Aquino ally insists on De Lima–TupasBy Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—An ally of President Benigno Aquino III’s on Saturday acknowledged that Malacañang’s representative to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) was trying to accommodate Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and two others on the short list of nominees so that they could be considered in the choice for the next Chief Justice.
But Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., the House representative to the JBC and a key supporter of Mr. Aquino, said the purported accommodation by Michael Frederick Musngi was “understandable” given that he represents the executive branch.
Musngi—who works under the Office of the President’s Office of Special Concerns—was appointed by Malacañang to the JBC after De Lima inhibited herself from the proceedings because she was eyeing the vacant Chief Justice post as well.
“Well, probably it’s obvious because he is the representative of the executive (branch),” Tupas replied in Filipino when asked in a phone interview if some JBC members were trying to accommodate De Lima, who has two pending disbarment cases against her. “But we cannot say that of the other members who are very objective.”
Tupas added: “That’s understandable because he is from there (executive branch).”
De Lima, along with Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza and Chair Teresita Herbosa of the Securities and Exchange Commission, could be disqualified under Section 5 of the JBC rules, which bars “those with pending criminal and regular administrative cases” from being considered in the short list of Chief Justice candidates.
De Lima is facing disbarment cases for defying a Supreme Court temporary restraining order and for publicly attacking then Chief Justice Renato Corona. She also testified for the prosecution, which was headed by Tupas, in the Corona impeachment trial earlier this year.
In the JBC meeting on Friday, Tupas said Musngi asked the body to “amend or suspend” the rule on disqualification.
“All three (nominees) who would be affected are from the executive (branch) so he has to defend (them), namely, De Lima, Herbosa and (Jardeleza),” recalled Tupas, who said that he was amenable to suspending the rule on disqualification but not amending it at this time.
Tupas said an amendment to Section 5—a proposal he said he had made as early as August 2011—would require publication and, as such, would not benefit the present crop of nominees. But he said some JBC members also believe that even a suspension of the rule would need the same requirement and therefore “cannot apply now.”
Willing to listen
Tupas wanted to give the JBC the discretion to determine which pending cases would be allowed to affect a particular nomination.
“I am willing to listen to the arguments (during the next JBC meeting) on Monday if they want (the suspension) to take effect now or to take effect prospectively,” the lawmaker said.
But apparently more crucial than the proposed suspension or amendment to Section 5 was the “privileged motion” by another JBC member questioning the integrity of De Lima, Herbosa and Jardeleza.
Tupas declined to name the JBC member, but described the motion as a “counter move” against Musngi’s push to lift the rule on disqualification. He said the motion was similar to the powerful rule in the Commission on Appointments that allows a lone member to block any appointment.
“Pamatay yun (That’s a killer move),” he said, noting that under the rules, a motion questioning the integrity of a nominee could be defeated only by a unanimous vote.
Only if the JBC member reconsiders the motion could the council proceed with the voting on whether to suspend or amend the rule on disqualification, and therefore, allow De Lima, Herbosa and Jardeleza to be considered in the short list, according to Tupas.
“If a member stands firm on that, we cannot do anything. Those with (pending) cases cannot be considered,” he said.
“It seems that he or she is firm on his or her decision—that’s my reading when we talked,” he added, referring to the JBC member behind the “privileged motion.”