MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 5) - President Aquino will not only appoint the next Chief Justice, he also succeeded in appointing to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) an official directly under his office to cast one of 7 votes in the ongoing search for the replacement of former chief magistrate Renato Corona.
Malacanan has succeeded in retaining its one vote in the JBC following the inhibition of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima who is one of 22 candidates vying for the top judicial post. Her replacement did not come from the ranks of the justice department.
President Aquino appointed Undersecretary Michael Frederick Musngi as De Lima's replacement and the council, via consensus, decided to grant the Palace's request.
JBC member Atty. Jose Mejia told reporters council members gave weight to Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa's assertion, in his letter to the JBC, that the framers of the 1987 Constitution's intent in Sec. 8 Art. VIII (Judicial Department) was to grant the Executive representation in the selection process for judicial posts and for replacements for vacancies in the Office of the Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsman.
"The decision is to allow a representative from the Executive to sit in the JBC... not necessarily from the DOJ. No vote was taken, it was a consensus. The basis [for his appointment] can be found in the letter of Sec. Ochoa in that the are banking on the intent of the Constitution... the Executive would not want to lose that representation by the mere inhibition of the Secretary of Justice," he pointed out.
Musngi, an undersecretary under the Office of the President (OP), officially became a lawyer on Dec. 17, 2012.
Musngi, along with 25 others, were sentenced in Nov. 1993 by Caloocan City Trial Judge Adoracion Angeles for the death of hazing victim Lenny Villa. Musngi and 18 others were acquitted by the Court of Appeals (CA) in 2002.
JBC member Maria Milagros Fernan-Cayosa bared that Musngi attended this morning's council meeting.
"We received his name this morning, and he attended in preparation for the public interviews next week," Cayosa said.
The replacement of a JBC member vying for a judicial or Ombudsman post is a first in the history of the council. In 2008, then Justice Sec. Agnes Devanadera was nominated for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court but then President Gloria Arroyo did not replace her seat and vote in the JBC.
Palace defends appointment
Meantime, Malacañang justified President Aquino’s appointment of an undersecretary from the Office of the President (OP), saying he needs an “alter ego” to represent him in the JBC following the inhibition of de Lima.
In a letter to acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, Aquino said he is designating Musngi, Undersecretary of the Office of Special Concerns under the OP, “as the representative of the Executive Branch” to replace de Lima, “for the sole purpose of participating in the deliberations of the Judicial and Bar Council for the selection of nominees for the position of chief justice.”
“Number one, Undersecretary Mike Musngi is a lawyer. We need a lawyer present there. And as I said, notwithstanding the position—was it JBC that preferred an undersecretary from the DOJ?—it is a decision of the President because the one who sits there is an alter ego," Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.
"Since he addresses the special concerns, this is only of a temporary situation. He, being the Undersecretary for Special Concerns, the President, the Executive Secretary, felt that he will be able to perform the obligation."