Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Aranal-Sereno has clipped the voting powers of the associate justices of the Supreme Court (SC) by doing away with the traditional deliberation on the selection of the top candidates for the post vacated by Associate Justice Robert Abad.
Sereno said she made the decision purportedly upon the request of “several justices.”
But some SC justices were stunned when they read Sereno’s letter saying that there will no longer be any voting on the candidates for the vacant post.
The Manila Times has obtained a copy of the letter.
At least five magistrates reacted strongly to Sereno’s letter, saying they wanted to exercise their voting rights in choosing a new member of the tribunal.
They said that they were “tricked” because the Chief Justice did not mention in her letter who among them requested that the High Court should forego the voting process. A number of justices said they consulted each other and none admitted to having made such a request.
A source at the tribunal said Sereno issued the letter in order to manipulate the shortlist of candidates for the SC post. The source added that the Chief Justice is pushing Commission on Audit (COA) Chairman Grace Pulido-Tan as Abad’s replacement. The other candidates are Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza; Court of Appeals Associate Justices Nina Antonio Valenzuela, Apolinario Bruselas, Rosmari Carandang, Ramon Paul Hernando, Jose Reyes and Noel Tijam; Court of Appeals Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr.; Sandiganbayan Associate Justices Maria Cristina Cornejo and Rafael Lagos; Quezon City Regional Trial Court Presiding Judge Reynaldo Daway; Dean of Dela Salle University College of Law and chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group Jose Manuel Diokno; and COA Commissioner Rowena Guanzon.
The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) is set to vote on June 30 for three top candidates who will be on the shortlist that will be submitted to Malacanang.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd will choose Abad’s replacement from the list.
But the source said the Chief Justice violated the internal rules of the JBC when she circumvented them.
Granting justices’ request
In her letter, however, Sereno said “several justices” requested that they do away with the SC voting.
“To accommodate the request of several justices that voting no longer be conducted among the candidates, the members of the court with respect to the candidates for associate justice (vice Justice Roberto A. Abad), please be informed that I have decided to favorably consider such request,” she noted in her letter dated May 29, 2014.
“I am open, however, to any input you might have regarding any particular candidate,” Sereno said in her letter.
According to the unimpeachable source of The Manila Times, however, Sereno “defrauded” the justices by not telling them who were these “several justices” who are not in favor of the votation.
“Sereno just wanted to weaken the JBC list in order for PNoy (President Benigno Aquino 3rd) to have limited choices for the SC post because her bet is COA Chairman Pulido-Tan,” the source said.
The source added that the Chief Justice made the decision that there will be no more voting without the formal concurrence of the associate justices of the High Court.
“Hindi alam ng mga justices kung sino ang pasimuno na huwag na magbotohan. Eh majority sa mga justices gustong bumoto. Gusto lang kasi i-manipulate ni Meilou (Sereno) ang listahan ng JBC [Justices do not have any idea who really do not want to hold the voting. But majority of the justices want to vote. Perhaps Meilou only wants to manipulate the JBC list],” another source told The Times.
Violation of JBC rules
The sources said Sereno violated the Internal Rules of the JBC that requires her to give weight to the “shortlist” made by the SC justices through their voting.
Rule 8, Section 1 of the Internal Rules of the JBC states: “Due weight and regard to the recommendees of the Supreme Court. In every case involving an appointment to a seat in the Supreme Court, the council shall give due weight and regard to the recommendees of the Supreme Court. For this purpose, the council shall submit to the court a list of candidates for any vacancy in the court with an executive summary of its evaluation and assessment of each of them, together with all relevant records concerning candidates from whom the court may base the selection of recommendees.”
Since the time of Chief Justices Andres Narvasa, Hilario Davide Jr., Artemio Panganiban, Reynato Puno and Renato Corona, the SC justices have voted on their choice of candidates for SC justice.
The Chief Justice is mandated to adopt the three candidates who garner the highest number of votes.
The source said Sereno is afraid that if the SC held its own vote, Pulido-Tan would not get sufficient votes to make it to the top three list.