Manila high court reins in judges over bribery scandal

MANILA, Sept 9 Tue Sep 9, 2008 8:06am EDT

MANILA, Sept 9 (Reuters) - The Philippines' Supreme Court removed one judge, suspended another and disciplined two others on Tuesday after a bribe was allegedly offered during legal deliberations over a corporate takeover battle.

"This is a wake-up call for all our justices," Jose Midas Marquez, the Supreme Court spokesman, told reporters.

In July the Court of Appeals halted an attempt by the state pension fund, GSIS, to wrest control of Manila Electric (MER.PS) from the Lopez family, one of the Philippines' wealthiest clans.

Amid allegations of underhanded dealings, the 15-member Supreme Court looked into the proceedings and found there were no deliberations on the case.

One of the five justices handling it had written a ruling before a petition was filed. He was dismissed for violating the magistrate's "code of judicial conduct".

The inquiry said that a 10 million peso ($214,000) bribe had been offered to one justice by a businessman who wanted a ruling in favour of the Lopez family.

The Lopez family has denied any part in the controversy. The businessman has denied offering a bribe.

A senior state official had also tried to convince his younger brother, a member of the court, to rule in favour of the government pension fund, according to the Supreme Court inquiry.

Marquez said one appeals justice was suspended for two months for discussing the case with a private businessman and his older brother who occupies a government position. Two other justices were reprimanded for their role in the controversy.

Marquez said the high tribunal also asked the justice department to investigate the businessman at the centre of the bribery allegations.

Corruption is widespread in the Philippines, rated 131st out of 179 countries by graft watchdog Transparency International in a 2007 report, in which the lower the ranking the more corrupt a country is considered.

Rogue soldiers have highlighted corruption concerns in three failed attempts to seize power from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. (Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Jerry Norton)

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