Clipping of President’s judicial power sought

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THE Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) has appealed to the Supreme Court (SC) to intervene in the issue of appointments to the judiciary and allow them to clip the powers of the President by imposing the “clustering system” in the line-up of shortlist of possible appointees.

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In its motion for reconsideration, the JBC explained that it has “a legal interest in the case, and its intervention would not have unduly delayed or prejudiced the adjudication of the rights of the original parties.”

The SC in November 2016 overruled Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and the JBC on the matter, declaring that the President has the prerogative to appoint any nominee from shortlists submitted by the JBC.

It voted unanimously to declare the JBC’s “clustering” scheme unconstitutional and illegal, in a landmark decision that set a precedent for future vacancies in the SC and the rest of the judiciary.

The SC has declared unconstitutional and illegal the powers of Sereno and the JBC that clipped the power of the President of the Philippines in making appointments to the judiciary.

Its magistrates declared void JBC’s “clustering” of the shortlists of nominees for all positions in the judiciary.

The clustering of shortlists of nominees was introduced only during Sereno’s stint at the JBC wherein the council selected and separated the names of candidates of their own choice from one cluster to another.

During the time of then-Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee up to the time of then-Chief Justice Renato Corona, the clustering scheme was never used until Sereno entered the picture.

In the case at bar, the dispute arose in January 2016 after then-President Benigno Aquino 3rd appointed six new justices to the expanded Sandiganbayan anti-graft court.

Under the clustering scheme introduced by Sereno to the JBC, which screens applicants and recommends nominees to posts in the judiciary, six shortlists containing different sets of names were submitted to Aquino to choose the 16th to 21st Sandiganbayan associate justices.

Aquino, however, ignored the first shortlist containing nominees for the 16th post, and instead chose two names from the sixth list for the 21st post.

In May last year, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and several lower court judges questioned the appointments of Geraldine Faith Econg and Michael Frederick Musngi, claiming Aquino violated the Constitution when he picked the two from the sixth short list and dropped the first one.

The high tribunal junked the petitions and validated the appointments made by Aquino, ruling that the then-president committed “no grave abuse of discretion” in ignoring one of the “clustered” shortlists of the seven-man JBC, and could choose any name from any of the shortlists.

Judges Philip Aguinaldo, Reynaldo Alhambra, Danilo Cruz, Benjamin Pozon, Danilo Sandoval and Salvador Timbang Jr., the nominees on the list ignored by Aquino, joined the petition, claiming to have “suffered direct injury in this case.”

The JBC also pleaded for the inhibition of Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, for being a former consultant of the JBC.

In the decision penned by de Castro, it held that the appointing powers of the President are plenary in nature and cannot be clipped or limited by the JBC through a clustering scheme.

In its fresh motion, the JBC claimed that the SC should have granted its motion for intervention regardless of the procedural infirmities in order that there would be a complete resolution of the case.

“The JBC was deprived outright of its right to due process, a fundamental right enshrined in our Constitution. Consequently, it was not given its day in court to enable it to present its case, at the very least, through a comment on the petition,” the motion read.

“It is respectfully prayed that the ponente [de Castro]inhibit herself from further participating in this case and that the JBC be granted such other reliefs as are just and equitable under the premises.” JOMAR CANLAS

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