MANILA, Philippines–President Aquino on Friday let the cat out of the bag: the process of vetting by the Judicial and Bar Council for the next Chief Justice was “unfair’’ so its list of nominees was inadequate.
“Satisfied? Personally, I’m not,’’ Mr. Aquino tersely told reporters of the JBC’s shortlist of eight nominees that excluded the administration’s “bet’’ Secretary Leila de Lima because of a pending disbarment case.
“In my view, what happened was not fair. Their rules say that those with disbarment cases will not be considered. There are those facing cases but were suddenly cleared. There are others who don’t have any case but were suddenly disqualified. How can that be fair?’’ he added.
Even so, Mr. Aquino said he’d pick the next Chief Justice from the JBC list because this is his constitutional mandate. He has until Aug. 27 to do so.
“We will pick from the list before the deadline comes,’’ he said.
The President ruled out the idea of tossing back the list to JBC. “What choice do I have? The Constitution doesn’t give me that prerogative. The Constitution tells me that I have to choose from the list that they submitted,’’ he said.
It was the first time Mr. Aquino commented on the matter since the JBC submitted its shortlist of five Supreme Court justices and three legal luminaries last Monday afternoon. His spokespersons had deferred comment since then, saying they had yet to speak with the President.
Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio led the shortlist. Also in the list were Associate Justices Roberto Abad, Arturo Brion, Ma. Lourdes Sereno and Teresita Leonardo de Castro; former Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, Rep. Ronaldo Zamora and former Ateneo law dean Cesar Villanueva.
Carpio garnered seven out of eight votes. Abad, Brion, Sereno, Jardeleza and Zamora got six votes each while De Castro and Villanueva received five votes each.
The next Chief Justice will replace Renato Corona who was ousted by the Senate on May 29 after trying him for non-disclosure of assets.
De Lima, who is facing disbarment cases for badmouthing Corona and ignoring a Supreme Court order, had decried the fact that she was singled out for disqualification. She said the cases against her were politically motivated.
Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., a JBC member, had said that Jardeleza and another applicant, Securities and Exchange Commission Teresita Herbosa, had been deemed disqualified because of pending cases, but this was reconsidered.
He said Jardeleza’s case in the high court had not been acted upon and could not be considered yet an “administrative case’’ under JBC rules. The administrative case against Herbosa, who got only four votes, was dismissed Aug. 1.
Appearing in a Malacañang briefing over the reported escape of inmate Rolito Go from the New Bilibid Prisons, De Lima ruled out applying for a seat in the high court in the future.
“To be part of the JBC, definitely. I will go back to the JBC, I will sit there as an ex-officio member because that is a constitutional mandate on my part; it’s in the Constitution. And no problem with me, I can still work with all of them there. Now, as to—probably you’re referring if I have any other intentions of applying later? I don’t know. Probably no more. Not anymore,’’ she said.