By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
The Sandiganbayan Fourth Division has ordered the arrest of former Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) chair Camilo L. Sabio after he was found guilty of graft for reportedly trying to influence his brother, an associate justice of the Court of Appeals (CA) to rule in favor of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) back in 2008.
Sabio was sentenced to a maximum prison term of 10 years and perpetually barred from holding public office. He was acquitted, however in another graft charge for failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
In his motion for reconsideration filed on December 21, 2019, Sabio invoked the Rule on Double Jeopardy, stating that the acquittal of his second graft charge bars the guilty verdict in the first graft charge. He explained that it “constituted double jeopardy, there being a former conviction or acquittal for a similar offense or prosecution.”
The anti-graft court ruled his motion was without merit. In its resolution, the court stressed Sabio’s motion was “belatedly filed,” since it should have been done within 15 calendar days from promulgation of judgment.
“Here, accused Sabio, who was present during the promulgation held on November 29, 2019, was actually notified of the Court’s adverse decision on said date. As such, he had 15 days or until December 14, 2019 within which to file his motion for reconsideration,” the court said.
But even if the court disregarded the time when the motion was filed, it said Sabio’s motion still failed to provide any cogent and substantial reason that would justify its reconsideration.
“While accused Sabio refutes Atty. Santos’ position as a member of the Board of Trustees of the GSIS at the time material to these cases, the Court takes judicial notice…whereby accused Sabio made the judicial admission that he received a call from Atty. Santos, ‘a member of the Board of Trustees of the GSIS,'” the resolution read.
The Sandiganbayan explained that judicial admissions are binding upon the party who made them. Because of this, Sabio cannot deny the same unless there is proof of palpable mistake. “Here, no such evidence was adduced by the said accused, and thus, he remains bound by his admission,” the court said.
The Sandiganbayan said Sabio was “grasping at straws” when he raised the issue of double jeopardy since it does not apply to his case.
“In view thereof, the motion for reconsideration dated December 21, 2019 of accused Camilo Loyola Sabio is hereby denied,” the dispositive portion of the resolution read. “Accordingly, the failure of the accused to file his motion for reconsideration within the prescribed period renders the judgment of conviction…final and executory.”
“Let a warrant of arrest be issued against the said accused and the post-promulgation bond he posted be cancelled,” it added.
The four-page resolution was written by Associate Justice Reynaldo Cruz with the concurrence of Fourth Division Chairperson Alex Quiroz and Associate Justice Bayani Jacinto.
Sabio was slapped with two counts of graft for violating Section 3(a) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. On May 30, 2008, he was accused of being influenced by lawyer Atty. Jesus Santos, another public officer, by persuading his brother, Justice Jose L. Sabio Jr. to help the GSIS in a case filed against it by MERALCO, pending before the 9th Division of the CA, where Justice Sabio sits as Chairperson.
In its ruling, the anti-graft court established that Sabio indeed allowed himself to be persuaded by Santos when he called his brother. Sabio himself admitted this in his signed testimony.
“As we were leaving the airport, I again got in touch with Justice Sabio. After he confirmed that he was in fact in the Division to which the petition of MERALCO had been raffled, I impressed upon him the character and essence of the controversy,” the signed testimony read. “I asked him to help GSIS if the legal situation permitted.”
The court said that because of the phone call, Sabio violated Canon 13 of the Code of Professional Responsibility for Lawyers.
For his second graft charge, the prosecution sought Sabio be held liable for unlawfully persuading, inducing or influencing Justice Sabio to violate Canons 1, 4, and 5 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct.
In the end, Justice Sabio, together with two other Associate Justices of the CA’s 9th Division, decided to grant the temporary restraining order (TRO) of MERALCO against the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and GSIS.