MANILA (3rd UPDATE) - Congress is entitled to two votes in the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), and those two votes will be cast in the selection for the next Chief Justice, at least, for now, as the Supreme Court (SC) resolved to maintain the status quo until it is a full court again to decide with finality on the legislature's representation in the powerful council.
In a 3-page resolution dated Aug. 3, the high court suspended the immediate execution of its July 17 decision clipping Congress' role and vote in the council from two to one. In the said decision, the high court granted petitioner Frank Chavez's plea for a reconstitution of the JBC from a council of 8 to a council of 7 members with Congress only granted one seat.
The move came after Thursday's oral arguments on Congress' motion for reconsideration (MR) on the decision.
"The Court finds it more equitable for the present members of the JBC to resume their task of selecting nominees for the vacant position of the Chief Justice," the high court said.
All 9 justices who took part in the deliberations and voting on the July 17 decision voted to allow Sen. Chiz Escudero and Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas, Jr. to take part in the JBC deliberations and voting on the shortlist of Chief Justice candidates.
"[P]ending the final resolution of this petition, Sen. Escudero and Cong. Tupas, Jr., in their capacities as representatives of Congress, may simultaneously sit as ex officio members of the JBC and exercise the functions flowing therefrom," the high court said.
Faced with two conflicting views -- that of immediately executing its July 17 decision and maintaining the status quo pending the final resolution of Chavez's petition -- the high court said it is "in the best interest of justice" that the case is decided by the 15-member tribunal, which will be after the appointment of the new Chief Justice.
The high court said it was aware that should it stand by the immediate execution of its July 17 decision, the legislature may be left under-represented in the JBC should the final ruling overturn the decision, or, over-represented should the high court affirm the decision in its final full court ruling.
Five justices have inhibited from the case: Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco, Jr., Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Associate Justice Arturo Brion, and Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno -- all of whom are vying for the top judicial post. Once a new chief magistrate is appointed, these inhibitions shall no longer be in effect and all justices may participate in resolution of Congress' MR.
In his petition, Chavez assailed Congress' representation in the JBC. He pointed out that the 1987 Constitution provides for only one representative from the legislature in Sec. 8(1), Art. VIII when it said "a representative of the Congress" is among the council's ex officio members. The high court, in its July 17 ruling, affirmed Chavez's petition.
Congress, for its part, pointed out that the above-stated provision was a mere "inadvertence" on the part of the 1986 Constitutional Commission which later approved a bicameral legislature.
In response to the SC's August 3 resolution, Chavez said: "I consider this is a balancing act on the part of the Supreme Court on the probabilities of congressional over-representation or under-representation but in any event, I stand firm on my belief that the decision on July 17, 2012 can withstand the grounds raised in the motion for reconsideration. I am confident, too, that it will weather this temporary storm even if the matter is submitted to the full court including those who may have earlier inhibited themselves as they submitted themselves to the selection process for the CJ position."
"It stifles my enthusiasm and dampens my spirit but I have an innate sense of iron resolve not to understand the meaning of defeat," Chavez added.