BY AMADO P. MACASAET
‘The lesson learned here is that the JBC, being a constitutionally independent body, never had any problem maintaining its independence.’
THE Judicial and Bar Council “shamed” President Aquino by not including Justice Secretary Leila de Lima in the short list for chief justice in spite of pressure he exerted.
In the final voting held yesterday, the eight members of the JBC gave Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio 7 votes, followed by SC Associate Justice Robert Abad, 6 votes; Justice Arturo Brion, 6; Justice Lourdes Sereno, 6; Francis Jardeleza, 6; Ronaldo Zamora, 6; Teresita de Castro, 5, and Cesar Villanueva, 5.
The JBC was supposed to draw up a short list of at list three names which would be submitted to President Aquino.
The JBC refused to accept the moral responsibility in the disbarment case filed against De Lima and practically defied President Aquino who made a “personal request” to qualify De Lima through Frederick Musngi, the newest and least experienced lawyer in the JBC.
The lesson learned here is that the JBC, being a constitutionally independent body, never had any problem maintaining its independence.
The other lesson learned is that, as it happened, no President can pressure the JBC into giving the qualifying votes to any nominee.
Again, as it happened, it is easier for the President to pressure or influence the Supreme Court than it is to get the JBC to obey the wishes – in fact, command – of the Chief Executive.
It is plain sense to appoint the nominee who was given the highest votes by the JBC. However, the President has the sole power to pick one from the short list. That one need not be the candidate who got the most votes.
Again, picking another nominee with one or two votes fewer than the most favored may be variously interpreted as defiance by the President of JBC’s top choice. There are no legal arguments against that if only for the fact that the council has to submit a short list of at least three candidates.
By disqualifying De Lima, in spite of the President’s use or abuse of power, the JBC made sure that whoever the President will choose from the short list does not have a cloud over his head.
In this sense, the new Chief Justice comes in with clean hands. It may then be presumed that President Aquino failed to have a Head Magistrate loyal only to him and not to the Constitution and the laws.
The new Chief Justice can lead the Court to the impartial application of the laws precisely because he does not have baggage he cannot unload.
That should bring the justice system to the “daang matuwid” or straight and narrow path to genuine democracy. If only for this, the President should not feel he was shamed or embarrassed by the JBC.
On the contrary, he should be proud that the council yields to no one, not even the President. After all the Chief Justice that the President used to say he wanted to appoint until he started rooting for De Lima, is a man who is not in the pocket of anyone like Renato Corona who was perceived to be in the pocket of Gloria Arroyo.
He wants a lawyer loyal only to the Constitution and the laws. He will have one now that De Lima has been disqualified by the JBC. None of this is remotely saying that if De Lima is appointed, she would be a vassal of the President.
There are two things against De Lima. First is the disbarment and immorality charges the President also wanted quashed by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. Instead of obliging him, the IBP voted 9-0 to investigate the complaints against De Lima.
Like the JBC, the IBP also proclaimed to the world that it knows the meaning of independence. It does not succumb to pressure.
The other negative side of De Lima is her obvious ignorance of the law. She loudly complained that the IBP and the Supreme Court went against her by investigating complaints against her while dismissing disbarment charges against Acting Chief Justice Antonio T. Carpio and Justice Maria Lourdes P. Sereno.
A lawyer told me that the complaints against the two jurists were filed to have them disqualified as nominees for Chief Justice. The mistake, similar to the mistake made by Mrs. De Lima, is not knowing that members of the Supreme Court may be removed from office only by impeachment.
The fact that President Aquino took on the chin the defiance of his wishes by the JBC is another manifestation that his administration has a healthy respect for Constitutional agencies.
Mr. Aquino should now simply believe that even the president can’t win ‘em all. That is a positive attitude that should be a learning lesson.
The results of the voting in the JBC which was not to the President’s liking should tame his single mindedness on things which can turn sour. Of course, the first step is to get better lawyers to advice him. But if he does not listen, they are not of any use to him or the country at all.
We learn to miss things only after we lose them. There is a way of preventing the loss. That should be the more important lesson.
Said in a word President Aquino tried to destroy what he said he has always wanted to have – a Supreme Court presided by a man not in the pocket of anyone. Fortunately for him, the JBC and the IBP chose to abide by the law.