IBP probes disbarment cases vs De Lima

Purple S. Romero
(UPDATED) This puts at risk her nomination for chief justice. The Judicial and Bar Council will now have to decide whether or not to disqualify her.

PROBE HER. The IBP said the disbarment cases against De Lima have merit.

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) has decided to investigate the disbarment complaints against Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, putting at risk her nomination for chief justice.

In a meeting last Saturday, July 28, the IBP board of governors agreed to conduct a full-blown investigation of 3 disbarment complaints against De Lima. Over the weekend, Rappler was informed by two sources that the board issued a resolution on this and has submitted it to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), which is screening nominees for chief justice.

On Monday afternooon, July 30, IBP president Roan Libarios confirmed the report in a text message to Rappler.

Former UP law dean Pacifico Agabin, IBP legal counsel, said a full-blown investigation  means the complaints were found “meritorious” and are therefore considered administrative cases.

De Lima earlier asked the IBP to dismiss the complaints. In a statement Monday, the IBP said: “In a resolution adopted in a special meeting held on July 28, 2012, the IBP Board of Governors resolved to deny the motions of Secretary Leila De Lima to summarily dismiss the disbarment case (sans formal investigation). The board directed the Investigating Commissioner to proceed with the formal investigation of the disbarment case in accordance with the rules of the disbarment and resolve them with dispatch.”

Dismissed, but reversed

The IBP almost got her off the hook, however.

The investigating commissioner who handled her cases dismissed the disbarment complaints, after De Lima filed a motion for summary dismissal on July 13. Commissioner Oliver Camachero ruled in her favor on July 23.

The IBP Board of Governors reversed his decision on two grounds: one, the dismissal was made without any notice to the complainants and without giving consideration to the motions they filed opposing De Lima’s request; and two, the rules on disbarment cases filed with the IBP and the SC are different.

The IBP board said that if a complaint is filed directly with the IBP, the IBP investigator can determine if there is merit and dismiss the case if there’s none. But if a disbarment complaint is filed with the SC – which was what the De Lima complainants did – and the High Court refers it to the IBP for investigation, there is a presumption that the SC has already found basis to have the cases probed further.  

“Otherwise, the Supreme Court would have summarily dismissed the case, instead of referring it to the IBP to conduct investigation,” the IBP board said in its resolution.

The IBP noted that De Lima asked the SC as early as January 24 to dimiss the complaints. But the SC, in a resolution on July 3, instead referred these to the IBP for “investigation, report and recommendation within 90 days.”

JBC has final say

The JBC will now have to decide whether or not to disqualify De Lima. She is running against time, though, since President Benigno Aquino III has only until August 29 to name the replacement of dismissed Chief Justice Renato Corona. Agabin said, however, that a probe such as this one can take months – or even years – to finish.

Under Rule 4, Section 5 of the JBC rules, the following are considered disqualified from “appointment to any judicial post or as Ombudsman or Deputy Ombudsman:”

  •     those with pending criminal or regular administrative cases;
  •     those with pending criminal cases in foreign courts or tribunal;
  •     those who have been convicted in any criminal case; or in an administrative case, where the penalty imposed is at least a fine of more than P10,000, unless granted judicial clemency

De Lima was one of 20 nominees for chief justice who faced the JBC last week for public interviews. In her interview on July 24, she insisted that the complaints against her had not “ripened” into a regular administrative case. She also said these were politically motivated and had no legal basis.

But now that the IBP has ordered a full-blown probe on the complaints, it is the group’s view that these are already regular administrative cases. The IBP will start holding hearings on the case.

Reportedly the choice of President Aquino for the post, De Lima faces 3 disbarment complaints. The IBP however has consolidated the complaints filed by Ricardo Rivera, Fernando Perito and Nephtali Aliposa into one, since they all used as basis De Lima’s defiance of a Supreme Court temporary restraining order in November 2011, which stopped her from implementing a travel ban on former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo.

Another case was filed by lawyer Augusto Sundiam, who said De Lima should be disbarred because of her stinging statement against then Chief Justice Renato Corona, whom she called on national television a “tyrant who holds himself above justice and accountability.”

Up to the JBC

The JBC now has to determine once and for all what constitutes a regular administrative case.

It had encountered the same problem before. Then Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera – a former Supreme Court justice aspirant – had pending cases  in 2008. The JBC disqualified her but backtracked after Devanadera noted that her fellow contenders who also faced administrative cases were not taken out of contention since their cases, like hers, were still in the preliminary investigation stage.

The JBC considered her motion, but eventually stood by its position after Devanadera failed to submit a  clearance from the Office of the Ombudsman.

The JBC will hold its final deliberations on August 2. The council previously said it will address the pending cases against nominees and submit a shortlist to President Benigno Aquino III on July 30.

But the council postponed its meeting after Congress – whose representation in the JBC was reduced from two to one by the Supreme Court  – pulled out of the body on July 27.

The council ‘s remaining members include Palace Undersecretary Michael Frederick Musngi, La Salle law professor Jose Mejia, IBP official Milagros Fernan Cayosa, retired Court of Appeals Justice Aurora Lagman and retired SC Justice Regino Hermosisima. It is chaired by SC Justice Diosdado Peralta. – Rappler.com

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