‘Pound for pound, De Lima has edge over Henares’
The popular secretary of justice cannot picture herself as a cloistered public official, that is why she is not interested in becoming the 24th Chief Justice of the Philippines.
De Lima, speaking with reporters on Wednesday, said she had not yet decided whether to accept her nomination as successor to Renato Corona, whom the House of Representatives impeached last December and the Senate fired on May 22 for culpable violation of the Constitution.
If appointed Chief Justice, De Lima would be the chair of the Supreme Court. But justices in the highest court generally stay away from the limelight, and that, De Lima said, would make it hard for her to make up her mind.
“(Serving on the Supreme Court) would be a new world for me,” De Lima said. “I’m not used to being in a collegial body.”
“And my personality? I don’t know if I could fit in that system,” she said. “A Chief Justice is passive—seldom seen, seldom heard, only read. Can you imagine a Leila de Lima seldom seen and seldom heard?” she said, drawing laughter from reporters.
But she quickly added, “But that’s not really a very serious thing (or) impediment. That’s just my personal insight to put it lightly … I can always adjust to any environment or atmosphere. (I’m a) professional.”
Still, De Lima isn’t sure she’s ready to head “a crucial institution such as the Supreme Court.” Most of the nominees for Chief Justice, she said, are “certainly very qualified and competent to take on that position.”
She stressed that she was not interested in becoming Chief Justice. She explained that her decision to join the government had been based on her abilities and qualifications and where she thought she could best serve the national interest and the public good.
Someone who is, and has said she has the “advantage over all the other” nominees has drawn a rejection from a former official who has interviewed with the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the body that vets nominees for positions in the judiciary.
A former diplomat, Roy Señeres, on Wednesday said the claim of Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) Commissioner Kim Henares that she had an edge because she “personally experienced all in the system” did not seem to be a compelling reason for her to be appointed Chief Justice.
Señeres said that if Henares’ criteria were all that’s required to become Chief Justice, “then I might as well apply.” He said he had been regional labor director, ambassador and chair of the National Labor Relations Commission.”
For Señeres, De Lima is, “pound for pound,” someone who has “more edge than Henares in so far as experience in the system is concerned.”
De Lima said she might meet with President Benigno Aquino within the week and she would ask him to help her decide whether to accept her nomination.
The JBC has set on June 18 the deadline for acceptance or rejection of nominations.
Asked if she was more interested in running for a seat in the Senate, De Lima replied: “I really don’t know.” Here, she said she also wanted to consult the President, who, she added, knew where she would be most effective.
“With the Senate, that’s politics,” De Lima said. “I’m not sure if I could join the world of politicians. I find it difficult sometimes to relate to politicians.”
On Monday, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) chapter in Zambales province nominated De Lima as Chief Justice to the JBC.
In its letter to the JBC, the IBP said De Lima had the “competence, professional qualifications and ethical standards to serve as Chief Justice.”
De Lima’s “elevation to the Supreme Court would likely contribute significantly to reshaping Philippine jurisprudence in a direction that would protect and strengthen the fundamental rights of the people,” the lawyers’ group said.
According to Dante Jimenez, VACC founding chairman, De Lima “possesses the utmost competence, diligence, probity and independence to be able to dispense justice to everyone and to lead the judiciary to the new path.”
In a separate nomination letter, Jimenez said that while De Lima was an appointee of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (as chair of the Commission on Human Rights), she did her job “in accordance with law and the truth, and by what is just and right.”
Señeres warned applicants that remnants of the Arroyo administration remained in the JBC and might influence the selection process.
Señeres said that when he applied to serve on the Court of Appeals, the JBC rejected his application because he faced sedition and rebellion charges for calling on the military in 2005 to discharge its mandate of protecting the people by overthrowing the Arroyo administration.
The Arroyo appointees in the JBC regarded her as their “patron and idol,” Señeres said.
He called attention to the presence of those appointees in the council. They may just endorse the appointment as Chief Justice of someone they see as pro-Arroyo, he said. With a report from Jerome Aning
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