The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) yesterday submitted to President Benigno S. Aquino a list of eight nominees for Chief Justice.
Leading the list is Acting Chief Justice Antonio T. Carpio. The other nominees are Supreme Court Justices Roberto A. Abad and Arturo D. Brion, Solicitor General Francis H. Jardeleza, Supreme Court Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno, former executive secretary Ronaldo B. Zamora, Supreme Court Justice Teresita J. Leonardo de Castro, and Ateneo de Manila University law dean Cesar L. Villanueva.
President Aquino has until August 27 to name the chief magistrate.
Carpio got seven votes from the eight-member JBC; Abad, Brion, Jardeleza, Sereno, and Zamora had six votes each, and De Castro and Villanueva, five each.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who was considered a top contender, did not make the list. The JBC disqualified her because she has pending disbarment cases before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).
The Chief Justice post became vacant on May 29 with the impeachment of Renato C. Corona.
All eight council members voted. They are Supreme Court Justice Diosdado M. Peralta, acting JBC chair; Sen. Francis S. Escudero, Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., Undersecretary Michael Musngi, retired Supreme Court Justice Regino Hermosisima Jr., retired Court of Appeals Associate Justice Aurora Lagman, lawyer Jose Mejia, and lawyer Ma. Milagros Fernan Cayosa.
Only Escudero did not vote for Carpio.
It was learned that Musngi moved for the suspension on the rule that disqualifies an aspirant with pending administrative or criminal cases.
But Musngi’s colleagues thumbed down his proposal. The non-suspension of the rule paved the way for de Lima’s disqualification.
Jose Mejia, who represents the academe in the JBC, said they chose eight nominees after the members decided to count nominees with at least five votes.
“It turned out that eight names got at least five votes," Mejia said.
Section 5, rule 4 of JBC rules provides for disqualification of de Lima, Jardeleza and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Teresita Herbosa, appointees of President Aquino who all face administrative cases.
Tupas, one of the two ex-officios in the council, said it decided to disqualify de Lima because there was no consensus on the proposal to relax the JBC rules on nominees facing cases.
Asked why Jardeleza and Herbosa were not disqualified, Tupas said Jardeleza’s case was reconsidered since the prima facie of his disbarment complaint has yet to be determined, while the administrative case of Herbosa was dismissed by the Supreme Court last August 1.
Herbosa did not make the shortlist after getting only four votes, one short of the minimum.
An angry de Lima yesterday questioned her disqualification and accused the JBC of singling her out.
“I honestly don’t know how to react. Why was I singled out?” de Lima said before storming off.
If the President cannot make a choice from the shortlist, he may ask the JBC for a new list.
The council will have to go through the entire selection process in just a matter of days to beat the August 27 deadline.
Reacting to the nominations, Terry Ridon, national president and general manager of Kabataan party-list, urged the JBC to resist the creation of an Aquino court and criticized the alleged attempts of Malacanang to influence the selection.
“If the Palace contends the standing rules of the JBC, it should challenge such rules in an appropriate proceeding filed in court. It cannot do so in an underhanded manner by influencing JBC members,” Ridon said.
He said public interest will be frustrated if the Palace insists on applying the same tactics applied by former president and now Pampanga Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“We will continue to be vigilant until the entire process is ended. New lawyers and law students are closely watching the conclusion of this saga,” Ridon vowed. (Additional report from Chito A. Chavez)
By REY G. PANALIGAN and LEONARD POSTRADO