POSTSCRIPT / March 4, 2012 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Another SC decision may raise new storm

AUGEAN STABLES: President Noynoy Aquino, I concede, has good reasons taking on the Herculean challenge of cleaning the stinking Augean stables of the Supreme Court even at the risk of being accused of meddling in a co-equal branch.

I have seen indications of the judicial mess, but was turned off by the crude manner the President’s trumpeters and members of the House Railroad Co. have been forcing out the tribunal’s rascals in robe in disregard of due process.

As pointed out, the target is actually not the Court as is, or the institution itself. What have to be cauterized are some of the justices populating — and polluting – the judicial premises with transactional agenda.

But how does one start to chip away at a solid black rock called the Supreme Court except by being rough with it? Gentle persuasion may not work, especially with people in a hurry to see results.

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MERALCO CAPTURE: Unknown to mortals who have not set foot on the marbled portals of the High Court, a recent SC decision paves the way for a bloc led by businessman Roberto Ongpin to snare Meralco shares worth at least P10 billion.

The decision – penned by the famous Lucas Bersamin of the First Division — will bring Ongpin and his San Miguel allies closer to controlling Meralco and other juicy interests down the line such as the 55-billion-kilowatt energy sector.

Shortly after the decision was handed down last December, businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan increased his shareholdings by buying 2.55 percent more from the Lopez group to firm up his precarious 48-46-percent edge over Ongpin-San Miguel.

There is a rarely mentioned 3.7-percent shareholding of Josefina Lubrica that was a swing vote in the balance of power then separating the Lopez family, who managed Meralco, and the Ongpin bloc by a mere 0.5 percent.

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WHO VOTED: Bersamin’s ponencia was signed and concurred in by no less than Chief Justice Renato C. Corona and his associates in the division, namely justices Teresita de Castro, Martin Villarama and Mar del Castillo of plagiarism fame.

After Del Castillo, Bersamin has been mentioned by House prosecutors as next in line for an impeachment case for his ponencia favoring San Miguel and businessman Danding Cojuangco in the decades-old coco levy case.

In November 2008, Meralco cancelled 42 million shares in the name of Land Bank in favor of Lubrica pursuant to an order of the Regional Agrarian Reform Adjudicator Conchita Miñas and by virtue of two Supreme Court decisions, one of them en banc, declaring  Miñas’ order final.

The new Bersamin-authored decision was rendered in Land Bank of the Philippines vs Federico Suntay represented by Lubrica in GR 188376. Among other things, it ordered:

“… Meralco to cancel the stock certificates issued to Josefina Lubrica and to any of her transferees or assignees, and to restore the ownership of the shares to Land Bank and to record the restoration in Meralco’s stock and transfer book….”

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FLIP-FLOP: Bersamin’s ponencia last December overturned a previous en banc SC ruling in LBP vs Raymunda Martinez in GR 169008, DARAB vs Lubrica in GR 159145, and a recent decision by the same justices of the First Division in LBP vs Listana in GR 168105.

It is remarkable that Corona and De Castro were both signatories of the Martinez case en banc decision that they now contradict!

Many lawyers have noted that the decision seems to run against the principle ofstare decisis and res judicata as well as Article VIII, Section 4 and Paragraph 3 of the Constitution that prohibits an SC division from overturning a decision of another division, much more an en banc ruling.

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COUP FOILED: In 2008, the Land Bank joined Social Security System, Development Bank of the Philippines and the Government Service Insurance System in unloading their Meralco shares to Ongpin’s Global 5000 in support of the GSIS-led attempt to take over the utility firm.

When Global launched the blitzkrieg, it reportedly had only a capitalization of P60 million, an oddity that is now being investigated by the proper agencies. But it had as allies San Miguel and its main stockholders Danding Cojuangco and Ramon Ang.

The move reportedly had the blessings of a powerful couple in the Arroyo administration with links in the three branches of government and some government-controlled corporations and private firms.

In December 2008, LBP executed a contract to sell its shares to Ongpin’s Global. But the contract was not implemented as Lubrica was able to lodge the disputed shares with the Philippine Stock Exchange.

The PSE, however, suspended trading of Meralco shares for a month until the disputed Lubrica portion was segregated. A protracted legal case followed, culminating with the Bersamin decision.

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STATUS: Lubrica has filed a motion to toss back the matter to the en banc, citing alleged violations of the Constitution, among other reasons. Where the shares go could tilt the precarious balance of power in Meralco.

Ongpin’s Global 5000, meanwhile, is being investigated by the Commission on Audit for having been allowed by the Arroyo administration to buy shares despite its being under-capitalized, among other reasons.

There is fear that the Bersamin division’s ruling overturning an en banc decision may free the pivotal Lubrica shares to enable one party to press its plan to control Meralco and eventually the power industry.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 4, 2012)

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