Court of Appeals and Meralco

Many people still believe in the overall integrity of the Court of Appeals (CA) despite claims some of its rulings went on sale. But when the case involving the tug-of-war between the Lopezes and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) for control of the board of the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) went to the CA, I wondered.

That wonder turned into concern when the CA issued a controversial ruling favoring Meralco and CA Associate Justice Jose Sabio Jr. wrote a letter to his chief that mentioned, among others, a P10 million bribe offer allegedly by the Lopezes. If the bribe attempt is true, it must have been prompted by the belief CA justices can be bought.

I don’t consider as credible the subsequent attempt by businessman Francis Roa de Borja, the alleged emissary of the Lopezes, to turn the table on Sabio. No matter what he will say now, his effort to talk with Sabio gave away his intent. It was suspicious, to say the least, as the meeting was no chance encounter and the Meralco case is sensitive.

Whether the bribery issue will further bury the CA’s image or not will now depend on the investigation initiated by the Supreme Court. My hope is that this could spark the needed cleansing process, that is, if public perception about the CA has basis. If there was really an attempt to bribe Sabio, a deeper probe into CA corruption is in order.

The blow, however, would be harder on the Lopezes, whose control of Meralco has already been marred by accusations of profiting from the misery of electricity consumers. If there was really an attempt to influence the CA decision, then the Lopezes are desperate. It shows them grabbing at straws to be able to retain control of Meralco.

And even if the probe will eventually clear the Lopezes, the case should have already opened our eyes to the reality that corruption in this country is not only about politicians but more so about us in the private sector who have no qualms giving bribes to government people for selfish ends. The corrupter can be more guilty than the corrupted.

By the way, I find the silence of the usual critics in our midst over this issue rather surprising. The Makati Business Club, for example, ever quick to criticize government corruption, is clamming up, and so too vociferous Catholic Church bishops. Is this because the Lopezes, who owns TV giant ABS-CBN, has been dragged into the mess?

(I wrote this for my July 7, 2008 “Candid Thoughts” column in Sun.Star Cebu)

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