De Lima tells JBC: Don’t count me out
The ghost of ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona haunts the reputed front-runner for the vacant position.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has told the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) it will be unfair to exclude her from the short list of three candidates for the next Chief Justice on the basis of a disbarment case against her.
In a seven-page letter to the JBC on Friday, De Lima sought to counter the position of Justice Diosdado Peralta, the JBC chairman, that the Supreme Court’s referral to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) of one of three complaints against her meant the high tribunal had a prima facie case against her.
De Lima has been accused of violating the lawyers’ code of conduct when she allegedly made disparaging remarks last year against Corona when he was under attack by President Benigno Aquino.
She said in her letter that the complaints against her pertained to her official function as an alter ego of the President and enjoyed a “strong” presumption of regularity. She said the cases against her were “political in nature.”
De Lima, 52, has said that as an outsider, she has the edge against other contenders because she has the strong personality to institute reforms in a judiciary tarnished by the impeachment trial of Corona.
Under the JBC rules, no aspirant for a judicial post may be nominated if he or she has any pending “criminal or regular administrative complaint.”
De Lima’s letter will be among the various petitions for or against candidates and other replies that the JBC is to study in the next few days. The council reset its final voting for the short list of nominees for Chief Justice from Monday to Thursday.
During her interview in the JBC on Tuesday, De Lima disagreed with Peralta that in accordance with practice, the preliminary determination of merit by the IBP applied only to disbarment complaints filed directly with it and not cases referred to it by the high court.
“With all due respect, legal action cannot be based on mere ‘practice,’ as such does not satisfy the demands of justice and fair play; it can only be based on law and rules,” she said in her letter, a copy of which was released to the Philippine Daily Inquirer Sunday.
No merit in referral
De Lima explained that the mere referral of her case to the IBP did not mean that the high court had already found the complaint meritorious. She noted that the cases against her were filed by other persons.
According to the justice secretary, the complaints against her were not under the category of cases “initiated by the court,” which needs no preliminary determination of merit and is referred straight to the solicitor general, a lower court judge or an officer of the high court.
Since the complaint was referred to the IBP, De Lima said the high court only ruled that the case was “meritorious for further proceedings” but left it to the IBP to determine if the complaint itself was meritorious.
This meant there is no pending complaint against her to speak of since the IBP has not initiated any proceeding on the case, she added.
“The rules do not say that by virtue of mere referral, the court already made a prima facie finding of merit, since these cases are not like the cases initiated by the court motu propio and where common sense dictates that the court first determines a prima facie case out of its own case. [This] does not apply to complaints filed with the court by third persons and with which the court has nothing to do whatsoever, except refer the same to the IBP,” she said.
Height of injustice
De Lima also said that the assignment of a docket number to the complaint did not mean that a regular administrative case against her was in effect.
She said administrative cases handled by the high court and the executive branch were different.
Those filed in the high court are received and docketed “without even an iota of basis to preliminarily determine whether the case is meritorious,” she said.
“Hence, it is the height of impracticality and injustice to say that the mere act of docketing a case is considered as vesting a mere complaint with the weight and consequences of a ‘regular administrative case,’ she said.
De Lima said it was not her fault that the disbarment complaints against her had not yet been resolved by the time the JBC came out with a short list.
She said it was nearly half a year later that the complaint against her was referred to the IBP.
Originally posted: 06:58 pm | Sunday, July 29th, 2012
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