BY AMADO P. MACASAET
‘It is abundantly clear that President Aquino wants De Lima to be Chief Justice for her personal loyalty to him.’
PEOPLE have long noted that President Aquino is headstrong on matters that he believes would promote his “matuwid na daan.” That is variously translated that while he may not be considered the most intelligent Chief Executive this country ever had, he has a big heart, a heart that will carry him and this country through the campaign to stamp out corruption and restore the true meaning of democracy.
As he plods along, he is unconsciously revealing his real self. He might have lost his capacity to listen. And even if does, the target-shooting buddies, including Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, he brought with him to Malacañang, hardly have the competence or capacity to tell him the straight and narrow path to good governance.
How did it happen that at the time when his popularity rating is slowly coming down, he committed a mistake that will sink his acceptance by his people all the more? And he appears by what he has done that he is just as headstrong about it.
We do not know much about this lawyer Ed de Mesa, chief presidential legal counsel. We know less about his capacity or courage to tell the President about the legality or lack of legality of his moves.
We can say the same of Paquito Ochoa, executive secretary and former administrator of Quezon City, but most of all a constant target-shooting partner.
Ochoa and De Mesa are supposed to be the legal minds of the President. Maybe they do not have the mind or the President does not listen to them.
Otherwise, the President would not plunge himself into this abyss of bulldozing his way through the use of influence which, exercised by the Chief Executive, is variously interpreted as coercion, to make sure that De Lima is appointed chief justice to replace Renato Corona.
It is his undisguised desire to have a Head Magistrate loyal to him, not necessarily to the Constitution and the laws that should bother all of us. Clearly, it is for this reason that the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, may not oblige President Aquino in his request, interpreted as pressure, to quash the disbarment and immorality
complaints against the Mrs. De Lima he clearly wants to install as Chief Justice obviously for no other reason but personal loyalty to him.
This “loyalty” has no place in a nominee whose reputation is clouded with doubts about her fitness as a lawyer that brought her a disbarment case and her morality questioned by at least two complainants.
The complaints must be investigated by the IBP. Only a thorough investigation may clear or doom her. Yet without the investigation being completed, the President is said to have made a “personal request” to have Mrs. De Lima’s name included in the shortlist that the JBC will soon submit to the President.
In this sense, the President made himself the JBC. He wants De Lima’s name in the list because he will appoint her as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. This fits to a T the ponencia of Supreme Court Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin that, as in the case of the appointment of Renato Corona, the President can pick a Head Magistrate without necessarily picking one from a list submitted by the JBC.
The difference is the President is exerting influence or pressure or “personal request” to have Mrs. De Lima’s name in the list. In effect, the President is drawing up the list and making sure that his favored candidate is included. Otherwise, he would not try to have the IBP accept Mrs. De Lima’s memorandum for reconsideration.
President Aquino has transgressed his Constitutional right to appoint the Chief Justice. He has abused the right by insisting on picking a secretary of justice who by law is an extension of the President’s office.
The presumption is a cabinet member who is appointed as Chief Justice becomes completely independent of anybody including his family. But how can that presumption be held valid when the cabinet official has a cloud of doubt hovering over her head and yet the President appears bent on appointing her.
We cursed Gloria Arroyo for appointing Corona as Chief Justice and majority of the Court who will retire long after he retires. Well, Mrs. De Lima will reach retirement age long after President Aquino steps down.
To make sure President Aquino is safe from the Court with De Lima as Chief Justice? If this argument was valid for Corona and Mrs. Arroyo, it should similarly be valid for Aquino and De Lima.
It must be stressed, however, that there has been no tinge of corruption in the Aquino government in the past two years. However, there are “other crimes” that De Lima can shield President Aquino from.
Naked violation of the Constitution made law when the Supreme Court so ruled as in the appointment of Corona during a period prohibited by the Constitution is a worse crime that thievery or corruption.
Robbing the people of their legal rights is worse than taking away food from their mouths.
We are not saying that this can happen in the Aquino administration with De Lima as Chief Justice.
We are merely suspecting that an opening would have been made. It is abundantly clear that President Aquino wants De Lima to be Chief Justice for her personal loyalty to him.
It is just as clear that the President would set aside the cloud of doubt over De Lima’s head in exchange for her presumed personal loyalty.
What did we accomplish for democracy in convicting Renato Corona?
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IBP won’t oblige Aquino on De Lima
BY AMADO P. MACASAET
The nine-man board of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines yesterday voted as one in denying the motion for reconsideration filed by Justice Secretary Leila De Lima. The MR seeks to summarily dismiss the complaints for disbarment and immorality filed against De Lima, apparently President Aquino’s choice for Chief Justice to succeed the convicted Renato Corona.
The IBP decision prompted the Judicial and Bar Council to reset for tomorrow, Wednesday the voting on which nominee should be included in the short list to be submitted to the President.
Apparently, President Aquino needs more time to lobby for De Lima in spite of the IBP decision to investigate her.
Sources said the JBC will vote on Wednesday to amend its rules which will in turn facilitate the inclusion of De Lima in the shortlist and thus ignore the decision of the IBC to the investigate her alleged immorality offenses.
Three JBC members – Musngi, Mejia and Tupas – are said to be with the President. They will need two more votes to get a majority of five of the nine-member JBC to amend the rules.
A potential bitter conflict is in the making between the President or the JBC on one hand, and the IBP on the other. Should the Constitutionally independent JBC amend its rules to accommodate President Aquino for De Lima, there might arise a situation where a nominee with pending disbarment cases may become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Sources in the IBP hinted to Malaya Business Insight that the President should not pre-empt the results of its investigation against De Lima. They explained that the JBC has traditionally refused to vote for a nominee facing charges in legitimate tribunals like the IBP.
They pointed out that the presumption of innocence must not apply in the case of De Lima considering the sensitiveness of the position of Chief Justice. They said no cloud of doubt should hover over the head of a nominee for Chief Justice.
The IBP is the biggest and most prestigious association of lawyers authorized to investigate complaints for disbarment and violations of ethics of the legal profession. Its findings in disbarment cases are subject to the final approval of the Supreme Court. The sources explained that, theoretically, the Supreme Court may reverse a finding of innocence on the part of the lawyer complained of.
Similarly, the High Court may disbar or suspend a lawyer although the recommendation of the IBP is for acquittal.
The unanimous decision of the IBP to investigation the immorality complaints against De Lima is juxtaposed to the President’s strong desire to appoint her as head of the Highest Court.
Two situations arise from this case. One is the obvious lack of concern of the President for the independence of the JBC. The other is the strong showing of having independence by the IBP from the Office of the President.
The first has the tendency of destroying the justice system. The second has a tendency of promoting and rebuilding it.
This newspaper earlier reported that Joel Cadiz, former president of the IBP, Ed de Mesa, chief presidential legal counsel, and Jesse Robredo, secretary of interior and local government worked hard on the IBP to dismiss the complaints against De Lima. They failed.
Initial soundings from the IBP board of governors showed that six of the nine-man board were for denying De Lima’s motion for recommendation. Sources in the IBP intimated that the President thought it would be easy to get two of the six to be on his side.
It turned out that all nine voted to deny De Lima’s memorandum for reconsideration seeking to summarily dismiss the cases filed against her.
Undaunted, the President is now working on the JBC to include De Lima’s name in the shortlist, ignoring the investigation and its possible result – for or against Mrs. De Lima.
Worse, the JBC might go as far as amending its rules to oblige the President. Whether the rules are amended or not, the fact is no nominees for Chief Justice who has a pending case should even be voted upon, least of all be included in the shortlist particularly when the nominee does not have the vote.
Getting the majority vote is the next move that the President will make or is already making through his henchmen.
However, that does not remotely relate to the decision of the IBP to investigate the nominee on an alleged offense that can lead to her impeachment. The President made a difficult issue for himself at a time when his rating is ebbing.
Justice might have triumphed through the show of independence by the IBC but it is the President who determines his and the country’s course.
He has effectively left less meaningful and less credible his “matuwid na daan” (straight and narrow path to what is right.)
He made it rugged and crooked obviously because he wants a Chief Justice loyal to him, not necessarily to the Constitution.
That is what the impeachment court convicted Corona for. History has a funny way of repeating itself.