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Sereno slammed for clipping SC powers

Looks like Supreme Court Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno, who heads the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) is in hot water with her colleagues in the SC, mainly for what the associate SC justices say, which is that Sereno has  been clipping the powers of the High Court’s influence over the selection of judicial appointees.
In its latest ruling made public yesterday, the SC took exception to the JBC’s deletion of Rule 8, Section 1 of the Revised Rules of the JBC which mandates the screening body to give “due weight and regard” to the recommendees of the SC for a High Court vacancy.
Apparently, Sereno has been in the thick of getting more powers for herself over the choice of nominees for both the High Court,  the Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan and the lower courts’ vacancies, which the JBC task is focused on coming up with a list of judicial candidates that would be submitted to the President for him to make his choice.
Apart from this issue of Sereno and the JBC usurping the power of the SC, the same court also took note of the removal of incumbent senior SC justices as consultants of the JBC, a multi-sectoral body composed of the chief justice, justice secretary, a representative from Congress, academe, private sector, retired SC justices and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.
Said the SC: “These changes in settled rules and practices recently adopted by the JBC under Chief Justice Sereno are disconcerting,
“There appears to be a systematic move by the JBC, under Chief Justice Sereno, to arrogate to itself more power and influence than it is actually granted by the Constitution and this Court, and at the same time, to ease out from any legitimate participation in the nomination process for vacancies in the judiciary, specifically, in the Supreme Court,” it added.
The SC slammed the deletion of provision on the SC’s recommendatory role from the Revised JBC Rules that “formally institutionalizes Chief Justice Sereno’s unilateral decision to abandon a well-established rule, procedure and practice observed by the Court, and completely precludes the incumbent Supreme Court justices from expressing their views on the qualifications of the applicants to the vacancies in the Supreme Court.”
The SC said Sereno had ruled against seeking the views of the incumbent SC justices during the nomination process for the post vacated by then Associate Justice Roberto Abad in May 2014.
Another plaint of the SC justices is that they were also not given the chance to know the applicants to the post that eventually went to Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa in early 2016.
More: The SC also hit out at Sereno and the JBC for removing and relieving  incumbent SC justices as JBC consultants, “without notice, warning or explanation to the Supreme Court en banc.”
Sereno recently unceremoniously relieved SC  Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr. and Teresita Leonardo de Castro as JBC consultants and replaced them with Sereno’s appointments of retired Chief Justices Hilario Davide Jr., Artemio Panganiban and Reynato Puno as JBC consultants.”
At least two of these retired justices are yellows and apparently, allies of Sereno.
For the SC, practicality and prudence also dictate that incumbent SC justices “should be retained as JBC consultants since their interest in the judiciary is real, actual and direct” as they are aware of the present state, needs, and concerns of the judiciary, and consultants from the Court, even if they have no right to vote, have served, from the organization of the JBC, as the only link to the supervisory authority of the Court over the JBC under the 1987 Constitution.
It  is, however, not the first time the SC hit out at Sereno, who also came up, during Aquino’s presidency, with different lists for court vacancies, or the clustering mode where Aquino picked two court candidates for the Sangiganbyan vacancies in just one list, intead of two separate lists  when the Constitution mandates selection by the president from one list, with another list for another set of candidates from which the president picks his choice.
This was clear in its decision invalidating the JBC’s clustering of qualified nominees for the Sandiganbayan posts.
However, the High Court affirmed the appointments of two associate justices of the Sandiganbayan who were chosen by Aquino  before he left office in June last year.
Affirmed were the appoinments of six Sandiganbayan justices, particularly that of Michael Frederick Musngi and Geraldine Faith Econg, which had been questioned by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and some judges due to alleged violation of the Constitution.
It was also Sereno who came up with that clustering of appointments, likey because she wanted both of the Sandiganbayan’s candidates picked by Aquino from a single list.
Sereno could be impeached on this issue  of her usurpation of powers of the SC and her refusal to abide by constitutional mandates.
The problem can be solved, however, should charter change come about, by abolishing the JBC and have the Senate and House confirm or reject these appointees of the president. Sereno will be out of an abolished JBC.
As for the SC which has a history of taking too long a time to rule on cases,  there should instead be a Constitutional Court with less justices while the SC can have all other cases.

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