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Henares: I have edge over all Chief Justice bets

‘I saw the hardships; you have to fight the system’

BIR Commissioner Kim Henares. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares, President Benigno Aquino’s shooting buddy and front-runner for the seat of ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona, said on Tuesday she had the edge over all candidates for top magistrate.

In a chance interview during the traditional diplomatic reception on Independence Day in Malacañang, Henares told reporters that she was being lured by the opportunity the position of Chief Justice offered to undertake reforms in the judiciary.

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“I’ve experienced the complaints of people about the adjudication system, from arbitration in the National Labor Relations Commission, all the way to fighting for your rights, you’re bumping against big establishments,” said Henares, an accountant and lawyer.

“So, I would say that I have an advantage over all the other people because I personally experienced all in the system itself,” she added.

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Henares recounted her illegal termination case against ING, a global financial institution based in Amsterdam. She said she experienced going against big-time lawyers who were engaging in negotiations rather than in presenting their case in court.

“I fought against illegal termination and I saw the hardships, the process. You will have to fight the system,” Henares said.

“You will have to fight the large law firm [that] does not even appear as lawyers but are doing all the backchanneling. And I mean, what can be a better teacher than experiencing the judicial system yourself,” she added.

Still, Henares insisted she was still “neutral” on whether to accept the nomination by lawyer Elpidio Jamora and go through the process required by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) four of whose seven members are appointed by the President.

“I have not made any decision. We’ll try to weigh everything,” Henares said.

Aquino preference

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said on Monday that Mr. Aquino had expressed “his preference toward the nomination of Commissioner Kim Henares … Let’s wait for the decision of Commissioner Henares. She has not yet decided to accept or decline the nomination.”

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Lacierda later backtracked on the same day a commentator said the next Chief Justice should not be an Aquino “toady.”

Lacierda said that the President had not made a decision on whether he wanted Henares or Justice Secretary Leila de Lima for Corona’s post.

As head of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), Henares conducted a parallel investigation of Corona for possible tax evasion as he was facing the Senate impeachment tribunal.

She also sent BIR agents to investigate Corona’s family, his in-laws, and his chief defense counsel, former Supreme Court Associate Justice Serafin Cuevas.

Attraction of CJ post

The Constitution says that a member of the Supreme Court “must have been for 15 years or more, a judge of a lower court or engaged in the practice of law in the Philippines.” It also says that “a member of the judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity and independence.”

“The Supreme Court position is interesting because of the judicial reforms,” Henares said in the Palace interview yesterday.

“If it’s because of the legal side of it, I don’t think I would be interested,” she added, referring to the adjudication aspect of the post.

“The attraction of the Chief Justice position is the judicial reform aspect, the management of the courts, the administrative side, the institution of reforms,” Henares said.

“I think it is unjust for somebody to get justice only after 10, more than 10 years. You go to court if there is harm or injury to you. And you should get relief as soon as possible. Not 10 years, not 20 years and then, the uncertainty,” she said.

Decongesting dockets

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio on Monday said that the priority in the judiciary would be to “decongest clogged dockets.”

While the Constitution states that courts should dispose of cases within two years,  this might be impossible to comply with. “But that is really our number one task now,” Carpio said. “I think for any Chief Justice, that has to be the priority.”

Carpio is the most senior justice of the Supreme Court and is regarded as one of the top contenders for Chief Justice. Corona has said that Carpio was among those who plotted against him.

Carpio said the tribunal was holding a special session Wednesday to discuss major pending cases, including several petitions questioning the authority of the Commission on Elections to purchase for P1.8 billion the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines which were previously used in the 2010 elections.

The Comelec plans to use some 82,000 PCOS machines in the 2013 midterm elections.

“We will try to decide the case involving the PCOS. We have to do that as soon as possible because the Comelec will have to decide in case the decision goes one way or the other,” Carpio said.

He said he and the 13 other magistrates would also issue the rules and regulations regarding the release of the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of judges and justices for 2011.

The court directed all judges and justices to make public their SALNs on May 24, two days after Corona was ousted for his failure to disclose some P180 million in dollar and peso deposits in his SALN.

De Lima disbarment case

Also on Tuesday, Romulo Macalintal, an election lawyer, said in an e-mailed statement that De Lima could still be nominated as Chief Justice in spite of a pending disbarment case against her in the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, a private association of lawyers.

Macalintal said that the case “does not involve grave offenses of graft and corruption that could make a dent in her proven competence, integrity, probity and independence which the Constitution mandates to be possessed by a member of the Supreme Court.”

Under the JBC rules, persons who have “pending criminal or regular administrative cases” may not be nominated or appointed.

“The disbarment case against De Lima has not reached the stage where she is formally charged or that the evidence of her guilt is strong to justify her exclusion from the list of nominees,” Macalintal said.

The disbarment case against De Lima and Lacierda was filed in January by lawyer Agustin Sundiam, who claimed the two Cabinet secretaries violated their oath as lawyers when they spoke publicly against Chief Justice Corona before his impeachment.

In February, while Corona’s impeachment trial was going on, the Supreme Court ordered Lacierda and De Lima to comment on the case. But two months later, the tribunal referred the case to the IBP for a fact-finding investigation.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, Corona Impeachment, Government, Judiciary, kim henares, Politics, Renato Corona, Supreme Court
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