Aquino fails to pick anti-graft court justice within deadline
MANILA, Philippines – Almost 4 months since the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) submitted its short list of candidates to President Benigno Aquino III, Malacañang admitted to having been unable to pick a justice to fill in a current vacancy at the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.
This, as the Sandiganbayan prepares to decide on the plunder charges against 3 senators and government officials relating to the country's biggest corruption scandal in recent history.
On Thursday, June 19, the Office of the Executive Secretary, tasked with vetting the candidates for positions in the judiciary, released a statement, announcing the President has yet to make a pick.
"Extra efforts to vet the individuals in the shortlist were necessary, given the importance of appointing competent, honest jurists to higher courts like the Sandiganbayan, our country's anti-graft court," said the statemen.
"Our objective is to find the right people for the most vital and sensitive positions in the Judiciary. In light of information we received during our vetting process, we have requested the JBC to further review and evaluate the candidates for the vacancy in the Sandiganbayan."
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The statement comes after media asked Malacañang if the President had indeed failed to make an appointment within the constitutionally prescribed 90-day deadline. With all eyes on the Sandiganbayan, the question arose, spurred by the possibility the empty seat could affect the cases against the senators.
Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr, and Jinggoy Estrada are accused of channeling their development funds to bogus non-governmental organizations in exchange for millions of pesos worth of kickbacks. It is the first time in history that 3 sitting senators are charged with plunder.
The JBC submitted a short list of candidates on February 25, 2014. Aquino has the sole power to choose who to appoint from among the shortlisted candidates.
While analysts say failure to issue an appointment within the 90-day period from the submission of the JBC short list does not constitute a culpable violation of the Constitution, the vacancy may affect the cases.
Given the empty seat in the 5th division, the court may assign a justice from another division to temporarily fill in the vacancy.
Conflict, however, may arise as the justice tagged as the "warm body" or the special member to fill in the 5th division vacancy is Associate Justice Alex Quiroz.
Quiroz sits as a justice in the Sandiganbayan 3rd division, which will hear the motions of Enrile and his co-accused. He is the permanent "warm body" to fill in the vacancy in the 5th division, which will hearing the motions of Estrada.
Because of the lack of judges, scheduling conflicts may arise which may affect not just Enrile's case but also Estrada's and other cases being heard in the 5th division.
The President, according to Sandiganbayan executive clerk of court Renato Bocar, had once before also missed the deadline for the appointment of a new justice. He did not say who this was. – Rappler.com