SC en banc clears Carpio on disbarment raps
Insistence that presidential allies in the Judicial and Bar Council ensure that President Aquino’s favorite candidate for the top judicial post whom he is to appoint be included in the shortlist has resulted in the body’s fourth postponement on voting for the shortlisted candidates, with the consequence of sparking a standoff on a question of the JBC’s integrity.
Voting for which nominees should land in the JBC’s shortlist of candidates for the position of Chief Justice to be submitted to Malacañang has been postponed again, for the fourth time running, by the collegial body yesterday after Malacañang’s representative insisted on the inclusion of three key state lawyers who are facing administrative charges which are grounds for disqualification under the JBC’s rules.
Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., a member of the JBC, said a motion to suspend the JBC rule on the disqualification of nominees with pending charges came from “the executive,” apparently referring to Undersecretary Michael Frederick Musngi.
Musngi blocked the decision of the JBC to disqualify Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Securities
and Exchange Commission chairman Teresita Javier Herbosa, and Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza due to pending cases against them.
“We all reached a consensus: The acting Chief Justice is no longer disqualifed because of the decision of the Supreme Court this morning dismissing the (disbarment) case, but the other three applicants are disqualified,” he said but added that there was a motion to suspend the rules so that those with pending cases would also not be disqualified.
A special en banc session called by the Supreme Court (SC) yesterday ruled to drop the disbarment complaint filed against Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio by anti- crime advocate Lauro Vizconde.
Vizconde,whose family was killed in a brutal murder 22 years ago had accused Carpio of actively seeking the acquittal of of his family’s killers.
In a five-page complaint, Vizconde said: “In truth, there is no other lawyer and/or judge who is more corrupt than Justice Carpio. He is everything a lawyer and judge should not be. He cannot be permitted to remain a member of the bar any longer.”
The disbarment case technically would have barred Carpio from being considered by the JBC for the screening process to come up with the next chief justice to replace impeached magistrate Renato Corona.
The SC however ruled that the disbarment complaint filed by Vizconde has no merit and could not be acted upon since sitting justices can only be impeached.
The High Court cleared Carpio of Vizconde’s insinuation in a similar ruling last year.
Vizconde claims Carpio — as one of the co-founders of the Villaraza, Cruz, Marcelo and Angangco “influenced appointments” to various posts in the judiciary when Carpio served as the chief legal counsel of then President Fidel Ramos.
He also said Carpio pushed the impeachment and eventual removal of Corona.
“Monday should be the last resetting,” said Tupas, noting that the deadline to appoint the next chief justice was nearing.
Under the 1987 Constitution, the President has 90 days—or until Aug. 27—to fill the post left vacant with the conviction of the former Chief Justice.
But the President must appoint the country’s 24th Chief Justice based on the shortlist provided by the JBC.
The JBC concluded last month its four days of public interviews with the 20 candidates for the chief justice post.
Voting in the JBC has been postponed at least four times, after problems of representation of members of Congress which later was resolved by the SC when it flip-flopped on its earlier decision to stick to the constitutional requirement of the JBC having only seven members, with only one representative from Congress.
Currently, the two members of Congress, Rep. Tupas and Sen. Francis Escudero have returned as members of the JBC, with one vote each.
With the inhibition of De Lima owing to her being a nominee for the highest bench seat, President Aquino insisted on also appointing his representative to take the place of De Lima, for the executive not to be denied representation in the JBC. He appointed Musngi as his alter-ego.
It is also through Musngi that Aquino appears to be succeeding in getting what he wants done in the JBC: The inclusion of De Lima in the shortlist.
By his own admission, Aquino confirmed that he has been lobbying for De Lima’s inclusion in the shortlist by attempting to get her disbarment cases dismissd by the Integrated Bar of the Philppines.
When this ploy failed, Aquino started lobbying the JBC for her inclusion, which explains Tupas’ early move to amend the disqualification rules of the JBC.
This was followed by Musngi’s motion yesterday to suspend the disqualification rule, to ensure the inclusion of De Lima.
The President is barred by the Charter to intrefere or intervene in the affairs of the a separate constitutional body.
Another cause for the suspension of JBC voting was the onslaught of the torrential rains. Still another was the absence of one member of the JBC, who called in sick.
Much earlier, Escudero asked for a postponement of the vote as he claimed he wanted more time to study the nominees’ qualifications before voting.
The charges against De Lima involved her actions defying the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining orders on the hold departure order she had issued against former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
De Lima, during the public interviews by the JBC however claimed she had not defied the SC at the time since a copy of the ruling was not yet formally received by here.
JBC representative Jose Mejia said the eight-member panel tasked to screen applicants for the judiciary and the Ombudsman posts cancelled its deliberations following suspension of work on all courts in Metro Manila.
The original meeting was scheduled last July 30. On Aug. 2, the JBC once more reset deliberations to Aug. 6 owing to oral arguments conducted by the high court on the composition of the council. On Monday, Aug. 6, the JBC for the third time sought another extension.
The JBC, under the Constitutiom is tasked to screen applicants for the judiciary and the Ombudsman posts. President Aquino has up until Aug. 27 to choose a replacement of the impeached SC Chief Justice.
Both the Department of Justice and the Supreme Court announced the suspension of work this week.
On Tuesday, the SC had already reset the session to 9 a.m. of Wednesday.
“According to acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, work in the Supreme Court and all lower courts in Metro Manila, including the Court of Appeals, Sandiganbayan, Court of Tax Appeal, is suspended at 6:30 a.m. due to the continuing inclement weather and several flooded areas,” the SC said in a statement.
It would be up to the discretion of executive judges outside Metro Manila whether or not to suspend work in their respective courts, the statement added.
De Lima, who has made no bones about wanting to land the top judicial post, has been at odds with the High Court. Wednesday, she quickly accused the SC of deliberately sitting on her disbarment cases for a long time.
She slammed the SC for its referral of her disbarment cases to the IBP just as the deadline of the submission to the JBC of the nominees’ clearance papers closed.
The IBP has twice rejected De Lima’s appeal to junk the disbarment cases filed against her. The DoJ chief asked the IBP to “summarily dismiss” the complaint citing lack of merit.