BY EVANGELINE DE VERA
Acting Supreme Court spokesman Gleo Guerra said the postponement of the voting, the third time since last month, stemmed from the motion of JBC member Sen. Francis Escudero who asked to be given more time to review records of the public interviews conducted by the panel on the nominees from July 24 to 29.
Also tomorrow, the JBC will discuss a proposal of another JBC member, Rep. Niel Tupas, to suspend rules to accommodate Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and other nominees facing disbarment and/or administrative cases.
Under Rule 4, Section 5 of the JBC rules, nominees will be disqualified from appointment to any judicial post or as ombudsman or deputy ombudsman if they have a pending criminal or regular administrative cases; if they have pending criminal cases in foreign courts or tribunal; if they have been convicted in any criminal case with a penalty of least P10,000 in fine, unless granted judicial clemency.
The nominees will have to have their cases resolved before the JBC votes on who should be in its shortlist.
Tupas said, “May pending akong amendment to the rules para maging equitable naman at maging fair sa mga applicants but it would depend on the decision of members of the council kung anu man ang mangyayari on Wednesday.”
Under Tupas’ proposal, De Lima may still get a shot at being shortlisted by the JBC despite the refusal of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines to dismiss outright the disbarment charges against her.
Other nominees facing cases are SC Justices Antonio Carpio and Maria Lourdes Sereno, PCGG chairman Andres Bautista, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, and Securities and Exchange Commission Teresita Herbosa.
Tupas represents the House of Representatives in the JBC while Escudero represents the Senate.
The composition of the JBC is under question at the Supreme Court. Last Friday, the tribunal said Escudero and Tupas could sit in the JBC for deliberations on the selection of the chief justice.
The SC still has to decide with finality on the petition filed by former solicitor general Francisco Chavez, who is saying Congress should have only one representative in the JBC.
Guerra said that because of the original decision of the SC granting Chavez’ petition, only Tupas attended the public interviews. Tupas missed the last day of the interviews.
Escudero’s motion was concurred in by Tupas and the six other JBC members.
The JBC shortlist will be submitted to President Aquino who has 90 days, or until August 29, to fill the vacancy created by the ouster of Renato Corona following his conviction before the Senate impeachment court.
Also yesterday, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines’ Board of Governors formally voted to turn down the motion for reconsideration filed by De Lima seeking the dismissal of three disbarment complaints filed against her.
De Lima’s nomination for the position of chief justice hinges on the dismissal of the disbarment charges.
According to IBP president Roan Libarios, the IBP board said it could not dismiss outright the complaints because the SC found basis to have the cases probed further when the Court referred it to the IBP.
“If a disbarment complaint is filed with the SC and the High Court refers it to the IBP for investigation, there is presumption that the SC has already found basis. Otherwise, the SC would have summarily dismissed the case, instead of referring it to the IBP to conduct investigation,” he said.
IBP spokeswoman Trixie Cruz-Angeles said the IBP board did not give credence to De Lima’s argument that she has immunity from suits, being a Cabinet member.
The disbarment complaints were filed by lawyers Agustin Sundiam, Ricardo Rivera and Fernando Perito.
Sundiam alleged that De Lima is liable for statements made on national television that Corona is a “walking constitutional crisis.”
The Rivera and Perito complaints were consolidated by the JBC into one case as they refer to the same incident of De Lima’s alleged defiance of the SC’s temporary restraining order on the travel ban issued by her office against former president, now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo. For the same act of defiance, she was ordered by the high court to show cause why she should not be cited for contempt.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Malacañang is not influencing the IBP proceedings to save De Lima’s bid.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said no Cabinet member is working for the dismissal of the disbarment cases against De Lima. A disbarment case will disqualify the justice chief from the selection process.
“As far as we are concerned, we have not spoken to any IBP official…If we did something it (decision on disbarment case) would have been reconsidered. But, obviously, IBP has taken a stance that shows that we have not done, we have not spoken to them,” Lacierda said.
He also said the Palace also did not know that Tupas has asked the JBC for an extension before deciding on the shortlist that it would submit to President Aquino.
He said Malacañang will not comment on the actions of the JBC so that it will not be accused of influencing its deliberations. – With Regina Bengco
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Leila’s Dilemma Continues As IBP Junks Her Appeal
BY LEONARD D. POSTRADO
MANILA, Philippines — Saying she is not immune from criminal suit even as she is considered to be President Benigno S. Aquino III’s alter ego, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) on Monday threw out the appeal filed by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima that sought the dismissal of two disbarment cases against her.
As this developed, the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) reset to Wednesday its scheduled deliberation yesterday to name its official nominees to the post of Chief Justice to give more time for Sen. Francis Escudero and Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. to review the qualifications of the 20 aspirants.
The nine governors of the IBP unanimously voted on Monday to push through with their probe in connection with the consolidated complaints filed against De Lima which stemmed from her defiance of the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court when she ordered to stop former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from leaving the country and for bad-mouthing ousted Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Renato C. Corona.
Aside from Libarios, the IBP Board of Governors who voted include Atty. Denis B. Habawel, Governor for Northern Luzon; Atty. Olivia V. Jacoba, Governor for Central Luzon; Atty. Dominic C.M. Solis, Governor for Greater Manila; Vicente M. Joyas, Governor for Southern Luzon; Atty. Leonor L. Gerona-Romeo, Governor for Bicolandia; Atty. L. Enage, Jr., Governor for Eastern Visayas, Atty. Erwin Fortunato, Governor for Western Visayas, Israelito P. Torreon, Governor for Eastern Mindanao and Atty. Florendo B. Opay, Governor for Western Mindanao.
“Early this morning, the IBP governors unanimously voted to deny Sec. De Lima’s appeal to have her disbarment cases be dismissed as the Justice Secretary had not provided new arguments that will merit the dismissal of her case,” IBP national president Roan Libarios told reporters in an interview.
He said that the IBP governors issued a minute-order after the announcement of the lawyers’ group’s decision.
De Lima, who is among the top contenders to replace Corona, is facing two disbarment cases – one filed by Ricardo Rivera, Fernando Perito, Nephtali Aliposa and the other lodged by lawyer Augusto Sundiam – before the IBP.
With two disbarment cases at bay, De Lima’s chances of becoming the next top judge still hangs in the balance since those cases can be used as basis for her disqualification from the Chief Justice race.
Under Rule 4, Section 5 of the JBC rules, the nominees are considered to be disqualified from appointment to any judicial post or as Ombudsman or Deputy Ombudsman if they have a pending criminal or regular administrative cases; those with pending criminal cases in foreign courts or tribunal; those who have been convicted in any criminal case; or in an administrative case, where the penalty imposed is at least a fine of more than P10,000, unless granted judicial clemency.
In a last-minute bid to avert her possible disqualification from the Chief Justice selection process, De Lima asked the biggest lawyers’ group in the country last August 1 to reverse its decision to probe further the disbarment cases filed against her.
She argued that the SC did not explicitly state in its July 3 resolution that they found merit in the disbarment cases when they referred them to the IBP and thus can be outrightly dismissed.
As the Secretary of Justice who acts as an alter ego of President Aquino, De Lima further pointed out that she’s immune from criminal and civil suits.
In denying De Lima’s appeal, IBP board explained that they could not outrightly dismiss De Lima’s complaint since the High Court has already found basis to have the cases probed further when the SC referred her cases to the lawyers’ group.
Libarios said that the high tribunal ordered the IBP to conduct a full blown probe on the case of De Lima when it was referred to them.
“If a disbarment complaint is filed with the SC and the High Court refers it to the IBP for investigation, there is presumption that the SC has already found basis,” the IBP national president explained.
“Otherwise, the Supreme Court would have summarily dismissed the case, instead of referring it to the IBP to conduct investigation,” he added.
But aside from finding basis that warrants a probe on De Lima’s case, IBP spokesperson Trixie Cruz Angeles, in a separate interview, said that the IBP board did not give credence to the argument of the Justice Secretary that she was immune from suits being a member of President Aquino’s Cabinet.
“She cannot raise the argument that she’s immune from law suits since there’s no law which indicates that alter-egos of presidents can enjoy the same privileges that are accorded to our country’s leaders,” Atty. Cruz-Angeles explained.
“De Lima cannot be shielded by President Aquino’s immunity from law suit even though she’s an alter-ego of the president,” she stressed.
Meanwhile, Malacañang rejected speculations that it is exerting pressure on concerned offices to bend their rules to accommodate De Lima in her quest to become the next Chief Justice.
No Cabinet member has approached the JBC or the IBP to supposedly seek the delay of the proceedings in a bid to assist De Lima, according to Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda. (With reports from Francis T. Wakefield, Rey G. Panaligan, and Genalyn D. Kabiling)
Both Atty. Cruz-Angeles and Atty. Libarios pointed out that De Lima did not raise any new arguments in her motion for reconsideration that would compel the IBP board to overturn its its July 3 resolution that found merit in the disbarment cases of the Justice Secretary.
With the denial of the motion for reconsideration (MR), Angeles said the investigation on De Lima’s case will push through, adding that the IBP will finish its formal investigation on the disbarment complaint by September or October this year.
“The Supreme Court gave us 90 days to finish the investigation but it was interrupted with the filing of the MR. So, we will finish the investigation by September or October,” she said.
The eight-member JBC panel has less than three weeks to submit names of nominees which the President will pick as the possible replacement of ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was convicted by the Senate impeachment court for betrayal of public trust, last May 29.
Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, one of the two representatives of Congress in the JBC, already hinted in an interview Sec. de Lima may not be included in the shortlist because their rules clearly provide
for disqualification of candidates with pending criminal or administrative cases.
“We won’t even put it to a vote. The rule will simply be applied unless by some stroke of luck or miracle, the case will be dismissed by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines,” he explained in an
He stressed: “It will be unfair if we make an exception to the rule because we have disqualified countless applicants who were similarly situated.”
But Sec. de Lima made a last-minute appeal to the JBC last Friday and insisted that the consolidated complaints filed against her by Ricardo Rivera, Fernando Perito and Nephtali Aliposa cannot be ground for her disqualification because they are not regular administrative cases as specified in JBC rules.
In a 11-page letter she submitted to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), de Lima admitted feeling powerless in the face of the six-month lag in the referral of her disbarment cases to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).
“The situation is clearly this: while the undersigned finds her candidacy for Chief Justice undersigned finds her candidacy for Chief Justice under the mercy of her co-nominee Justices of the Court, as her fate clearly rests on these same Justices’ action or inaction on her disbarment cases, these same co-nominees are able to dispose of their own administrative cases, merely by virtue of the privilege of being members of the same Court that deals with such administrative cases,” she said.
At the same time, she also cried foul over IBP’s treatment of the complaints against her, saying it was unfair for the lawyer’s body to expeditiously dispose the disbarment complaint filed against two SC
magistrates who are also vying for the chief justice post.
Citing an apparent double standard in IBP’s resolution of case, she believes justices of the high court “are always in a better position than ordinary lawyers in terms of the disposition of administrative
cases that threaten to disqualify them.”
She specifically cited the dismissal last June 13 of the disbarment complaint filed by Mayor Magdaleno Peña Pulupandan town in Negros Occidental against Justices Carpio and Sereno.
“In the first place, as a rule, it is really the Court which decides cases for disbarment against lawyers and as such, said lawyers, even if they happen to be candidates for the top post of the judiciary,
invariably find themselves at the mercy of the Court,” she lamented.