No ‘below-the-belt’ questions – De Lima

The Judicial and Bar Council begins grilling 22 nominees for chief justice led by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza

MANILA, Philippines – Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, widely considered a frontrunner in the race for chief justice, admitted she is “tense” about her interview on Tuesday, July 24, to be conducted by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC). She said she is counting on the council not to ask “below-the-belt” questions.

“To be honest, yes, I’m a little bit tense. You wouldn’t know what type of questions will be asked during the interview,” she told Rappler after President Benigno Aquino III’s State of the Nation Address on Monday, July 23.

The JBC begins grilling 22 nominees for chief justice on July 24 at 9 a.m. (Check the complete schedule here.) Those who will be interviewed Tuesday morning are Andres Bautista, chair of the Presidential Commission on Good Government; Prof Soledad-Cagampang de Castro; and De Lima. In the afternoon, the following will be interviewed: Jose Manuel Diokno, Dean of the De La Salle Law School; Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza; and UP Prof Katrina Legarda.

Tuesday’s interviews will be aired live on national television. Rappler will cover it live as well.

However, certain questions hang as the JBC conducts its public interviews (Read the full story here). The Supreme Court has just ruled that Congress and the Senate should only have one representative in the council, which vets nominees for the judiciary and the Office of the Ombudsman. This would reduce the number of members from 8 to 7. But both houses intend to appeal that ruling Tuesday, according to JBC member Iloilo Rep Niel Tupas Jr.

Since she herself is a nominee, De Lima had to quit the council as the representative of the justice department. But her replacement, Michael Frederick Musngi, is not from the department but from the Office of the President. Musngi was also among those recently cleared by the Supreme Court in a ruling involving the death-by-hazing of Aquila Legis fraternity member Lenny Villa.

Various sources close to President Aquino have told Rappler that De Lima is his choice for the job that was vacated by Renato Corona on May 29, when the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, found him guilty of violating the Constitution and betrayal of public trust by not declaring his wealth.

If she is eventually appointed, she would be the first “outsider” chief justice in the Philippines’ post-war history. Certain sectors have also cautioned the President against naming an ally to the post.

Syempre there would be tough questions, there would be easy questions, there would be mundane questions,” De Lima said. “For as long as they do not go overborad. They do not go below the belt type of questions,” she added.

“I’m sure that the members of the JBC are professional enough to limit the questions to the substantive ones and not in any way intending to put any of the applicants on [the] spot or in a corner or tending to embarrass an applicant,” De Lima said. “I’m very confident that it will go that way.”


De Lima filed an indefinite leave last week to attend to his ailing father, but she said she is ready for Tuesday’s interview.

“I will try to have a clear mind, although that is next to impossible especially because I’m thinking about my father. I just have to respond to the quesiont as honestly as possible,” she said.

Asked to comment on calls for an “insider” chief justice, De Lima said “I respect their opinion.

“The insiders, to be honest about it, have an advantage. They know the ins and outs of the system. They’ve been there for years. They know how to discharge their functions. In that sense, indeed have an advantage,” she said.

“When I accepted the nomination, I was offering myself as, hopefully, an acceptable alternative to the insiders,” she added. –

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