Supreme Court of the Philippines

Besides JBC, Palace has judicial search committee

Purple S. Romero

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Question is, should the search committee also make its choices known to the public?

INTERNAL SEARCH. Aquino has another group in Malacañang that helps him decide whom he should pick for chief justice.


MANILA, Philippines – Aside from the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), there is another group that recommends aspirants to the judiciary to the President — and that is Malacañang’s own judicial search committee. Question is, should the search committee also make its choices known to the public?

Court observers said yes, because it can give people a clearer sense of why Malacañang made a specific decision — especially now that there is heightened interest on who will take over the position vacated by ex-Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Corona was removed from his position after the impeachment court found him guilty on May 29 of failing to disclose US$2.4-M and P80-M in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth. President Benigno Aquino III has 90 days to choose Corona’s replacement. 

The JBC is the constitutionally-mandated body that screens and vets aspirants to the judiciary and recommends them to the appointing authority, the president. Aquino  told Rappler on Friday, June 1, that an internal judicial search committee also comes up with its recommendations based on the shortlist submitted by the JBC. The JBC includes at least 3 nominees in each shortlist.

“First lalabas ‘yung sa JBC, that will be made public, then doon papasok ‘yung every Tom, Dick and Harry’s opinion. Part of it is trying to ferret the wheat from the chaff and that’s not easy,” he said. (The JBC shortlist will come out first, it will be made public, then that’s when the opinion of every Tom, Dick and Harry will come. Part of it is trying to ferret the wheat from the chaff and that’s not easy.)

Aquino said the judicial search committee has a clear idea of what he is looking for in a nominee. He wants to find out if he or she has pending cases in the Office of the Ombudsman and has cases in his or her sala that have not yet been resolved after a long time.

For a chief justice particularly, Aquino is looking for someone “whom his colleagues respect, is learned in law and can manage the Court.”

The judicial search committee will help him pick the one who meets this criteria.

GMA had one too

Aquino’s predecessor, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also had an internal search committee but they did not make any recommendations for positions in the SC, Sandiganbayan, and Court of Appeals.

According to the book “Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court” authored by Rappler’s editor-at-large Marites Dañguilan-Vitug, this group was composed of Bernardino Abes, Arroyo’s presidential adviser; Jake Lagonera from the Office of the Executive Secretary; Arroyo’s cousin and confidential assistant Erlinda de Leon; and Gabriel Claudio, political adviser and secretary general of Lakas-Kampi-Christian Muslim Democrats. 

The composition of Arroyo’s internal search committee is not common knowledge, however, just like Aquino.

Aquino told Rappler the judicial search committee is separate from the general search committee that Malacañang has. The “general” search committee — reportedly headed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa — vets nominees to other government posts. 

One of the alleged members of the general search committee is Julia Abad, chief of the Presidential Management Staff and daughter of Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad. 

Make short list public

Court watchdogs said it would help if the “short list” of the judicial search committee were at least be made known to the public.

“It’s interesting to know because it will help the people understand the thinking of Malacañang,” Vincent Lazatin, executive director of the Transparency and Accountability Network, said. 

Roberto Cadiz, executive director of the lawyers’ group Libertas, said that knowing who’s who on the shortlist of the search committee is helpful from “the point of view of accountability.” 

“It will give journalists more time to research the background of the nominees,” he said. Cadiz said that if “there is no serious listing on the part of Malacañang,” yet, it would be premature to release the names, especially if they are just still being floated. 

 Aquino, however does not always pick the one recommended by the judicial search committee. “I might have information they didn’t get [about the nominee],” he said. –  

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