MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Veteran journalist Marites Vitug on Thursday said the acceptance of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima of the nomination to become the next Chief Justice is "not a good sign."
Vitug said the secretary's acceptance came as a surprise following reports that she initially declined the nomination.
De Lima is a known ally of President Benigno Aquino III and testified in the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
"Apparently, it was confirmed that President [Aquino] met with her and apparently convinced her to accept the nomination. So that's not a good sign, isn't it?" Vitug told ANC’s “Prime Time.”
Vitug also said that although de Lima performed well in her interview with the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) on Tuesday, she wasn’t given the chance to share her ideas on judicial reform.
“She is able to present her arguments quite clearly. But beyond that, there are also other requirements such as reform ideas because that’s the crying need of the moment,” she said.
Vitug added that the panel should have asked de Lima if she was able to improve the disposition of cases as Justice Secretary.
In her interview with the JBC, de Lima said she will not be beholden to the President if ever she is appointed as Chief Justice.
De Lima said she will not be the President’s alter ego and that their perceived closeness is merely speculation.
"I will not have accepted the nomination if I am not sure of the strength of my character,” she said.
On Monday, the JBC will decide if de Lima is qualified for the nomination due to pending disbarment cases filed against her before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).
Vitug, author of “Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court,” welcomed the televised interviews of Chief Justice nominees, saying it is a good step towards transparency.
“It’s a great improvement. It’s no longer midnight in the court,” she said.
Vitug also said the involvement of social media was a welcome development in the process of selecting the next Chief Justice.
"I was surprised that even questions from Facebook and Twitter were being asked, there was really public interest. It’s a sign that it is being opened to the public,” she said.
However, Vitug noted that the deliberations of the JBC should also made public because according to her, “that’s where the lobbying can be seen.”
“Lobbying is going on as we speak so it’s important to open the deliberation,” she said.
She also said because of the live interviews, the JBC seems to be more prepared in their line of questioning, but stressed that the more “provocative” and “enlightening” questions remain unasked.
Vitug cited as an example the voting record of Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, which was never raised in her interview on Thursday.
Vitug said the panel never addressed the “elephant in the room,” referring to de Castro’s voting pattern on cases such as the constitutionality of the Truth Commission, the impeachment of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, and the temporary restraining order on Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s watchlist order.
“The judges’ core work is their decisions. It shows their integrity and their competence,” she said.