Palace, Justice secretary work on Tupas to amend JBC rules
By a unanimous vote of the board of governors of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), the body has turned down Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s plea to drop the pending disbarment cases filed against her before the lawyers’ group.
Neither Malacañang nor the Justice chief has given up on having her name included in the shortlist, however, as their ally in the Judicial and Bar Council, Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., readied a proposal to amend the JBC rules on disqualifications to ensure De Lima’s entry in the chief justice race. De Lima is seen as President Aquino’s choice for the Chief Justice position and Malacañang is seen as now pressuring his allies in the JBC to have the rules on disqualification of candidates amended to ensure De Lima’s inclusion in the shortlist to be submited by the JBC to Aquino (See related story).
Earlier, the President admitted to lobbying before the IBP to get the cases against De Lima dismissed, as he admitted to reporters that he and his legal aides have been helping De Lima get the disbarment cases against her dismissed.
But the pressure failed to work on the IBP that said: “Early this morning, the IBP governors unanimously voted to deny Secretray De Lima’s appeal to have her disbarment cases to be dismissed as the Justice Secretary had not provided new arguments that will merit the dismissal of her case,” IBP national president Lawyer Roan Libarios told reporters.
De Lima is hoping to be appointed chief justice in the ongoing proceedings by the JBC but is disqualified under the present rules due to the pending cases.
The nine governors of the IBP unanimously voted on Monday to push through with their probe in connection with the consolidated complaints filed against De Lima which stemmed from her defiance on the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court when she had ordered to stop former President Gloria Arroyo from leaving the country and for bad mouthing ousted Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Renato Corona.
He said the IBP governors issued a minute-order after the announcement of the lawyers’ group’s decision.
The two disbarment complaints against De Lima were filed by Ricardo Rivera, Fernando Perito, Nephtali Aliposa and the other lodged by lawyer Augusto Sundiam — before the IBP.
Under Rule 4, Section 5 of the JBC rules, the nominees are considered to be disqualified from appointment to any judicial post or as Ombudsman or Deputy Ombudsman if they have a pending criminal or regular administrative cases; those with pending criminal cases in foreign courts or tribunal; 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 granted judicial clemency.
De Lima had asked the biggest lawyers’ group in the country last Aug. 1 to reverse its decision to probe further the disbarment cases filed against her.
The IBP board explained that it could not outrightly dismiss De Lima’s complaint since the High Court has already found basis to have the cases probed further when the SC referred her cases to the lawyers’ group. Libarios said that the high tribunal ordered the IBP to conduct a full blown probe on the case of De Lima when it was referred to the lawyers’ body.
“If a disbarment complaint is filed with the SC and the High Court refers it to the IBP for investigation, there is the presumption that the SC has already found basis,” the IBP national president explained. “Otherwise, the Supreme Court would have summarily dismissed the case, instead of referring it to the IBP to conduct investigation,” he added.
IBP spokesman, lawyer Trixie Cruz-Angeles, in a separate interview, said the IBP board did not give credence to the argument of the Justice Secretary that she was immune from suits being a member of President Aquino’s Cabinet. “She cannot raise the argument that she’s immune from lawsuits since there’s no law which indicates that alter-egos of presidents can enjoy the same privileges that are accorded to our country’s leaders,” Cruz-Angeles explained.
“De Lima cannot be shielded by President Aquino’s immunity from lawsuit even though she is an alter-ego of the president,” she stressed.
The IBP will finish its formal investigation on the disbarment complaint by September or October this year. “The Supreme Court gave us 90 days to finish the investigation but it was interrupted with the filing of the MR. So, we will finish the investigation by September or October,” she said.
The eight-member JBC panel has less than three weeks to submit names of nominees which the President will pick as the possible replacement of ousted Chief Justice Corona, who was convicted by the Senate impeachment court for betrayal of public trust, last May 29.
Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, one of the two representatives of Congress in the JBC, already hinted in an interview Secretary De Lima may not be included in the shortlist because their rules clearly provide for disqualification of candidates with pending criminal or administrative cases.
“We won’t even put it to a vote. The rule will simply be applied unless by some stroke of luck or miracle, the case will be dismissed by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines,” he explained in an interview. He stressed: “It will be unfair if we make an exception to the rule because we have disqualified countless applicants who were similarly situated.”
But apparently, the “mriracle” came in the form of Aquino’s loyal ally and the rules may be amended as the JBC will still be voting on the inclusion, or non-inlcusion of De Lima on Wednesday.
In a 11-page letter she submitted to the JBC, De Lima admitted feeling powerless in the face of the six-month lag in the referral of her disbarment cases to the IBC.
“The situation is clearly this: while the undersigned finds her candidacy for Chief Justice undersigned finds her candidacy for Chief Justice under the mercy of her co-nominee Justices of the Court, as her fate clearly rests on these same Justices’ action or inaction on her disbarment cases.
At the same time, she also cried foul over IBP’s treatment of the complaints against her, saying it was unfair for the lawyer’s body to expeditiously dispose the disbarment complaint filed against two SC magistrates who are also vying for the Chief Justice post.
Citing an apparent double standard in IBP’s resolution of case, she believes justices of the high court “are always in a better position than ordinary lawyers in terms of the disposition of administrative cases that threaten to disqualify them.”
She specifically cited the dismissal last June 13 of the disbarment complaint filed by Mayor Magdaleno Peña Pulupandan town in Negros Occidental against Justices Carpio and Sereno.
Meawhile, De Lima is also under fire again and facing inquiry before the Senate due to her alleged recent issuance of a circular allowing the release from police custody of suspected drug traffickers and others with drug-related charges while their respective cases are still pending review by the department.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III yesterday took the floor to call the attention of his colleagues into the matter, saying that circular No. 12 is a big blow to the implementation of R.A. 9165 or the country’s law against drug trafficking as well as the continuing campaign against illegal drugs trade.
“I think the Senate should step in and find reason for the Secretary of Justice and the Department of Justice (DoJ) issued this circular. I guarantee you, these drug traffickers will never be found once you release them,” he said to reporters before delivering his speech during the plenary proceedings.
The majority leader’s colleagues rallied behind his cause, with Sen. Panfilo Lacson calling for the immediate scheduling of the hearing to clarify De Lima’s memo on the matter.
During the Arroyo administration, a circular dated Jan. 5, 2009 was issued by the DoJ stating that drug-related respondents under detention shall remain under the police of Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) custody until their cases are resolved by the Secretary of Justice.
“It was strenghtened by Administrative Order No. 253 issued by former President Gloria Arroyo which provided that all decisions of the Secretary of Justice involving dismissal of cases under R.A. 9165 shall be subject to automatic review by the Office of the President. Pending review by the OP (Office of the President), execution of the decision or resolution shall be stayed. This is the reason the accused in the so-called ‘Alabang Boys’ drugs case were not released even when the case was ordered dismissed by the state prosecutor. The prevailing rule was that the suspects shall remain in police/PDEA custody.
“However, in a new department circular issued by De Lima, the policy of keeping arrested persons in drug related cases to remain in the police custody was revised so that these suspects may now be released pending review by the Secretary of Justice,” Sotto said in his speech.
“This change in policy is a blow to our campaign against drug traffickers and violators of R.A. 9165. Such circular, I believe, will make our anti-illegal drugs campaign harder as no drug pusher/trafficker would allow themselves to be re-arrested given their huge resources. Where will we find these suspects when their probable guilt is affirmed by the Secretary of Justice? I therefore call the attention of this chamber to this legal setback to our campaign to eradicate the illegal-drugs trade in our midst. The Secretary of Justice should help us in this regard, not help the accused in illegal-drugs cases,” he added.
The Senate commitee on public order and illegal drugs chaired by Sen. Gregorio Honasan has been tasked to look into the matter.
With Angie M. Rosales