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Roxas protege gets JBC Sandigan shortlist slot

Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II’s “anointed” underling, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary Rafael Santos made it to the shortlist of five nominees by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to fill up the vacant presiding justice post at the anti-graft court.
Court of Appeals Associate Justice Apolinario Bruselas and Santos topped the shortlist after garnering six votes from seven members of the constitutional body tasked to vet nominees to judicial posts.
Santos earned notoriety among legal practitioners as he admitted to the JBC body during the interview of nominees that his move to seek the post in the Judiciary has the blessing of Roxas.
An association of corporate lawyers then called on the JBC to exercise great care in choosing the next Presiding Justice of the Sandiganbayan as a result of Santos’ close ties with Roxas.
Santos made the remark after one of the JBC members asked if it was okay for Roxas to lose an able undersecretary. “A nominee for the Presiding Justice of the Sandiganbayan who openly admitted that he had obtained the ‘blessings’ of a political patron before applying for the said post is clearly not suited for the role. More so if that same nominee was previously a Senior Partner in a law firm known for its political ties,” lawyer Maribert Q. Pagente, president of the Legal Management Council of the Philippines (LMCP), said in a letter dated June 24, 2013 to the JBC.
Previous to his DILG stint, Santos was also Transportation Undersecretary when Roxas was the DoTC chief.
Santos was also senior partner at the Carpio, Villaraza and Cruz (CVC) Law Offices or “The Firm”.
When Roxas succeeded Jesse Robredo who died following a plane crash off Masbate in August last year, he appointed Santos as DILG Undersecretary.
“The Sandiganbayan’s mission is ‘to give life and meaning to the constitutional precept that a public office is a public trust and to impress upon the public offices and employees that they are at all times accountable to the people,’” the LMCP said.
“It is a basic precept of judicial ethics that a judge, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion. He must not only be impartial but should also appear impartial,” the letter said.
Pagente said she has nothing against any of the nominees to the Sandiganbayan post.
“However, I believe that great care should be taken in the selection of the next Presiding Justice of the Sandiganbayan to preserve the credibility of the institution,” Pagente added.
Sandiganbayan Justices Amparo Cabotaje-Tang and Efren Dela Cruz also made it to the list with five votes each. Associate Justice Gregory Ong, most senior magistrate and officer-in-charge of the anti-graft court, completed the shortlist with four votes.
President Aquino would then have 90 days to make the appointment.
The JBC was originally scheduled set to vote on the shortlist last July 1, but decided to reset the voting pending decision of the Congress on who to send as its lone representative to the council.
A ruling in July last year by the high court has said that Congress – both House and Senate – should only have one representative in the JBC. The high court affirmed this ruling and junked the appeal of Congress last April.
Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel – who replaced Sen. Francis Escudero as chairman of Senate justice committee – sat in the JBC as Congress’ representative. He bared that he and Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. had agreed to take turns on the seat in JBC for six months each.
“It will be alternated between me and Senator Pimentel in a six-month rotation. He will serve first, but if he cannot attend any of the meetings, I am automatically authorized to sit and vice versa,” Rep. Tupas explained to reporters.
The JBC’s short list will be submitted to President Aquino who will make the final decision on who will assume the top Sandiganbayan post.

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