Aquino names Palace official to replace De Lima in JBCBy Christian V. Esguerra, Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—President Benigno Aquino III has appointed a Malacañang undersecretary to take the place of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima in the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) as the body chooses a new Chief Justice.
De Lima is one of the nominees, and she is barred from taking part in the council’s deliberations.
Appointed to take her place was lawyer Michael Musngi, undersecretary for special concerns at the Office of the President.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Musngi’s appointment was only for the duration of the search for a new Chief Justice.
May be disqualified
There is a possibility, however, that De Lima will be back soon.
Sen. Francis Escudero, the Senate’s representative to the JBC, told reporters yesterday that De Lima is bound to be disqualified from the race for the next Chief Justice because she has pending disbarment cases.
Escudero cited the rule against applicants with cases pending in the Supreme Court, Office of the Ombudsman or the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).
But the JBC has given De Lima time to get herself cleared in the cases before the council votes to pick the candidates to be recommended to President Aquino for appointment. The council vote is set for July 30.
Escudero acknowledged the shortness of the time within which De Lima must get the cases resolved, but said “sometimes miracles happen.”
At yesterday’s meeting of the JBC, he said, the council’s members cited the “conflict of interest” that might arise in the event that De Lima was picked to replace ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Escudero said the IBP recommendation on the disbarment case against De Lima would eventually be decided by the Supreme Court, to which she might be appointed. In that case, he said, “there would be a clear conflict of interest.”
The JBC, Escudero said, strictly enforces the rule against applicants with pending cases. He cited the case of Agnes Devanadera, a solicitor general and justice secretary in the Arroyo administration who was disqualified because of an unresolved complaint in the Office of the Ombudsman.
“The JBC allowed no exceptions then,” he said. “The JBC had been very strict in such cases and it would be unfair to those it had previously disqualified if all of a sudden now, we would qualify someone.”
A complaint for disbarment was filed against De Lima in connection with her public attacks against Corona, whom she called a “lawless tyrant” on national television. De Lima is also facing graft charges in a case involving the deportation of 14 Taiwanese to mainland China in 2011.
De Lima will be among the first to be interviewed by the JBC in televised proceedings beginning July 24.
To promote “transparency and wider participation,” the JBC will open Twitter and Facebook accounts to receive questions from the public for the 22 nominees, Escudero said.
Questions should deal with the “competence, probity and independence” of the applicants, Escudero said. “Below-the-belt” and “disrespectful” questions will not be accepted, he said.
Escudero said he had requested the JBC secretariat to have its own website to accommodate questions from the public in connection with the interviews with the 22 aspirants to the post of Chief Justice.
Carpio denies lobbying
Meanwhile, acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, a nominee for Chief Justice, yesterday vehemently denied the accusation of Lauro Vizconde that he influenced his fellow justices on the Supreme Court to acquit Hubert Webb and six coaccused in the murders of Vizconde’s wife and two daughters.
Carpio said he would directly answer the letter of opposition that Vizconde filed in the JBC on Thursday.
“The [full Supreme Court] has already issued a resolution,” Carpio told reporters. “It was unanimous and even former Chief Justice [Renato] Corona concurred that I never lobbied for any of the accused in the [Vizconde] case.”
The resolution should settle the issue, Carpio said. With reports from Norman Bordadora and Marlon Ramos