MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Following his exclusion from the shortlist of potential associate justices of the Supreme Court (SC), Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza asked the tribunal itself to stop the President from making the appointment.
Jardeleza, the government’s chief lawyer, and considered one of President Benigno Aquino III’s favored nominees to the SC, decried his exclusion from the shortlist prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC). The President may select only from the names presented by the JBC the replacement of Associate Justice Roberto A. Abad who retired on May 22, 2014. He has only until August 20, or 90 days from the time the vacancy occurred, to fill it up.
In a petition filed with the Supreme Court on Friday, July 18, Jardeleza asked for 3 things:
- Declare Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and the JBC as having acted in grave abuse of discretion amounting to “lack or excess of jurisdiction” in not including him in the shortlist of nominees transmitted to the President on June 30, 2014
- Direct the JBC to include him in the shortlist
- Issue a temporary restraining order, directing the President, through Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, to desist from appointing a replacement for Abad, pending determination of the merits of his case
Jardeleza’s petition is an unprecedented move in the country’s judicial history. He is effectively asking the Supreme Court’s members to censure their leader and to block the chief executive from exercising his constitutional mandate.
Jardeleza blamed Sereno for denying him the right to due process, in particular for not allowing him to properly defend himself against an attack on his integrity before the JBC. The JBC also violated his right to due process when it told him to make himself available to appear before them on June 30 and told him he would be informed of the objections to his integrity that same day.
Jardeleza said he was left with the “monumental task of divining the accusations against him, an undertaking made even more difficult by the fact that the identities of his accusers were unknown.” Given the little information he had, it was impossible for him to mount an meaningful defense, he added.
The government lawyer said Sereno’s act was the “perfect illustration of a tyranny.” She gravely abused her discretion when she acted as prosecutor, witness and judge.
Jardeleza said Sereno, also the chair of the JBC, invoked Section 2, Rule 10, to effectively block him from the shortlist. Rule 10 requires a unanimous affirmative vote of all the members of the council for a candidate to make it to the shortlist. Her invoking the rule goes against the collegial character of the JBC, giving any member an effective veto, Jardeleza said. “All any member has to do to veto the other votes, even a majority vote, is to object to the qualification of a candidate, without even need for factual basis.”
He had previously called on Sereno to inhibit herself from voting in the JBC, due to her alleged bias against him. The Chief Justice had said she had issues about Jardeleza but refused to put these on record.
Jardeleza pointed out that he was able to gather 4 out of 6 votes from the JBC just like another nominee, Judge Reynaldo Daway, who made it to the shortlist. Yet Jardeleza was excluded. Justice Arturo Brion cited the same thing in his dissenting opinion to a Supreme Court resolution which said the June 24 letter-petition Jardeleza submitted to the Court was moot and academic.
In that letter-petition, Jardeleza, asked among others, that he be allowed to “cross-examine his oppositors and supporting witnesses, if any” and that the cross-examination be conducted in public. He also asked that Sereno be prohibited from participating in the voting.
Jardeleza found out through Justice Secretary Leila de Lima that Associate Justice Antonio Carpio appeared before the JBC and testified against him. JBC insiders said Carpio raised an issue pertaining to the country’s claim against China on the West Philippine Sea.
Asked by De Lima if he still wanted to continue with his nomination, Jardeleza said yes. In the afternoon of June 30, he was summoned by the JBC and was asked by Sereno if he wanted to defend himself. He answered in the affirmative and asked that the JBC defer its meeting, considering that the High Court would meet the next day. Everything took all of 10 minutes, after which Jardeleza was dismissed.
Later in the afternoon of the same day, the JBC released its shortlist of only 4 nominees: Apolinario Bruselas Jr, with 6 votes; Jose Reyes Jr, 6 votes; Maria Gracia Pulido-Tan, 5 votes; and Daway, 4 votes. Jardeleza was not on the list.
His “unlawful exclusion,” Jardeleza argued, “impairs the President’s constitutional power to appoint” since his choices have been unlawfully narrowed.
This is the third time that Jardeleza has made a bid for the Supreme Court – the first one in 2011 and the second in 2012, after the impeachment of then chief justice Renato Corona.