Solicitor General out of SC justice race

STRIKE 3. File photo of Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza.

File photo by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - The man who questioned the neutrality of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is out of the race for the position of associate justice of the Supreme Court.

Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, one of the perceived frontrunners for the position, was excluded from the shortlist of nominees of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) which is headed by Sereno.

The JBC, which screens nominees and submits a shortlist to the President, released its list of 4 names on Monday, June 30. They are: 

The list came as a surprise since it excluded Jardeleza, who is said to be one of Malacañang's favorites for the post. (Check the background of each of the nominees here.)

The President is not allowed to choose a Supreme Court justice who is not on the JBC shortlist.

Fight with Sereno

The exclusion of the 64-year-old Jardeleza came as a result of the move by a member of the JBC to invoke Rule 10, Section 2 of the JBC rules. It states: "Votes required when integrity of a qualified applicant is challenged: In every case when the integrity of an applicant who is not otherwise disqualified for nomination is raised or challenged, the affirmative vote of all the members of the Council must be obtained for the favorable consideration of his nomination."

The JBC did not identify who invoked this rule during its deliberations on Monday.

But Jardeleza last week wrote a scathing letter to the SC accusing Sereno of bias and asking her to inhibit herself from the process.

It was an unprecedented move in the Philippine judiciary – for a solicitor general, who defends government cases in court, to accuse the head of the High Tribunal of bias. Among the cases that Jardeleza won in the Sereno Court is the Reproductive Health law, which was initially questioned by critics.

Jardeleza told reporters he was called by the JBC Monday wherein he stressed to them that if any council member had questions about his integrity he or she should put them in writing.

He said it was Sereno herself who had "charges" against him and that he challenged her Monday to document them. "I said this morning, yung mga charges against me whatever they are dapat under oath because again that is, yan ang patakaran ng Judicial and Bar Council."

But this didn't happen "because she has no written, sworn charges against me," Jardeleza added.

The exchange between Sereno and Jardeleza during the council meeting was apparently heated, based on Jardeleza's account of what happened.

He told reporters that he reiterated his position that she should inhibit from voting: "She’s not neutral because she is a prosecutor." Sereno stood her ground, however, Jaredeleza added. "Yun daw dapat. Yun daw ang pananaw niya. Sinasabi ko naman, madam with all due respect taliwas po yun sa rules niyo and elementary sense of justice. Saan ka makakita ng accuser mo ay yun din ang mag-ju-judge sa iyo." (She insisted she did not share my view. I told her, Madam, with all due respect that is against the rules and elementary sense of justice. Where can you find a situation wherein you accuser will also be your judge?)

It's not immediately clear what had caused the gap between Sereno and Jardeleza or what are the issues that chief justice has against him. They both finished law at the University of the Philippines, but Jardeleza is more senior by 10 years.

3rd attempt

It was Jardeleza's 3rd attempt to join the highest court of the land. A vacancy occurred with the retirement of Associate Justice Roberto Abad in May 2014. 

Born in Jara, Iloilo, Jardeleza was the third placer in the 1975 bar examinations. He graduated from the UP College of Law and completed his master of laws in Harvard University.

He spent 23 years in private practice, with 14 of those years as general counsel for food and beverage giant San Miguel Corporation. He has a total of 38 years of law practice.

President Aquino named him solicitor general in 2012.

Of the initial 13 candidates for the SC justice position, Jardeleza had one of the longest list of character references including but not limited to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and Former Supreme Court Associate Justice Vicente Mendoza. 

Jardeleza and Pulido-Tan were said to be the early favorites of Malacañang for the SC vacancy. Sources disclosed that Pulido-Tan enjoyed the backing of key allies of President Benigno Aquino III in the ruling Liberal Party. 

Who are the 4 shortlisted?

Of the 4 on the shortlist, Bruselas and Reyes garnered the most number of votes from the JBC: 6 each.

Bruselas, born in Albay, climbed up the ranks for 8 years at the Department of Justice (DOJ), starting out with the title Prosecutor I in 1989 and eventually becoming Prosecutor III in 1997. He was appointed RTC judge, after being a long-time prosecutor.

Jose Reyes Jr was presiding judge at the MTC Pasig, Branch 69 for 4 years and presiding judge at the San Mateo RTC Branch 76 for 12 years, before being appointed to the CA. He worked for over a decade as Attorney III and as technical assistant at the Supreme Court for almost a decade. With 36 years of law practice, Reyes has an average monthly output at the CA of 16.1 cases. 

Pulido-Tan, on the other hand, was appointed to her current post by President Aquino in 2011. It was under her leadership in the COA when the commission released its special audit report that helped the justice department file charges in relation to the pork barrel scam. The COA report provided strong documentary evidence, in addition to the testimony of scam whistleblowers.

Also a certified public accountant, the 58-year-old spent over 20 years in private law practice. She was undersecretary at the Department of Finance (DOF) for almost two years, starting in 2003. She was also a commissioner at the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) for 6 months in 2002.

Daway has been an RTC judge for 25 years. He earlier spent 13 years in both public and private law practice. He became a confidential lawyer with the CA in 1983 and a solicitor in 1984. The 60-year-old RTC judge was born and raised in Apayao. He graduated magna cum laude from San Beda College. He took up law at the University of the Philippines College of Law. - Rappler.com