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JBC will disqualify De Lima if disbarment case not dismissed by July 30, says Escudero

Sen. Francis Escudero

MANILA, Philippines—Justice Secretary Leila De Lima is bound to be disqualified in the race for the next Chief Justice because of the pending disbarment cases against her, Senator Francis Escudero said on Friday.

Escudero, the Senate representative to the Judicial and Bar Council, cited the rule against applicants with pending cases before the Supreme Court, Office of the Ombudsman, or the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.

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But the JBC gave De Lima the opportunity to be cleared of the cases against her before the council votes on who will be included in the short list of applicants on July 30.

“Based on the rules of the JBC, whoever has a case with the Ombudsman, Supreme Court or the IBP for disbarment is disqualified,” he told reporters after the JBC meeting.

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“But we did not act on it earlier because there is still time … although they say it’s (already) impossible … given the short period of time remaining to resolve the case,” he added.

“Still, we decided to hold in abeyance the decision on her status until we actually vote on the short-list to be submitted to President Aquino so that Secretary De Lima could be given the opportunity to resolve and expedite the cases filed against her.”

Escudero admitted that to hurdle such cases before the July 30 vote would be “close to impossible” for De Lima. “But sometimes, miracles happen,” he said.

In the meeting, he said JBC members cited the “conflict of interest” that might arise in the event that De Lima was picked to replace ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona.

He said the IBP recommendation on the disbarment case against De Lima would eventually be decided on by the high tribunal, of which she might be part of. In that case, he said “there would be a clear conflict of interest.”

Escudero noted that the JBC had been strict with applicants in the judiciary with pending cases. He cited the case of Agnes Devanadera, a solicitor general and justice secretary during the Arroyo administration who was disqualified because of an unresolved complaint before 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.”

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A disbarment case was filed against De Lima in connection with her public attacks against Corona, whom she had called a “lawless tyrant” on national television. De Lima is also facing graft charges over the deportation of 14 Tawainese 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 would open Twitter and Facebook accounts to receive questions from the public for the 22 nominees, said Escudero.

But he said questions should deal with the “competence, probity, and independence” of the applicants. “Below-the-belt” and “disrespectful” questions would not be allowed, he said.

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TAGS: executive, Government, Judiciary, law and justice, Leila de Lima, succession, Supreme Court
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