Senate, House pull out of CJ search

(UPDATED) In a surprise move, the Senate and the House decide to stop sending representatives to the Judicial and Bar Council

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Senate and the House of Representatives are pulling out of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), according to House majority floor leader Neptali Gonzales II.

The instruction was issued by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr Friday morning, July 27. 

“We were instructed by the leadership not to participate in the JBC proceedings until such time that the issue of representation of Congress is finally resolved. A senator cannot represent the House and a congressman cannot represent the Senate,” said Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas, representative of the lower House to the JBC.

The order comes on the last day of the JBC’s public interviews of 20 nominees for chief justice. JBC member Jose Mejia told reporters that the move will not stop them from taking a vote on Monday, July 30. This means only 6 members will be voting on a shortlist to be submitted to President Benigo Aquino III not later than July 30, JBC’s self-imposed deadline.

Gonzales said Congress cannot agree to a recent Supreme Court decision designating only one representative for both houses of Congress.

“We are a bicameral Congress. Senator Francis Escudero cannot represent the House of Representatives,” said Gonzales.

Congress filed a motion for SC to reconsider its decision.

The JBC representatives from the legislature are Sen Francis Escudero and Iloilo Rep Niel Tupas Jr.

Tupas however attended the past 3 sessions of the JBC this week. He was absent on Friday.

In a decision released July 20, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1987 Constitution states that Congress should only have “a representative” in the JBC. The verdict favored a petition filed by former Solicitor General Frank Chavez questioning the two congressional representatives in the JBC.

“The language of the Constitution is clear and unambiguous,” the SC said.

Associate Justice Roberto Abad dissented in the majority opinion, saying that the SC should have taken into consideration the fact that the discussions on that particular constitutional provision were premised on a unicameral congress.

Except for Abad, the 5 justices nominated for the chief justice post inhibited from the case.

Created by the 1987 Constitution to “depoliticize” the selection process for judges and justices, the JBC has one representative from the judiciary, legislative, executive, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, private sector, academe and one retired magistrate of the High Court.

Changing numbers

The JBC really had only 7 members since it was introduced in 1987. From 1987-1994, congressional representatives sat alternately in the JBC.

But in 1994 the congressional representatives in the JBC became two, increasing the council’s members to 8. They still had half a vote each then. Thus, even if the Senate and the House of Representatives had a representative each in the Senate, they still had only one vote.

Retired Sandiganbayan Justice Raoul Victorino, a former JBC member, told Rappler that in 2001, then Sen. Aquilino ‘Nene’ Pimentel proposed that there should be two Congressional representatives in the JBC because of the bicameral form of legislature. –

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