BY EVANGELINE DE VERA
FOR the second time, Supreme Court magistrates yesterday deferred ruling on compelling the Judicial and Bar Council to release results of the psychiatric evaluation on nominees for the position of chief justice.
A court source said that during the regular en banc session yesterday, senior justices again tried to put to a vote the letter of Associate Justice Arturo Brion, but Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno prevailed anew, saying she has yet to get the consensus of the eight-member JBC.
The court insider said Sereno told her colleagues she will again speak with JBC members about the release of its psychiatric and psychological assessment report, which JBC members deem to be confidential.
Sereno, during the September 4 en banc, reportedly blocked a move to put Brion’s letter to a vote, saying she has to consult with JBC members. The JBC met Monday, but Sereno did not raise the issue, according to JBC member Jose Mejia who explained that JBC does take up topics it has already discussed, like Brion’s request which he said was discussed by the council in its September 3 meeting.
The court insider yesterday also said that according to Sereno, certain nominees have objected to having their psychiatric assessment revealed, but she did not name these nominees. She pointed out that once the result of Brion’s psychiatric test is released, other nominees might follow suit, which would render the confidentiality of the tests inutile.
Sereno’s move to strike down Brion’s letter from the court’s agenda yesterday was slammed by other justices as a mere dilatory tactic to prevent the court from ruling on the issue.
Originally, Sereno sought to defer the case for two more weeks, but the majority agreed to only a week.
The source said the justices wanted to know if the JBC did its constitutional mandate of properly screening the candidates it shortlisted. The screening includes psychiatric and psychological exams of nominees.
Brion and Sereno were among 20 candidates for the post of chief justice which was vacated by impeached Renato Corona.
Of the 20, eight made it to the short list.
Sereno’s appointment, which was announced by President Aquino on August 24, was followed by leaked reports of the psychiatric exams which Sereno reportedly failed.
The leaked reports said Sereno obtained the mark of “4,” the second lowest grade among the nominees, while Brion reportedly got a grade of “3” which means he passed the tests satisfactorily.
The JBC is an independent constitutional body but the SC has supervisory powers over it. The two bodies have collided on certain issues in the past. In numerous instances, the SC had prevailed over the JBC, like in 2006 when the panel had required sitting members of the SC who are nominees for the position of CJ to undergo public interview for the impending retirement of then chief justice Artemio Panganiban.
Then Associate Justices Reynato Puno, Leonardo Quisumbing, Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez and Antonio Carpio individually wrote the JBC informing the body of their decision not to subject themselves to the process, saying the JBC has lost its authority to examine their fitness and integrity since they would not have been appointed to the SC if there were doubts on their qualifications.
Panganiban, who was then the chair of the JBC, accepted the decision of the magistrates, stressing the JBC has no power to compel anybody to attend the public interview. Puno eventually became chief justice.