BY JOMAR CANLAS
THE MANILA TIMES
AN overwhelming majority of Supreme Court justices do not want Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to be the next chief justice.
At least nine justices told The Manila Times that de Lima is not a welcome choice for members of the high tribunal. One justice threatened to resign if the Justice secretary is appointed as the next chief magistrate.
At present, there are only 14 members of the High Court since Chief Justice Renato Corona was convicted by the Senate impeachment court in May.
Many justices also castigated some members of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) for their attempt to suspend the rules to accommodate de Lima, who is facing two disbarment cases before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.
One justice who asked not to identified described as “shameless” efforts to suspend the JBC rule on disqualification so that the Justice chief would not be kicked out of the chief justice race. Under the JBC rules, nominees for positions in the Supreme Court and other courts who have been charged criminally or administratively are disqualified.
Last Friday, the council again had to postpone voting on the final shortlist of candidates for chief magistrate after Justice Undersecretary Michael Frederick Musngi of the Office of the President moved to reset the vote after the council failed to reach a consensus on his proposal to change the rule disqualifying aspirants for judicial posts with pending criminal or regular administrative case.
Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. of Iloilo province said that a member of the council objected to the proposal on the basis of integrity.
The justices expressed their dislike and disgust with de Lima, who had earlier defied a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court that would have allowed former president Gloria Arroyo to leave the country late last year.
The JBC is set to deliberate today whether or not to consider the nomination of de Lima, who had earlier asked the council not to disqualify her.
The magistrates who talked on condition of anonymity said that the move of Malacañang and de Lima to intrudes on the independence of the JBC.
The Palace on Sunday refused to comment on Musngi’s desire to relax the rules for de Lima.
“It is not for us to judge the actions of an independent body like the JBC. We will defer any comment on the matter as the short list is yet to be submitted for the President’s consideration,” Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte told reporters.
One Supreme Court justice told The Times that he strongly believes that almost all, if not all of the justices, do not like and respect de Lima.
“Ay naku ayaw naming lahat dito sa Supreme Court kay Leila. Baka mag-resign na lang ako pag siya ang naging chief justice,” a justice told The Times.
Another said that they are disgusted with the way de Lima is being pushed as a chief justice nominee.
“Garapalan at kakapalan na ng mukha ang ginagawa sa JBC para ipasok si de Lima [What they are doing to make sure de Lima stays in the race is shameless]. An ordinary lawyer or a judge or justice is disqualified if he or she has a pending case and now the JBC is being pushed with the suspension of the rules just for de Lima to become chief justice?” one of the High Court justices fumed.
Another justice said that “if the gauge is stiff against an ordinary lawyer, judge or justice for a promotion, it should be stiffer when the one is seeking the highest position in the judiciary.”
One of the justices said that the Supreme Court’s integrity suffered when de Lima refused to honor the TRO the high court issued for Mrs. Arroyo.
The magistrate said that it is ironic that the person who stubbornly refused to honor the TRO now wants to lead the Supreme Court.
A male justice pointed out that while de Lima may be “academically excellent” this qualification is not enough to make her chief justice.
“She lacks the experience and the moral ascendancy to lead the judiciary. Remember the work of the chief justice is adjudication and as an administrator. A chief justice is the father of the judiciary,” he pointed out.
The justice stressed that if de Lima will become chief justice, she will have a hard time earning the respect of the associate justices. He warned that it is still the Supreme Curt en banc which gives a chief justice the power on administrative matters. If de Lima is named chief justice, he said that they can take away that power.
“Sa tingin mo ba kapag naging chief justice si Leila ay mapapasunod niya kami? Si [Antonio] Carpio, Si Presby [Velasco], si [Arturo] Brion, si [Teresita] de Castro, sa tingin mo susunod sa kanya [Do you think if Leila becomes chief justice she can make us follow her? Do you think Carpio, Presby, Brion and de Castro will listen to her?]” the justice told The Times. The justices he mentioned are the four most senior justices of the high court.
Another justice said de Lima will only divide the tribunal.
“After the Corona impeachment, we need someone na mag-uunify sa court,” he said.
Same rule for all
A magistrate said that when then Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera applied for an Associate Justice position, she was disqualified by the JBC because of the cases filed against her before the Office of the Ombudsman.
The High Court justice said that the same rule should apply to de Lima.
“Why relax the rules just for de Lima? It should be prospective in application or for future applicants in the judiciary. It is unfair to those who were disqualified due to their pending cases,” the source said.
No special treatment was given to Devanadera, who at that time was also a member of the JBC.
WITH A REPORT FROM JAIME R. PILAPIL
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De Lima: Why was I singled out?
MANILA, Philippines — Why only me, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima asked after she was disqualified by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), which released its shortlist of nominees for the position of Chief Justice on Tuesday.
“I honestly don’t know how to react. Why was I singled out? Yun lang ang gusto kong itanong sa kanila,” de Lima told reporters.
She did not answer further questions anymore.
The JBC chose this afternoon eight names for its shortlist of nominees for the position of Chief Justice. They are incumbent Supreme Court justices Antonio Carpio, Roberto Abad, Arturo Brion, Teresita Leonardo De Castro and Maria Lourdes Sereno; Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, Ateneo Law School Dean Cesar Villanueva and Rep. Ronaldo Zamora.
De Lima was disqualified due to pending disbarment cases before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).
The JBC’s decision affirmed the ruling of the IBP, which had refused de Lima’s petition to junk the disbarment cases.
Last Friday, JBC members failed to reach a consensus on the suspension or amendment of its disqualification rule.
Jardeleza was earlier disqualified because of a pending disbarment case but he was reconsidered today because there was no prima facie evidence against him.
A source said Securities and Exchange Commission chairperson Teresita Herbosa was also reconsidered, but failed to get into the shortlist.