreover, Justice Roxas showed a lack of courtesy and respect for his colleagues in the Court of Appeals. Lastly, Justice Roxas’ questionable handling of the Meralco case demonstrates his undue interest therein. Justice Roxas prepared the decision before the parties had filed their memoranda in the case and submitted it to Justice Dimaranan-Vidal for her signature on July 8, 2008. His "rush to judgment" was indicative of "undue interest and unseemly haste

Associate Justice Vicente Q. Roxas is found guilty of 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, and is DISMISSED from the service, with FORFEITURE of all benefits, except accrued leave credits if any, with prejudice to his re¬employment in any branch or service of the government including government-owned and controlled corporations Associate Justice Jose L. Sabio, Jr., on the other hand, is found guilty of simple misconduct and conduct unbecoming of a justice of the Court of Appeals and is SUSPENDED for two (2) months without pay, with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts will warrant a more severe penalty.

Justice Sabio Jr.’s action of discussing the Meralco case with De Borja was highly inappropriate and indiscreet. He ignored the injunction in Canon 1, Section 8 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary that: "Judges shall exhibit and promote high standards of judicial conduct (and discretion) in order to reinforce public confidence in the judiciary which is fundamental to the maintenance of judicial independence."

Indeed, the Court agrees with the Panel that the allegation of solicitation on the part of Justice Sabio is not credible. Nevertheless, the continued communications between Justice Sabio and Mr. De Borja even after the latter’s rejected bribery attempt is 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.

As for Justice Reyes, he is found guilty of simple misconduct with mitigating circumstance and is REPRIMANDED, with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts will warrant a more severe penalty.

It bears repeating here that under Canon 5, Section 3 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct, judges are mandated to show the appropriate consideration and respect for their colleagues in the Judiciary. Justice Reyes is guilty of simple misconduct, which is mitigated by the fact that he repeatedly asked Presiding Justice Vasquez to act on his request to rule on the conflicting interpretation of the IRCA. However, Justice Reyes should be reprimanded for taking part in the decision of the subject case without awaiting the ruling of the Presiding Justice.

Justice Dimaranan-Vidal, on the other hand, is found guilty of conduct unbecoming a Justice of the Court of Appeals and is ADMONISHED to be more circumspect in the discharge of her judicial duties. She deviated from the IRCA when she allowed herself to be rushed by Justice Roxas to sign the Meralco decision on July 8, 2008, without reading the parties’ memoranda and without the deliberation among members of the Division required by the IRCA. She violated Sections 1 and 2 of Canon 1 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Allowing a fellow justice to induce her to deviate from established procedure constitutes conduct unbecoming a justice for which Justice Dimaranan-Vidal should be ADMONISHED to be more circumspect in the performance of her judicial duties.

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