By Delon Porcalla
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – President Aquino admitted yesterday that his choice for chief justice is not in the final shortlist of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) but that he has to choose from among the list anyway by Aug. 27.
“What’s my choice? The Constitution does not give me that prerogative. The Constitution tells me that I have to choose from the list that they submitted,” he told Palace reporters in a chance interview, when asked if he planned to return the list to the JBC.
His predecessor, now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, had twice returned JBC lists. The JBC rejected both attempts.
Aquino did not name his choice but he was apparently referring to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who was disqualified by the JBC on the basis of two disbarment cases filed against her by some lawyers.
“Am I satisfied? Personally, I’m not. I think what happened was not fair. They said that based on rules anyone with disbarment case shouldn’t be considered,” he said in Filipino.
“Then it changed. There are those with pending charges and some are not facing any charges at all but have been disqualified. So, how can we say it’s fair? Nevertheless, the Constitution states that I should choose from the list,” Aquino said.
He said he has until Aug. 27 to make a choice.
The Constitution requires the President to name the next chief justice within 90 days after the vacancy in the position.
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Former chief magistrate Renato Corona was ousted through impeachment by the Senate last May 29.
Included in the JBC shortlist are acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, fellow justices Roberto Abad, Arturo Brion, Teresita de Castro, Ma. Lourdes Sereno, former congressman Ronaldo Zamora, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza and former Ateneo law dean Cesar Villanueva.
Meanwhile, the JBC said it is standing by its shortlist of candidates for chief magistrate despite President Aquino’s declaration of disappointment over the disqualification of De Lima.
Jose Mejia, a member of the council representing academe, also ruled out taking back the shortlist just to give in to the wishes of the President.
“We’ve done our best. We did our part of screening the nominees based on criteria set by the Constitution. Now it’s up to him (to choose from the shortlist),” he told The STAR in an interview.
But he said the President might just be expressing his opinion.
“There are people who were satisfied with the list and there are those who are not. It just so happened that the President falls in the latter group. I think there’s nothing wrong in expressing one’s opinion,” he said.
He said the President would certainly abide by the Constitution and choose from the list.
Mejia reiterated that the eight-member council had been fair in its selection process.
De Lima, for her part, said she has already moved on and has started to enjoy her work in the DOJ again.
While she is happy with the support shown by the President, she said she would not push for reconsideration of the list. “If I’m asked by the President if he should return the shortlist, I would not encourage him to do that,” she told reporters in an ambush interview.
De Lima earlier accused the JBC of conspiring with the Supreme Court and Integrated Bar of the Philippines to crush her bid to become the next chief magistrate.
De Lima said it was unfair for the council to disqualify her, considering that other bets also had pending administrative cases. – With Edu Punay