..Justice Secretary Leila de Lima accused yesterday the Supreme Court (SC), Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) of conspiring to disqualify her from the shortlist of candidates for chief justice.
“It’s obvious, you know, the Supreme Court, the IBP and the JBC all agreed in trying to pin me down and bonded together as if they had common objective – anybody but De Lima,” she said.
Speaking to reporters, De Lima said she suspects she was singled out in applying the disqualification rule. “Maybe because of the belief that I am the favored candidate of the Palace,” she said.
She was hopeful of making the shortlist had the JBC not disqualified her, she added.
De Lima believes “influence peddling” took place in the selection process for the chief justice, particularly by “powerful fraternities and some personalities.”
She is a “victim of lopsided rule on disqualification of candidates for chief justice,” she added.
De Lima said SC justices are at an advantage because of their control over the resolution of complaints against their rivals.
The SC unfairly sat on the disbarment complaints against her last year and dismissed last week a similar complaint against acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, she added.
However, De Lima said she would no longer question the JBC decision so as not to delay the appointment of the next chief justice.
“What can I say now that can still undo the turn of events?” she said. “What I’d like to say is that it’s really quite unfair for me. I’m trying to accept it, but I have not really accepted it.”
De Lima said she takes no issue with JBC members for her disqualification from the shortlist.
“I can still work with them,” she said. “That’s my mandate. I’m not the type who would harbor personal ill feelings. Everything that I say now is just a matter of principle.”
She would push for “a lot of reforms” in the JBC selection process to do away with alleged lopsided rule and supposed influence peddling, De Lima said.
De Lima’s accusations dismissed
At the SC, spokesperson Ma. Victoria Gleoresty Guerra said no conspiracy took place in the disqualification of De Lima from the shortlist.
“All three bodies – SC, IBP and JBC – are just following rules.” she said. “There is no conspiracy.”
De Lima was just being emotional, the IBP said.
The JBC disqualified De Lima because of two pending disbarment cases against her before the IBP.
JBC rules provides for the disqualification of candidates for posts in the judiciary and Office of the Ombudsman who have pending criminal or administrative cases.
Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza and Securities and Exchange Commissioner chair Teresita Herbosa were considered because the disbarment case against Jardeleza was still in the Office of the Bar Confidant, and the complaint against Herbosa has already been dismissed.
Lawyer Jose Mejia, regular JBC member from the academe, denied any attempt to single out De Lima.
“It was only incidental that we needed to apply the rules on each of the candidates,” he said.
Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., a JBC member, justified yesterday the disqualification of De Lima from the shortlist for chief justice.
“What we did was we applied the JBC rule disqualifying a nominee who is facing a disbarment case,” he said. “I sympathize with her, and I would have voted for her if she were qualified.”
Tupas said De Lima should not demand an explanation since she knows the disqualification rule because she is a JBC member.
“Going into our last meeting on Monday, there were three nominees with pending cases: Secretary de Lima, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza and Teresita Herbosa, chairperson of the Securities and Exchange Commission,” he said.
Tupas said before voting on the shortlist of nominees, the JBC was informed that the SC had already dismissed the disbarment complaint against Herbosa.
In Jardeleza’s case, “there was no prima facie evidence against him because the SC did not act on the complaint,” he added.
Tupas said he did not think President Aquino would return the JBC shortlist of eight nominees just because De Lima was excluded.
“Our eight nominees are all very, very qualified,” he said.
“I think the President will appoint from this list. Under the Constitution, he cannot appoint one who is not in the JBC list.”
Palace backs De Lima
Malacañang backs De Lima’s protesting her exclusion from the shortlist for chief justice.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said being a nominee, De Lima has the prerogative to make the protest.
“As in any event, any of the nominees has the prerogative to ask some questions or to raise some questions also to the JBC,” she said.
Valte said the Office of the President, through Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., had officially received the JBC’s transmittal.
“The President was in the middle of the meeting with DPWH, the MMDA and DOST-PAGASA and the Communications Group,” she said.
“So hindi siya talaga napag-usapan (It wasn’t discussed). It was quite a long meeting because the President wanted to see kung ano na iyung plans (what the plans were).”
Carpio topped the shortlist with seven votes.
Three justices placed second in the JBC voting: Roberto Abad, Arturo Brion and Ma. Lourdes Sereno. They each got six votes, along with Jardeleza and former lawmaker Ronaldo Zamora.
Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro and former Ateneo law dean Cesar Villanueva completed the list with five votes each.
Voting on the shortlist were: Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta; Sen. Francis Escudero and Tupas from Congress; Undersecretary Frederick Musngi from the executive; retired SC Justice Regino Hermosisima from retired justices; lawyer Milagros Fernan-Cayosa from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines; retired Court of Appeals Justice Aurora Lagman from the private sector; and Mejia from the academe. – With Jess Diaz, Delon Porcalla