At Sereno impeachment hearing, Fariñas brings up flaws in JBC

MANILA, Philippines – “The Commission on Appointments (CA) has its faults but it’s the best system, practiced even by the United States of America.”

House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas on Wednesday, November 29, made the statement as he expressed concern over apparent flaws in the set-up of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), which vets and scrutinizes possible candidates to the judiciary, from the Chief Justice to trial court judges.

Once the JBC is done conducting interviews, it submits a shortlist to the President, who eventually picks his appointee to the post. It’s the “opposite” of the vetting process of the Commission on Appointments for  heads of executive offices and constitutional bodies, Fariñas pointed out.

The Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative made the side narration on Wednesday, after Supreme Court (SC) court administrator Midas Marquez refused to say whether he thought Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s actions were “warranted” when she allegedly “revived” the Regional Court Administration Office (RCAO) in Region 7.

The revival of RCAO 7 is among the bases of an impeachment case filed against Sereno by lawyer Larry Gadon. SC Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro appeared before the committee on Wednesday as a resource person in the case of the RCAO, among other issues.

Fariñas pressed Marquez to answer his question, even pointing out that his post is commensurate to that of a Court of Appeals Presiding Justice. The SC official refused to answer.

“As court administrator, I take instructions only from the Chief Justice or the court en banc so if they tell me to do something, unless I’ve studied that it really does not jive [with established rules]…but at that time, I did not see it,” said Marquez, referring to a memorandum De Castro had issued to the SC to oppose Sereno’s actions.

Fariñas, a lawyer, said Marquez’s refusal to answer was understandable because it leaves him vulnerable before the JBC, which the Chief Justice heads. Marquez has been nominated to an SC associate justice post at least twice under the Duterte administration.

“That’s why ‘Justice Marquez’ is afraid to answer because he might be recommended to the JBC then the Chief Justice can object. So he won’t be a justice anymore,” quipped Fariñas in a mix of English and Filipino.

Maraming salamat po (That you very much), Sir,” Marquez replied.

Fariñas went on to say that the “problem” with the JBC was that it only had two elected officials as its members – the justice committee chairpersons in both houses of Congress, or Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo Umali and Senator Richard Gordon.

The two legislators take turns in the council, with Umali sitting in the JBC for first part of the year and Gordon taking over in the latter half.

Fariñas said the tendency was for politics and a “palakasan (patronage)” system, to prevail, meaning JBC members can inadvertently favor certain candidates to the judiciary.

“That’s why when it comes to impeachment proceedings, the more we have to be strict with justices and the Ombudsman. They’re the only officials who don’t go through the CA,” said Fariñas.

The Gadon complaint against the Chief Justice also raised the JBC’s processes under Sereno.

Sereno is accused of manipulating the JBC shortlist to exclude former Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, who was eventually appointed to the Supreme Court by former president Benigno Aquino III.

The Chief Justice is also accused of manipulating the JBC’s shortlist for Sandiganbayan nominees through clustering in order to accommodate her favored persons. – Rappler.com