MANILA, Philippines - The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) has decided that Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez's replacement will serve a full 7-year term.
This was decided by the JBC in a meeting this morning at the Supreme Court, and it puts to rest the issue on whether Gutierrez's replacement should serve a full term or serve only the remainder of her term which expires on December 2012.
"That's the position of the JBC already. It's for the full 7-yr term," said Sen. Francis Escudero, Senate Justice Committee chairman and JBC member.
Another JBC member, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, presented to the council today her legal opinion on the matter - that the next Ombudsman should serve a full term.
"I actually submitted already an opinion on that legal issue to the Office of the President as early as February of this year so I shared with the body my opinion that it is full term," de Lima said.
In her legal opinion, de Lima cited Section 8 paragraph 3 of the Ombudsman Act of 198 which states that in the event of a resignation, a new Ombudsman shall be appointed for a full term:
"Sec. 8. Removal; Filling of Vacancy. -
(3) In case of vacancy in the Office of the Ombudsman due to death, resignation, removal or permanent disability of the incumbent Ombudsman, the Overall Deputy shall serve as Acting Ombudsman in a concurrent capacity until a new Ombudsman shall have been appointed for a full term. In case the Overall Deputy cannot assume the role of Acting Ombudsman, the President may designate any of the Deputies, or the Special Prosecutor, as Acting Ombudsman.
(4) In case of temporary absence or disability of the Ombudsman, the Overall Deputy shall perform the duties of the Ombudsman until the Ombudsman returns or is able to perform his duties."
Gutierrez resigned from office days ahead of her Senate impeachment trial on grounds of betrayal of public trust for failure to act promptly on complaints against officials of the Arroyo administration on the P728-million fertilizer fund scam, so-called Euro generals scandal and the Mega-Pacific deal, among others.
Her resignation will take effect on May 6.
There were also opinions raised earlier that Gutierrez herself is not serving a full 7-year term because she is serving an unexpired term - that of her predecessor, Simeon Marcelo, whose term expired last October 2009.
The JBC, which is chaired by Chief Justice Renato Corona, has yet to receive an official communication from the Office of the President on the resignation of Gutierrez and the impending vacancy of her office, as is the process before the council can begin its work of screening nominees and applicants to the post.
"We will wait for the official communication from the Office of the President although we can always take judicial notice of the fact of resignation. But mas maganda if there is an official communication from the Office of the President, specifically, the Office of the Executive Secretary na ide-declare na open na yung position, yung position for applications and/or nominations," de Lima said.
Once the communication from Malacañan is received, the JBC will immediately publish the vacancy so that nominations and applications for the post of Ombudsman can be submitted to the council.
Applicants will undergo a screening process and their names will be published for the information of the public.
The JBC will submit to the president a shortlist of not less than 3 persons it deems most qualified for the post; the president will select the new Ombudsman based on that shortlist.
'Fast-track selection process'
House Justice Committee Chairman Niel Tupas, Jr., who headed the impeachment proceedings against Gutierrez at the lower House, said he asked the council to fast track the selection process.
"I will push for fast tracking of the process. Ang problema ngayon, alam naman natin na yung aalis na Ombudsman magiging subject siya, pwede sya maging subject to investigation by the new Ombudsman. At kung papatagalin natin, yung mga papeles dun, hindi tayo sigurado kung ano mangyari... para at least walang duda, kailangan mabilis yung prosesong pagpili," Tupas said.
Tupas said the next Ombudsman must not only possess the commitment to prosecute erring officials of the previous administration, but also those, if any, of the current one.
"Yung bagong Ombudsman, kailangan hindi classmate ni Pres Noynoy Aquino. Kailangan hindi nya kamag-anak. Kailangan yung integrity talagang unquestionable. Kailangan the question should be asked is not only is he or is she willing to prosecute the past administration but is he or she also willing to prosecute the allies of the present administration?" he said.
De Lima, for her part, said the JBC has to tackle in its next meeting on May 23 when the term of the new Ombudsman begins.
"Ang isa pang tanong na kailangan ng validation is from what date is the 7-yr full term to be reckoned... to start from the date of appointment or the date of vacancy? Yan, kailangan ng further research on that, we cannot be very categorical about that (yet)," she said.