MANILA (UPDATED) - She is still in the process of accepting her fate in the hands of her peers at the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) who doused all hope for her inclusion in their shortlist of Chief Justice candidates but Justice Sec. Leila De Lima had a mouthful to say about her disqualification.
Speaking to reporters a day after her exclusion from the JBC's voting on the shortlist, De Lima accused the Supreme Court (SC), JBC, and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) of conspiracy in ensuring that she did not make it to the shortlist of candidates for the President's consideration.
"Obvious naman, the Supreme Court, the IBP, the JBC, nagkasundo sila lahat trying to pin me down and bonding together as if nagkaroon sila ngayon ng common objective: anybody but De Lima. That's my feeling. Hindi ko talaga yun naintindihan and why was I singled out for disqualification?" she pointed out.
The JBC disqualified De Lima on Monday because of 3 pending disbarment cases in connection with her defiance of a Supreme Court temporary restraining order (TRO) on the travel ban issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ) against former Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and openly criticizing an incumbent Chief Justice, Renato Corona.
De Lima questioned why the disbarment case against SC Senior Associate Justice and Chief Justice aspirant Antonio Carpio filed by Lauro Vizconde was speedily dismissed by the high court. She also questioned why the high court did not refer the disbarment case against another shortlisted candidated, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, to the IBP, and why the disbarment case against another candidate, Teresita Herbosa of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), was dismissed by the high tribunal last Aug. 1 -- well within the selection period for the next chief magistrate.
"They could have very well just dismissed the disbarment complaints against me... so bakit yung sa akin lang ang pinakagalaw nila during these very crucial times. July 3 ni-refer, walang pag-asa talagang i-resolve yan ng IBP," she said.
De Lima accepted her nomination on July 2, which is why she feels the high court's referral to the IBP the next day of the disbarment cases against her was ill-timed.
The IBP junked De Lima's bid for the summary dismissal of the cases insisting that the referral of the Supreme Court meant there was finding of prima facie evidence against her.
"When were my disbarment complaints referred to the IBP? That was [on] July 3, the very day after I accepted the nomination. They (SC justices) sat down on those cases for 6 or 7 months and then noong nakita nilang inaccept ko na yung nomination, that was the time that they referred [the complaints to the IBP]," she said.
"Bakit yung sa akin lang yung ni-refer... ang IBP naman ininterpret that act of referral by the Supreme Court to the IBP as already a prima facie finding and there is nothing in that [SC referral] resolution which says [that], there is nothing in the [JBC] rules which say that," she added.
She maintained that the cases against her had no merit.
"Those cases are definitely dismissible. I challenge anyone to say na may merit yung mga complaints na yun," she said.
Asked what she felt was the reason why she was "singled out," De Lima said: "Maybe because it's the belief that I'm the favored candidate of the Palace (Malacanan). That's my suspicion."
Despite her objection to the manner by which she was disqualified from the race, De Lima said she will no longer resort to legal remedies so that Pres. Aquino can perform his constitutional mandate of appointing the next Chief Justice within 90 days from the time the office was declared vacant.
Mr. Aquino has until Aug. 27 to appoint the next chief magistrate; incidentally, De Lima turns 53 on that day.
She added that she recognizes the JBC's mandate as well, of being the "sole judge" in determining those qualified for the post.
"I'm not planning to avail of any remedy, if there is any, because I always believe that the JBC is the sole judge of the question on who can be included in the shortlist. I'm part of the JBC, I'm a member of the JBC so I know that... it's just that I was very much unfairly treated," she said.
For now, De Lima intends to focus on her work at the DOJ.
JBC selection process needs reforms
Once she sits back at the council, De Lima intends to push for reforms in the selection process for the top judicial post beginning with the rule on disqualification in the JBC Rules which states that anyone with a pending criminal and/or regular administrative case is disqualified.
The rule is biased in favor of "insiders" or sitting justices of the high court who are aspiring to be Chief Justice, she pointed out, since they may only be removed by impeachment and may not be charged administratively during their incumbency.
"That rule is quite lopsided in favor of insiders of the Supreme Court because kung ganyan, sitting incumbent Supreme Court justices can never be subject of administrative cases because they are impeachable officials. In other words, they can never be disqualified on that ground unlike kaming mga 'outsiders,'" De Lima said.
She will also push for other reforms that will put a stop to "influence peddling" in the selection process by "powerful fraternities and some personalities."
De Lima stressed that her pronouncements are a matter of principle and she saw no problems in continuing her work with other JBC members.
She expressed her gratitude to her supporters and Pres. Aquino who respected her decision to accept her nomination.
While she expressed her congratulations to the next Chief Justice, De Lima expressed hope that the new Supreme Court leadership will expedite a pending contempt proceeding against her in connection with the Arroyo travel ban TRO. She likewise asked the same of the IBP regarding her disbarment cases adding that the IBP already succeeded in "blocking and destroying" her CJ bid.
"I would just like to appeal to him or to her (new Chief Justice) if they (SC) can please expeditiously decide already the TRO disciplinary charge against me, the contempt charge against me. Matagal na rin yun, hindi nila dinidispose yun. I'd like to make the same appeal to the IBP, if they can already expeditiously dispose of those disbarment complaints. Bakit patatagalan pa nila? Anyway, it served the purpose already, yung pendency ng mga disbarment complaints na yan so siguro naman -- since it served their (IBP) objective of blocking and destroying my CJ bid -- the least that they can do is to already dispose of that... as soon as possible... unless ano balak nila i-disbar ako?" De Lima said.
De Lima added that everyone shortlisted by the JBC --- Carpio, Jardeleza, SC Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Roberto Abad, Arturo Brion, and Maria Lourdes Sereno, former Ateneo Law Dean Cesar Villanueva, and former Exec. Sec. Ronaldo Zamora --- are qualified for the coveted post.
SC, IBP react
The Supreme Court denied it was bent on derailing De Lima's bid for Chief Justice.
Acting SC spokesperson Atty. Maria Victoria Gleoresty Guerra said the SC merely performed its duty based on existing rules. The same is true with the JBC and IBP, she added.
"There is no conspiracy. We are just following rules," she said.
Guerra refused to comment if De Lima, through her latest pronouncements against the high tribunal, was courting danger yet again and a fourth disbarment case. Guerra said the justice chief was entitled to her own opinion.
For its part, the IBP assured De Lima that it had nothing personal against her.
"The IBP Board [of Governors] only acts based on the rules. We only follow established rules when acting on disbarment complaints. We have nothing against the Secretary, except we have to abide by the rules," IBP national president Atty. Roan Libarios said.
IBP spokesperson Atty. Trixie Angeles bared the disbarment cases will be resolved under existing rules.
"It [the disbarment] is going to be resolved within 90 days so it is going to end by September or October. She does not have to worry about it. That is part of the mandate given to us by the SC," Angeles said.
Angeles added that the IBP only looks at the merits of every disbarment case raised before it.
"We sympathize with her, she lost her father and she probably aspired for this position. We do not want to put too much weight on an emotional statement. The IBP will not bond with any group to destroy anyone's bid to become CJ. The IBP is never set out to do that.We will resolve the cases referred to us based on the law, rules and existing jurisprudence," she said.