MANILA, Philippines - The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) ends Friday its two-month search for the next chief justice as it votes on a final shortlist of candidates from which President Aquino will make his choice.
Lawyer Jose Mejia, council member representing academe, said their final deliberation – which was deferred four times in the past two weeks – starts at 10 a.m.
Unlike the oral interviews with the 20 aspirants, voting will not be open to media coverage. Voting results will be released after the closed-door meeting.
“We are hoping to finally complete the process so the President will have ample time for the crucial choice,” he said.
The JBC first set the voting last July 30 but opted to defer it until Aug. 2 and await a Supreme Court (SC) final ruling on the constitutionality of the council’s eight-member composition being questioned by former solicitor general Frank Chavez.
The SC ruled last July 17 that there should only be seven members of the council with just one representative from Congress as provided for in Article VIII Section 8(1) of the Constitution.
But after holding oral arguments, the high court last Aug. 3 suspended the implementation of its order pending resolution of Congress’ appeal.
The JBC then reset the voting to Aug. 6, but Sen. Francis Escudero asked for more time to examine the qualifications of the 20 candidates since he was not able to join the oral interviews because of the SC ruling.
Bad weather prompted another deferment.
But before voting on the shortlist, the eight-member council would first deliberate on whether to qualify Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and four other aspirants who have pending administrative cases. De Lima faces two disbarment cases with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).
JBC rules provide for automatic disqualification of aspirants for judicial posts with pending criminal or regular administrative case.
De Lima wrote the council last week seeking an amendment to the rule, arguing that the complaints against her were mere harassment cases.
“I still hope that the JBC will see through the nature of the disbarment complaints against me as nothing but harassment cases, and which should not be used to disqualify me, and do the same for other similarly situated candidates,” she said in her letter.
Yesterday, De Lima expressed confidence that she would make it to the JBC final shortlist.
“Yes, I want to be considered. I am confident, I am hopeful I can make it. Each and every nominee is hoping to be included in the shortlist,” De Lima told reporters on the eve of the JBC vote.
At the same time, she said she was cognizant of the JBC rule disqualifying any nominee facing a disbarment case.
“The IBP (Integrated Bar of the Philippines) rejected my motion for summary dismissal of the complaints or preliminary determination of merit, including my motion for reconsideration. The Supreme Court sat on those complaints, to which I filed my answers six months ago. Those should have been disposed of already. So ang feeling ko, naiipit ako dito (My feeling is I’m being caught in a bind here),” she said.
“It’s not fair for me and especially I do think even on the merits, those complaints do not deserve consideration. Look at the grounds. I’m not being accused of corruption, misconduct or whatever. It’s supposed to be my alleged defiance of the TRO of the Supreme Court (on the departure of the Arroyos in mid-November) and my alleged negative remarks in public, which the complainants did not even bother to specify,” she added.
Failing to convince the IBP to throw out the complaints, De Lima has written the JBC to relax its rule disqualifying a nominee with a pending administrative or disbarment case.
President Aquino had admitted having ordered Malacañang lawyers to help her with the IBP cases, but refused to say if she was his choice for chief justice.
Sen. Francis Escudero, who represents the Senate in the JBC, has said the disbarment case-related disqualification rule should be applied to the Justice secretary. – With Jess Diaz