MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Appointments (CA) on Wednesday approved the appointment of the private sector's representative in the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), but only after grilling her on the composition of the body when it recently screened nominees for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Aurora Santiago-Lagman, a retired Court of Appeals justice, faced questions from some lawmakers who believe the selection of Usec. Michael Frederick Musngi as replacement for Justice Secretary Leila de Lima in the JBC was irregular.
Musngi, who comes from the Office of Special Concerns of the Office of the President, replaced De Lima after she accepted her nomination to be Chief Justice. De Lima would later be disqualified from the race because of pending disbarment cases against her.
Lagman said she initially expressed her opinion against allowing Musngi to replace De Lima.
"I voiced my opinion that the ex-officio members are members of the JBC by virtue of their office. But when we received the designation from the Chief Executive saying that there should be a representative from the executive considering that the secretary of justice is considered as the representative of the executive, and the majority of the members of the JBC accepted that, then I felt that it would be an exercise in futility for us to insist," she said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said it would have been more prudent for De Lima to take a leave of absence and have an officer-in-charge take her place.
Lagman pointed out, however, that De Lima did not take a leave and merely inhibited from the JBC's proceedings.
"I will take the answer to mean that you'd rather defer to the decision of the Supreme Court if and when these issues are questioned before the Court," Lacson said.
"Not necessarily," Lagman replied. "In the first place, nobody has brought that issue before us. So we did not have really an occasion to discuss this matter."
Rep. Rodolfo Antonino said the JBC should have resolved the issue even before voting on the shortlist of nominees for Chief Justice that it submitted to President Aquino.
He believes the JBC failed to maintain its independence when it allowed Malacañang to select De Lima's replacement.
Antonio also expressed concerns about the possible repercussions if someone raises the issue before the Supreme Court and it rules that he JBC's composition with Musngi was unconstitutional.
"I wouldn't call it dereliction of duty, but certainly an omission for the JBC not to clear this up," Antonino told Lagman.
Lagman said the JBC would take a closer look at its rules.
"I appreciate your concern," she said. "That is a strong reason for us to revisit our rules."