MANILA, Philippines – Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr has asked the Supreme Court (SC) to include Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza in the list of nominees for new SC Associate Justice.
Ochoa's 5-page comment before the SC dated Friday, August 8, took the side of Jardeleza in his row with Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who, as head of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), blocked his nomination to the 15-member High Court.
Widely considered as the President's choice for the post, Jardeleza was excluded in the short list of candidates submitted to President Benigno Aquino III due to integrity issues raised by Sereno.
The rule, Section 2, Rule 10 of JBC-009, reads: "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."
Finding this unjust, Ochoa asked the SC to declare unconstitutional or invalid the said rule, saying it goes against the collegial nature of the JBC.
"All that a member needs to do to disqualify an applicant who already obtained a majority vote is to object to his integrity. Thus, the unanimity rule undermines the equal and full participation of the other members in the consideration of the nomination," his comment read.
Ochoa said the JBC was created to eliminate politics in the appointment of Philippine judges. He said the rule goes against the very purpose of the JBC.
"The said provision would defeat the very purpose for which the JBC was created – to shield the appointment process from politics," his comment further read.
Ochoa further argued that the rule will only apply if the one who objects to a nomination is not a member of the JBC.
He explained that when a member objects, a unanimous vote will never be attained. This gives a nominee like Jardeleza no opportunity at all to be nominated, Ochoa pointed out.
At present, the President has 3 appointees in the SC aside from Sereno: Justices Bienvenido Reyes, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, and Marvic Leonen.
Ochoa was making his comment in relation to a petition filed by Jardeleza himself, asking the High Court to order the inclusion of his name in the JBC shortlist before Aquino makes an appointment.
Aquino has full executive power to appoint the new SC justice from among the JBC shortlisted candidates, which in this case already excludes Jardeleza.
Citing two other JBC rules that provide a candidate the opportunity to comment or explain his side, Ochoa argued that Jardeleza's right to due process was violated by the subject provision cited by Sereno.
"Notably, Section 2, Rule 10, does not allow a candidate/applicant any meaningful opportunity to refute the claims against him," his comment read.
Testimony vs Jardeleza
Jardeleza earlier asked the SC to order Sereno to inhibit from the JBC voting. He said Sereno's participation presents a conflict of interest, as she will act as both his accuser and judge.
The JBC, which recommends appointees to the judiciary, is headed by Sereno. The members include Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Senator Aquilino Pimentel III as ex officio members, retired CA Justice Aurora Santiago-Lagman representing the private sector, Mejia representing the academe, and Maria Milagros N. Fernan-Cayosa representing the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.
It was JBC member and CA Juctice Lagman who previously informed Jardeleza that questions on his integrity were raised by Sereno during their June 5 and June 16 council meetings.
SC Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio faced the JBC to testify against Jardeleza on account of the solicitor general's alleged questionable stand when the government was finalizing its case against China over the disputed West Philippine Sea, a JBC member earlier told Rappler. But the member refused to elaborate.