JBC opening self to lawsuits–ChavezBy Christine O. Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) will invite lawsuits if it amends or suspends its rules on the disqualification of nominees for Chief Justice in its meeting on Monday, former Solicitor General Francisco Chavez said Sunday.
Chavez said the JBC still had to publish any changes or suspensions of its rules in a newspaper of general publication.
And if the requirement that the changed or suspended rules should take effect for a minimum of 15 days after publication is strictly followed, this means it will take effect on August 29, or two days after the August 27 deadline for the President to name a successor to ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona, Chavez said.
He said the JBC could choose to “let [the rules] take effect within 15 days instead of the 15th day and if they’re questioned that’s the time to defend it.”
“It’s a provocation to litigation [in] the Supreme Court,” Chavez said in a phone interview.
“Both the JBC and the President will be in a bind,” he added. “That will just open the floodgates to possible litigation [in] the Supreme Court questioning not only the process but the appointment itself.”
The JBC is voting Monday on the final nominees for Chief Justice. It failed to reach a consensus last week on whether it should suspend the rules that bars the nomination of applicants for judiciary positions if they have pending administrative or criminal cases.
Some panel members are pushing for the suspension of this rule because three nominees have pending cases—Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza and Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Teresita Herbosa.
The vote had been postponed twice and each time the postponement had to do with the question of De Lima’s qualification to be nominated, and this was widely seen as accommodating Malacañang, which is believed to be rooting for the justice secretary.
Nothing to do with it
On Sunday, however, the Palace sought to distance itself from the postponements. “It is not for us to judge the actions of an independent body like the JBC,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said on state-run radio.
Valte had no comment when asked if the Palace did not find it improper for its official emissary to the JBC, Frederick Musngi, to try to bend the rules to accommodate at least three nominees of the administration.
“We will defer any comment on the matter as the short list is yet to be submitted for the President’s consideration,” Valte said.
Representative Nathaniel Tupas Jr., the House representative in the JBC, said last week that the accommodation by Musngi was “understandable” given that he represented the executive.
How to decide
On Sunday, election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said the JBC need not suspend its rules to decide on the qualification of De Lima, who is facing two complaints for disbarment.
Macalintal said in a statement that the JBC should decide De Lima’s case “on the basis of the provisions of the Constitution, the law and existing jurisprudence,” as the Supreme Court did in junking last Friday the complaint for the disbarment of acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio.
The Supreme Court dismissed the complaint brought by anticrime crusader Lauro Vizconde, citing the constitutional provision that a justice of the Supreme Court may be removed only by impeachment.
Civil service rules
Macalintal said that in De Lima’s case and those of nominees similarly situated, the JBC could be guided by civil service rules on administrative cases, particularly rules that define “pending administrative cases” as one where the “disciplinary authority has issued a formal charge” or where a “prima facie case is found to exist by the disciplinary authority.”
A source privy to the JBC deliberations said last Friday that Presidential Commission on Good Government Chair Andres Bautista should have been included among those with pending cases but was apparently overlooked by the JBC secretariat.
The source who did not want to be identified for lack of authority to discuss the case said Bautista, like the three other nominees with pending cases, had written to the JBC to appeal for fairness in considering their pending cases that they said were harassment suits against them.
Meanwhile, Chavez said that if the JBC opted to submit the list to President Aquino without waiting for the 15-day effectivity of its new rules, then it will be a “bold advocacy.”
Chavez said that this would be a “hard sell” because, looking at the way the JBC has issued its rules since 2000, the council has always complied with the requirement of publication and that the effectivity has always been beyond 15 days.
Still, Chavez said, this was the first time the JBC would be doing this. “These are new rules, no precedent on this one. That’s where advocacy come in,” said Chavez, who made it clear that he was against the suspension of the rules.—With reports from Michael Lim Ubac and Jerome Aning