JBC meets today on chief justice selection
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – After getting the go-signal from the Supreme Court, the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) is set to continue today the nomination process for the position of chief justice in a meeting in Baguio City.
Justice Secretary Alberto Agra, ex-officio member of the JBC, said the collegial body would follow the order of the High Court to proceed with the screening of the six remaining candidates and prepare the shortlist of nominees to be submitted to President Arroyo.
Agra said they would ask Senior Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio–Morales to reconsider their positions.
The two justices accepted the nomination but said they would reject an appointment from President Arroyo because it would violate the constitutional ban on midnight appointments during the election period.
Agra said the two justices must reconsider their position in the light of the SC ruling allowing Mrs. Arroyo to appoint the next chief justice.
“If they keep their condition, I think they should not be included in the shortlist that will be submitted to the President,” Agra said.
Delisting the two would leave the other four nominees in the shortlist – Senior Associate Justice Renato Corona, Associate Justices Arturo Brion and Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, and Sandiganbayan Senior Justice Edilberto Sandoval.
The law requires at least three names in the shortlist to be submitted before the President.
Agra said another issue the JBC would resolve today is whether it would set public interviews to the candidates.
Agra noted each member of the judiciary who are candidates for the position of chief justice is traditionally exempted from the required public interviews for candidates.
All six contenders have already been interviewed by the JBC anyway before they were appointed to their respective posts in the judiciary, he explained.
Agra said the JBC would also decide on the allegations against some aspirants.
Agra said the panel could possibly decide to immediately start the selection process for the vacancy for the position of associate justice in the SC that would be left vacant by the appointment of the next chief magistrate upon the retirement of Chief Justice Reynato Puno on May 17.
Agra stressed the JBC would proceed in the nomination process since the position of chief justice is not covered by the constitutional ban on midnight appointments.
Agra added the JBC has not set a timeline for the deliberation, but gave assurance they will submit the shortlist on or before May 17.
Chief Justice Puno will preside over the JBC meeting as the body’s ex-officio chairman. Puno earlier inhibited from the deliberations since the process involves the appointment of his successor.
Apart from Puno and Agra, other members of the JBC include Sen. Francis Escudero, Quezon City Rep. Matias Defensor Jr., retired SC justice Regino Hermosisima Jr., University of Santo Tomas Dean Emeritus Amado Dimayuga, Justice Aurora Santiago-Lagman and lawyer J. Conrado Castro representing the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).
The JBC earlier decided to await the ruling on the petitions before the SC on whether the President is allowed under the Constitution to appoint the next chief justice notwithstanding the ban on appointments during the election period.
By a vote of 9-1-3, the high court ruled the ban on appointments under Article VII Section 15 of the Constitution does not apply to positions in the SC.
In its comment, the JBC said it would submit to whatever ruling the SC would render on the case.
“Since the Honorable Supreme Court is the final interpreter of the Constitution, the JBC will be guided by its decision,” the JBC said.
A senior lawmaker said the nine justices of the SC who allowed President Arroyo to appoint the next chief justice committed a “judicial indiscretion.”
Nueva Ecija Rep. Edno Joson said the 1987 Constitution does not have any ambiguity on this matter, reiterating the election ban two months prior to the May 10 polls until the end of Mrs. Arroyo’s term on June 30.
“I call it judicial indiscretion or grave abuse of discretion, which amounts to culpable violation of the Constitution, making them liable for impeachment,” Joson warned.
He said the March 17 ruling can also be considered another act of “judicial legislation,” like the SC decision that forced the House of Representatives to accommodate 32 more party-list representatives without budget allocations, which Joson claimed had modified an established party-list formula.
“They (SC) cannot change or modify constitutional commission’s intent and allude unto themselves sovereign powers. They cannot also be partisan or political in their decisions, otherwise, the essence of justice which is independence and integrity will be lost,” Joson stressed.
Joson claimed “only a miracle” can reverse the SC decision.
Former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo earlier warned the SC ruling is tantamount to amending the 1987 Constitution.
Marcelo said the high court virtually altered the Constitution when it decided to rule in favor of Mrs. Arroyo in allowing her to appoint the next chief justice amid the constitutional ban.
“It is a very clear violation of the 1987 Constitution because of the absolute prohibition,” Marcelo said.
In a related development, more groups of lawyers submitted last minute appeals on the decision just before the Lenten break.
In two separate motions for reconsideration, the Philippine Bar Association (PBA) and chapters of the IBP in Southern Luzon and Eastern Visayas both argued that the High Court committed an error in directing the JBC to submit the shortlist of nominees.
The PBA argued the JBC, in submitting the shortlist, in effect allowed the President to “execute a culpable violation of the Constitution and the commission of an election offense” considering that “the constitutional ban on appointments is already in effect.”
Marcelo led a group of petitioners alleging the SC “violated the basic precepts of understanding and applying the Constitution.” –With Delon Porcalla