De Lima won't back out of race for Chief Justice-A A +A
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
MANILA – Despite the doubts on her independence and integrity, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Tuesday she will not withdraw her bid for the Chief Justice position.
In an interview, de Lima brushed aside questions on her character made by Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles and House majority leader Neptali Gonzales II, saying she has already proven her mettle while she was still the head of the Commission on Human Rights, an independent constitutional body.
She said she was merely offering herself as an alternative to the so-called "insiders" in the Supreme Court (SC). If given a chance, she said she is ready to prove once again her independence as justice.
"I was able to prove independence when I was in the independent constitutional and I can do that again. I can prove again my sense of independence and my capacity for independence if I join against another independent body," she said.
De Lima was among the 24 nominees who have accepted their nominations at the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), a body that screens and submits a shortlist for the President's consideration to vacant judicial posts. She earlier inhibited as member of the JBC in anticipation of her nomination for the Chief justice post.
She also claimed that she could serve as the "unifying force" in the judiciary in case she is appointed as the country’s first female Chief Justice. Her acceptance of her nomination, however, was met with criticisms.
Arguelles said de Lima’s acceptance of her nomination reeks of bad taste, being an alter-ego of the President, thus, she is inclined to toe the administration line and do the bidding of her appointing power.
On the other hand, Gonzales said that her acceptance of her nomination gave rise to the allegations of ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona that he was removed from office to pave the way for the appointment of an Aquino ally.
JBC member lawyer Jose Mejia, who represents the academe, said the eight-member council will start publishing the list of nominees on July 9, after which, the eight-man panel will schedule a public interview of the aspirants where they will be asked about the opposition on their nominations.
The JBC then will deliberate and come up with a shortlist of nominees for consideration of the President, who has 90 days, or until August 29 to fill up the vacancy in the SC.
Mejia also said the number of qualified nominees who have accepted their nominations went down to 24 from 25 after Court of Appeals justice Vicente Veloso withdrew his conforme. Veloso earlier signified his acceptance of his nomination. No reason was given for his withdrawal.
He also said the two applicants for the Chief Justice post -- Jocelyn Esquivel, a nurse, and former Malabon regional trial court judge Florentino Floro -- will be excluded from the list to be published by the JBC for failure to meet the minimum requirements for the position.
Under the Constitution, a member of the Court must be a natural-born citizen of the Philippines; at least 40 years of age but not 70 years old or more; must have been a lower court judge -- or been practicing law in the country -- for 15 years or more; and be of proven competence, integrity, probity and independence.
In 2007, the SC ordered Floro to be separated from the service after medical findings showed that he was suffering from psychosis, a condition that made him unfit to perform his judicial functions.
Meanwhile, the SC did not grant the prayer of former Solicitor General Frank Chavez for the issuance of a temporary restraining order against the proceedings being conducted by the JBC in the search for the next chief justice.
Instead, the High Court ordered the JBC to comment within the non-extendible period of five days on the issues raised in the suit, particularly on the present composition of the panel, which gives two representations to Congress.
During its regular en banc session, the High Court, likewise directed Senator Francis Escudero and Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas, the chair of the committee on justice in the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively, to file their separate comments on the petition.
All justices who have accepted their nominations inhibited from acting on Chavez’s petition, except for Associate Justice Roberto Abad, who was on official leave.
Aside from Abad, five other magistrates accepted their nominations for the top judicial posts, namely, Justices Antonio Carpio, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Arturo Brion and Maria Lourdes Sereno, who is Aquino’s first appointee to the SC.
In his petition, Chavez questioned why the JBC gave two representations to Congress and gave both of them voting powers. He also questioned the argument of the panel that giving separate representations to Escudero and Tupas was based on its tradition. (JCV/Sunnex)