MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Tuesday said she will not be an alter ego of President Aquino if she is appointed Chief Justice.
Speaking before the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) on Tuesday, de Lima said her perceived closeness to the President is just speculation, adding that she will not be beholden to the appointing authority.
"I will not have accepted the nomination if I am not sure of the strength of my character,” she said.
She also said the rules do not say that being the alter ego of the President means disqualification for the position of Chief Justice.
De Lima admitted she agrees with the policies of the administration, particularly its thrust on good governance and accountability. She said she would inculcate the ideal of “matuwid na daan” (righteous path) in the judiciary if she is appointed.
De Lima confessed to being nervous in facing a jury of her peers in the JBC. She also said she did not know if she was emotionally prepared for the interview since she recently had to attend to her father who is very ill.
“My father is very ill. It pains me to leave his bedside,” she said.
Defying the SC
De Lima received a grilling before JBC Chairman Diosdado Peralta who questioned why the justice chief defied a Supreme Court (SC) temporary restraining order (TRO) allowing former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to leave the country last year.
The justice chief said the Department of Justice did not receive a copy of the SC TRO and that Mrs. Arroyo was not able to follow the conditions set forth in the TRO.
“There is no defiance of the TRO. I did not willingly defy the TRO. It was a matter of the former president hurriedly and prematurely trying to leave the country inspite of the case and inspite of the non-service of the TRO,” she said.
She also noted that she would obey the SC order if it is regular and is in consonance with the rules.
Peralta, however, said de Lima’s obedience to the court order seemed conditional since it would depend on what is stated in the TRO and her own interpretation of it.
He said that lawyers should file the necessary motion to lift the issuance of a TRO “rather than to disobey it on the grounds that in its face, it is not in accordance with the rules.”
The JBC Chairman also raised the possibility that de Lima could be disqualified due to pending disbarment cases filed against her before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).
He noted that the Supreme Court had remanded the disbarment cases against de Lima before the IBP for further investigation.
“Disbarment proceedings are a long process. You might be called for clarificatory proceedings, you might present witnesses…and will go to the IBP. If you are appointed Chief Justice, any recommendation of the IBP, whether to dismiss, suspend or disbar, will come to the court. Imagine the problem of the court if you are now the Chief Justice and the recommendation is disbarment. Wouldn’t it be more prudent if we should fist decide on the disbarment before anything else?” he asked.
De Lima admitted that time is not on her side regarding the disbarment case, but said she is confident that the cases will be thrown out.
If appointed Chief Justice, de Lima said she will espouse a higher degree of tolerance on the part of the judiciary with regard to contempt powers.
She said the contempt powers in the sub judice rule are sometimes misapplied, likening it to a gag order on affected parties as well as the media.
De Lima said her age, at 52, is more of an advantage if she is appointed Chief Justice. If appointed Chief Justice, de Lima would reign until she reaches the retirement age of 70.
“I don’t think my youth will pose a disadvantage. I will have the energy and dynamism to respond and to attend to the needed reforms. My being young would afford me the opportunity to re-establish values of consistency, predictability, stability which are hallmarks of a strong justice system,” she said.
Lady Chief Justice
Asked about the advantage of appointing a lady Chief Justice, she said she would have the passion to discharge the mandate conscientiously.
She also admitted that she is soft-hearted despite showing a no-nonsense persona in public. “Grabe naman ang temper ko,” she added when asked about her worst character trait.
How would she want to be remembered?
"I want to be remembered as someone who provided the leadership, the vigor and the hard work for the institution to be a trusted and respected institution. That is always my aim even way back when I was in the Commission on Human Rights," she said.