Supreme Court of the Philippines

Tupas to question SC ruling on JBC composition

Rep Niel Tupas Jr says the Supreme Court decision on the Judicial and Bar Council favors insiders in the judiciary and weakens the mechanism of check and balance in the body

TWO, NOT ONE. Tupas will ask the SC to reverse its decision stating Congress should only have one representative in the JBC. Photo by Matthew Balicudiong

MANILA, Philippines – Iloilo Rep Niel Tupas Jr will ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling limiting the representation of Congress in the Judicial and Bar Council to one. 

Tupas, who represents the House of Representatives in the body, told Rappler they will file a motion for reconsideration on July 23 at the latest. The JBC begins its public interviews of nominees for chief justice on July 24.

On Wednesday, July 18, the Philippine Star reported that the High Court, in a July 17 en banc session, voted in favor of former solicitor general Francisco “Frank” Chavez. Chavez had questioned before the Tribunal the composition of the JBC – the body that screens and vets aspirants for the judiciary – and argued that the 1987 Constitution allows only one vote from both houses of Congress in the council.

The High Tribunal is expected to make its decision public on Thursday, July 19. Our own Court sources have confirmed the Star’s report.

In his petition, Chavez said the Senate and the House of Representatives should vote as one body in the JBC.

This is not the case in the present set-up. Two representatives of Congress in the JBC, Tupas and Sen Francis Escudero, are entitled to one vote each.

The JBC has at present 8 members: Tupas, Escudero, retired Court of Appeals Justice Aurora Lagman, retired SC Justice Regino Hermosisima, lawyer Jose Mejia, Integrated Bar of the Philippines officer Milagros Fernan-Cayosa, SC Justice Diosdado Peralta and the replacement of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, whom Malacañang has yet to name.

The JBC, however, used to have 7 members from 1987-1994. During this period, the Senate and the House alternately sent its representative to the council, Chavez said in his petition before the Court filed on July 2.

“In 1994, however, the composition of the JBC was suddenly and inexplicably (and unlawfully) changed,” he said. Congress representatives then came from both the House and the Senate. Each of the two representatives was entitled to a half vote. Thus, even if there were two representatives, their vote was still counted as one.

Chavez however noted that this changed in 2001 under the Arroyo administration, when each representative from the Senate and the House was allowed one vote each.

Tupas said the SC decision favors insiders in the judiciary and weakens the mechanism of check and balance in the JBC.

Tupas said having two representatives from Congress was meant as a “check against the Supreme Court.” The JBC, after all, is chaired by the chief justice (now by the most senior SC justice following the inhibition of Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, who, like De Lima, is also vying for the highest post in the judiciary). The council also has a retired SC justice as a member.

But the SC decision invoked the constitutional provision on the JBC, specifically Article VIII Section 8, which states that the Council will have “a representative of the Congress.”

Tupas said the provision in the 1987 Constitution “must not be read in isolation,” adding that it should be taken along with other provisions which clearly specify that the country has a bicameral legislature.

“It’s an absurd situation. Definitely, I cannot represent the Congress alone,” he said.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte shared Tupas’ views.

“It was at the very last moment that the Constitutional Commission [that drafted the 1987 Constitution] shifted from a parliamentary single-chamber legislative to two-chamber. Obviously that provision was intended for a single chamber,” Belmonte told reporters. –

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