THE Judicial Bar and Council (JBC) has submitted its shortlist for the post of Chief Justice, even as its nominees may soon be facing impeachment.
The highest magistrate position was declared vacant after former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno was ousted through quo warranto on May 11 and her ouster affirmed on June 19 after the Supreme Court (SC) denied her motion for reconsideration.
The JBC said in a statement on Friday that it had already submitted the list — made up of SC Associate Justices Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro, Diosdado M. Peralta, and Lucas P. Bersamin — to President Rodrigo R. Duterte “for his consideration in filling the vacancy in the Office of the Chief Justice.”
The members of the JBC are Department of Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra, Blue Ribbon Committee Chair Senator Richard Gordon, retired SC Justice Jose C. Mendoza, retired judge Toribio E. Ilao, Jr., and lawyer Maria Milagros N. Fernan-Cayosa. SC Acting Chief Justice Antonio T. Carpio is the ex-officio chairperson of the JBC.
Ms. Leonardo-De Castro and Mr. Peralta garnered six votes each from the JBC members. Mr. Bersamin received five votes.
Fellow Chief Justice Nominee Andres B. Reyes, Jr. received only three votes from the JBC, one vote less than the minimum of four votes needed to be included in the shortlist.
The only non-SC nominee, Davao Regional Trial Judge Virginia Tejano-Ang, was disqualified. In a message to reporters on Friday, Mr. Guevarra said Ms. Tejano-Ang was disqualified “because of an adverse finding and recommendation in her administrative case.”
During the JBC interviews on August 16, Ms. Tejano-Ang was questioned over pending cases that are still in the investigative level which she failed to disclose in her application.
The Justice Secretary added that there is an unwritten rule saying judges “cannot apply for a judicial position two levels higher, i.e., from MTC (Metropolitan Trial Court) to CA (Court of Appeals) or from RTC (Regional Trial Court) to SC.”
The three shortlisted candidates, along with four of their fellow Supreme Court Associate Justices — Francis H. Jardeleza, Noel G. Tijam, Andres B. Reyes, and Alexander G. Gesmundo — have had an impeachment complaint filed against them by Magdalo Rep. Gary C. Alejano, Ifugao Rep. Teddy B. Baguilat, Jr., Albay Representative Edcel C. Lagman, and Akbayan Rep. Tomasito S. Villarin.
The complaint states that the Associate Justices mentioned should be impeached for ousting former Chief Justice Sereno via quo warranto and for betrayal of public trust.
The JBC’s shortlist earned the ire of Mr. Lagman who said in a statement released Friday afternoon, that the JBC “acted with indecent alacrity in shortlisting on Friday morning.”
He noted that the shortlist “was finalized by the JBC in less than 24 hours after the aforenamed justices were charged with culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust,” and said that the “JBC should have considered with requisite deliberation the disqualification of the justices in view of the pendency of the impeachment cases which are akin to or even more serious than an administrative case whose pendency bars the appointment of any applicant to a judicial position.”
He said that “The rationalization that the impeachment complaints have not matured to a pending case is flawed because upon filing of the said impeachment complaints and before they are dismissed, said impeachment complaints are deemed pending just like unresolved criminal and administrative cases.”
He called on the JBC to “withdraw momentarily the shortlist and re-open the filing of applications for the position of chief justice.”
Also on Friday, a private citizen who identified herself as Rhia Ceralde wrote an opposition to the JBC regarding the nominations of the four associate justices to the Chief Justice vacancy.
She explained that the JBC “has established that one of the grounds for disqualifying candidates is the pendency of administrative or criminal cases against them.”
She added, “The filing of the complaint and endorsement of the Congressmen already bars their nomination.”
But Mr. Guevarra, who is a member of JBC, said “Mere filing of the impeachment complaint (is) not enough to disqualify. It is not yet an impeachment case until it is affirmatively acted upon by the appropriate house commitment.”