IBP TO HEAR DISBARMENT RAPS
The door narrowed to almost shut on Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s bid for the vacant top post at the Supreme Court (SC) after the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) yesterday denied her motion to dismiss the disbarment cases filed against her that disqualifies her as a nominee for the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) shortlist from which President Aquino will choose the replacement of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
The JBC gave De Lima up to Aug. 2 to submit a clearance that she no longer has a pending case and it is not known yet whether the current impasse on the composition of the body will result in providing her more time to resolve her case.
Under the JBC rules, disqualified from being nominated or appointed to any judicial, Ombudsman or Deputy Ombudsman position are those with pending criminal or regular administrative cases, those with pending criminal cases in foreign courts or tribunals, those who have been convicted in any criminal case or in an administrative case where the penalty imposed is at least a fine of more than P10,000 unless he has been granted judicial clemency.
The disbarment cases thus disqualifies De Lima for the Chief Justice post and the only way now for her to get one of the three slots in the shortlist is for the JBC to discard the rule.
IBP spokesman Dennis Habawel said the IBP board of governors denied De Lima’s motion and ordered the IBP investigating commissioner to conduct a formal investigation on the disbarment complaints against her.
Habawel said the IBP board reversed a resolution and recommendation of its own Investigating Commissioner to dismiss the consolidated disbarment case against De Lima.
The SC found prima facie merit to justify an investigation into the disbarment complaints, Habawel said. “Accordingly, the Investigating Commissioner is directed to proceed with the required formal investigation of the disbarment case against respondent (De Lima) in accordance with the Rules and resolve them with dispatch,” the IBP said in its ruling.
The IBP said a summary dismissal of the disbarment cases cannot be made since the Supreme Court, in referring the case to the IBP for investigation, was presumed to have already made a preliminary determination that there is basis to proceed with formal investigation.
“Otherwise, the Supreme Court would have summarily dismissed the case,” it added.
The IBP also noted that the cases against De Lima were referred to it by the SC after De Lima responded to the complaint.
“The action of the Supreme Court leaves no valid option for the IBP but to conduct the required investigation pursuant to cited jurisprudential rules,” it added.
De Lima faces three disbarment complaints, one filed jointly by Ricardo Rivera and Fernando Perito, and the other was filed by a certain Nephtali Aliposa with both referring to De Lima’s defiance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued in November 2011 on the travel ban against former President Gloria Arroyo and her husband, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo.
Another complaint by a certain Agustin Sundiam accused De Lima of violating the lawyers’ professional oath when she spoke out in public against then Chief Justice Renato Corona.
De Lima sent the JBC a seven-page letter last Friday detailing why she should not be disqualified from the shortlist as a result of the pending disbarment cases against her.
Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda even pitched in for De Lima saying that she believes the disbarment case was politically motivated and that it is her right to protect herself by explaining this to the JBC.
“She believes strongly that the disbarment case was politically motivated and hence it is her right to state so and ask the JBC to consider that in the light of the letter that she be considered as one of the (candidates) and not be disqualified immediately from selection,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda added President Aquino would welcome De Lima’s appointment as the next Chief Justice as she had the confidence of the Chief Executive.
De Lima, during her JBC interview last July 24, said the disbarment complaints against her have yet to become “administrative proceedings” but JBC ex-officio chairman Associate Justice Disodado Peralta said the SC has unanimously forwarded her disbarment cases to the IBP.
Senators also closed ranks to insist on the position of keeping two seats in the JBC to represent the bicameral Legislature, even as they enjoined the body to defer consideration of nominees for the shortlist to be submitted to Aquino.
At least three resolutions pertaining to the issue that both the Senate and the House of Representatives are currently locked in with the JBC, were approved by the upper chamber yesterday.
The first of which sought for the deferment of consideration by the JBC of all the nominees and their preparation of the shortlist that is due for submission to the President until the issue is resolved by the Supreme Court, in view of the disenfranchisement of the two members of Congress – Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero and Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. who represent the upper chamber and lower house in the JBC, respectively.
In the second resolution read by Sen. Francis Pangilinan, reiterated the position of the Senate, as articulated in a previous resolution introduced and approved during the 14th Congress, that the “representation to the JBC by Congress must be one for the lower house with one vote and one for the Senate with one vote.”
“Again, (as) discussed in the caucus earlier, it was expressed by our colleagues that given the gravity of the issues concerning the composition of the JBC, and the fact that there are serious consequences, the position taken in caucus is that it is the sense of the Senate that there should be oral arguments on the issue of composition and representation by both houses of Congress in the JBC, subject to style, addressed to the Supreme Court,” Pangilinan said on the floor, pertaining to the third resolution.
The matter of the three resolutions was the result of the one-hour and a half of closed-door all-senators’ caucus called by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile around 3 p.m.
In the said meeting, Enrile stood firm on the decision directing Escudero and Tupas not to participate in succeeding proceedings of the JBC, including the deliberations on Thursday where the body will vote who among the nominees should land a sport in their shortlist.
Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano expressed opposition in boycotting the JBC proceedings, especially on the voting process as it could compromise the position of Congress in the said body.
Cayetano said there could be other means by which Congress leaders can express their sentiments on the issue, without having to forfeit its mandate in the selection process on the new chief justice, emphasizing that it’s a constitutional duty of those representing the two Houses in the JBC.
Pangilinan said the JBC should not rush to vote for the selection of shortlisted candidates for the next Chief Justice, adding that the body must exhaust all efforts to de-escalate the tension surrounding the current impasse it is facing.
“We have ample time to wait for the resolution of the motion for reconsideration regarding the legality of having representatives to the JBC from the House and the Senate. The JBC should wait for the court’s ruling on this motion. We have four weeks. Let us wait for the court’s decision to resolve this and not rush into voting. Let us not have any issues hanging over the selection process,” Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan said that the issues, including questions raised by having replacements for the Chief Justice and Secretary of Justice to sit in as ex-oficio in the JBC, must be properly ventilated.
“We are talking about the power to select from nominees and [about] submitting a shortlist to the President for the appointment of the next Chief Justice. It is but normal that tensions will rise. We need to de-escalate the tension. After all, we do not want the next CJ to be appointed in a process wherein there are questions that have remained unresolved. We need to ease the tensions. Let us de-politicize and remove all issues.”
The lawmaker added, “Perhaps the JBC should initiate moves on how to proceed. Even without the ex-oficio members—the Chief Justice, the DOJ Secretary, and members of House and Congress—they would still have quorum with just its regular members. Let the body rule on resolving the issues and move on with the process. Perhaps all ex-oficio members should just inhibit themselves on the process so that there would be no cloud of doubt in the shortlisting of candidates to be submitted to the President.”
Pangilinan, a former ex-oficio member of the JBC, added that the issue of having two representatives from the legislature in the JBC must be addressed immediately, even after the current impasse has been resolved.
“No less than Fr. Joaquin Bernas has admitted that they made a mistake in not amending provisions that will accommodate a bicameral Congress. It was a mere inadvertence on the part of those in the Constitutional Convention. The question is: do you perpetuate the mistake, or correct it? I say it’s about time we correct this inadvertence,” he said.
A ranking member of the House of Representatives also lambasted the Supreme Court anew for allegedly applying double standard in the Judicial and Bar Council when it reduced the two votes of Congress into one.
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II charged that while the Supreme Court allowed Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta and Undersecretary Michael Musngi of the Department of Justice to sit in for the chief justice and for the Department of Justice respectively, it was overly strict in reducing the vote of both Houses of Congress into only one vote.
Gonzales cited that the current JBC composition, which has Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta and Undersecretary Michael Musngi of the Department of Justice as members, is already going against the law since the Constitution requires the Chief Justice to be the JBC’s presiding officer and the Justice Secretary as ex-officio member of the JBC.
Peralta and Musngi were listed in the JBC because Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima have inhibited from the JBC proceedings since they are in the running for the Chief Justice post.
“They should interpret the Constitution in (recognition of the) reality that we have a bicameral legislature. Why shut your eyes on Congress? You allow Peralta and Musngi there and yet you are very strict with Congress? That would be double, even triple standard,” Gonzales said yesterday.
The government has filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that the House cannot represent the Senate and the Senate cannot represent the House.
The presence of Peralta and Musngi in the JBC, Gonzales noted, already raises doubts on whether JBC can do its function in accordance with the Constitution, considering that replacing JBC members is not provided for in the Charter.
“If you strictly apply the Constitution, then the JBC cannot function (with such members). The problem with the SC is that it is interpreting the Constitution literally, which results in absurdity,” Gonzales stressed.
If it really wants to be strict, Gonzales said that the Supreme Court should have stripped Carpio of his Acting Chief Justice post and made Peralta as the Acting Chief Justice so that the JBC composition will be a step closer to what is stated in the Constitution.
“If Peralta is the Acting Chief Justice, then the JBC would have a semblance in complying with the Constitution,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales then said that he is in doubt whether the JBC would proceed with the selection process without the vote coming from both houses of Congress.