Escudero defends JBC makeup, raps doubting lawyerBy Marlon Ramos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Bring it to court, the high court.
Those questioning the composition of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) should lodge a formal complaint in the Supreme Court to settle the issue, Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero said Monday.
Reacting to a letter to the JBC by lawyer Francisco Chavez, Escudero said this was not the first time the JBC had both a senator and a representative as members.
Escudero, one of four ex-officio members of the JBC, said the council created by the Constitution to vet nominees for top judicial posts, started to have both a member of the House of Representatives and of the Senate on its roster in 2001.
“Under Senate and House rules, that’s part of our job as the respective chairs of the committees of justice in both houses (of Congress),” Escudero said, referring to the House member on the panel, Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas Jr.
“The position of the JBC is that unless enjoined by the court in a contrary opinion, the JBC will not change the procedures it had been observing before,” he said.
Tupas, lead House prosecutor in the impeachment trial of ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona, sits as an ex-officio member as the representative of the House.
Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, the most senior member of the Supreme Court, and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima are the other ex-officio members of the eight-member JBC.
Sitting as regular members are retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Regino Hermosisima Jr., lawyers Jose Mejia and Milagros Fernan-Cayosa, and retired Court of Appeals Associate Justice Aurora Santiago-Lagman.
Lagman is set to complete her four-year term as the private sector representative in the JBC on July 9, giving President Benigno Aquino a chance to appoint her replacement.
“Until and unless enjoined and restrained,” Escudero said he and Tupas would continue to participate in JBC deliberations on the next Chief Justice since they might be accused of abandoning their legislative duties.
“The JBC doesn’t see any reason to change (its composition). Maybe it would be better if this would be brought to the court so it could be settled once and for all,” the senator said.
“For me, I will respect the decision of the court regarding this. If the court rules (in favor of Chavez), at least my responsibilities would be lessened.”
Asked if the JBC threw out Chavez’s letter, Escudero said Chavez was merely making “inquiries” and the council was not in a position to refer his letter to the Supreme Court.
“He was making inquiries and the JBC answered it accordingly. He was not asking anything in particular. I think we will draft a letter to respond to his queries,” Escudero said.
Chavez, a former solicitor general, had asserted that Section 8, Article VIII, of the Constitution says that only “a representative of the Congress” could be a member of the JBC.
“When the Constitution uses the phrase ‘a representative of the Congress,’ it is all too clear to require interpretation that there should only be one representative from Congress,” the former state lawyer said in his June 22 letter to the JBC.
“Under the present set-up, why do we have two representatives from Congress—one from the House of Representatives and one from the Senate?” he said.
He also noted that since the JBC was now composed of eight members, it was possible the council could end up in a stalemate if half of its members voted against the other half.
“If the Chief Justice, as ex-officio chair, casts his vote on an issue presented before the JBC, then we have the possibility of an impasse because we have an eight-member body. In such a case, who will be the tie-breaker?” he asked.
Meanwhile, the JBC’s Office of Policy and Development Research has come out with the guidelines for the live media coverage of the interviews of the candidates for Chief Justice.
In its draft guidelines, the JBC said that only the cameras of the Supreme Court and five television stations—ABS-CBN, GMA 7, TV5, Solar TV and NBN4—would be allowed in the interview room due to space limitations.