Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Corona Clears His Desk

..MANILA, Philippines --- Ousted Chief Justice Renato C. Corona started clearing his desk in his office in the Supreme Court on Monday. In an impromptu speech, Corona asked the court's officials and employees to support his successor. He also urged them to continue his fight for the independence of the judiciary. Corona's staff members in his former office who occupy co-terminus positions were given 30 days to wind up. They will either resign or be absorbed in the same Office of the Chief Justice or transferred to other offices. While a retiring justice is given 30 days to wind up his work, it was not known if the same privilege will be given to Corona. Also yesterday, acting Chief Justice Antonio T. Carpio and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima inhibited themselves from deliberations by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) on the selection of a new Chief Justice. By operation of law and until a permanent Chief Justice is appointed by President Benigno S. Aquino III from among the nominees to be submitted by the JBC, Carpio becomes acting Chief Justice, acting chairman of the JBC, and acting chairman of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). The vacancy will be published in the newspapers on June 6, and the nominations or applications would be accepted by the JBC until June 18. The President has 90 days within which to appoint a replacement in any vacancy in the judiciary. Carpio presided over yesterday's JBC deliberation. But when the meeting started to touch on the position of Chief Justice, Carpio inhibited himself and turned over the acting chairmanship to De Lima. Carpio, together with four other most senior justices in the SC - Presbitero J. Velasco Jr., Teresista J. Leonardo de Castro, Arturo D. Brion, and Diosdado M. Peralta - are automatically nominated to the position of Chief Justice under JBC rules. When asked by a JBC member whether De Lima would apply for the Chief Justice post, the justice secretary answered in the negative. But De Lima said that she will decide whether to accept or decline if she is eventually nominated to the post. With De Lima's statement, she also inhibited herself in the discussion on the selection for the post of Chief Justice. The acting chairmanship of the JBC was turned over to retired Supreme Court Justice Regino Hermosisima Jr., the most senior member of the council. Aside from Carpio, De Lima, and Hermosisima, the other members of the JBC are Senator Francis Escudero, Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas Jr., retired CA Associate Justice Aurora Lagman, lawyer Jose V. Mejia who represents the academe, and lawyer Ma. Milagros Fernan-Cayosa as representative of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP). While the JBC was deliberating on the selection process for the post of Chief Justice, Corona arrived at the SC with his wife Cristina, and daughter Carla. Meanwhile, Escudero emphasized the need for the applicants to submit to the JBC a waiver on bank accounts, income tax returns (ITR), and opening of SALN. Escudero, the Senate's representative and ex-officio member of the JBC, said this proposal was unanimously approved by the collegial body as the search for the next Chief Justice commences. "The new requirement covers applicants and nominees from both the private and government sectors. The waiver includes bank deposits on local and foreign currencies and the opening of their SALNs and ITRs in favor of the JBC," Escudero said. On the other hand, Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) Commissioner Kim Henares said that "I'll think about it when it gets there, if it gets there. Otherwise, everything is too premature," when Senate reporters asked her regarding reports that Malacañang has her and De Lima on its list for possible selection as the successor of Corona. The Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, convicted Corona last week for failure to disclose in his annual SALN his actual income or the value of his properties. This developed after Senator Francis Pangilinan, a former JBC member, said there is an obvious need to institute reforms in the justice system and the first step is to make the selection process of candidates for the Chief Justice at the JBC. He said the JBC should take the lessons learned from the recently concluded impeachment process against Corona in implementing much needed reforms in the Judiciary. (With reports from Hannah L. Torregoza and Mario B. Casayuran) ..